Star players in every sport always receive the preponderance of the praise when things go well and the bulk of the blame when they don’t. The 2016 NBA Finals has seen the pendulum of praise go back and forth between Steph Curry and LeBron James. The Warriors won games 1, 2, and 4 easily, and Curry’s defense and shooting were key. The Cavaliers won games 3, 5, and 6, and LeBron James’ overall excellence was on display in each of those wins.
However, both have been lambasted at various points in the series. When the Warriors win, LeBron is cast as the star player who can’t grab the moment, and when the Cavs win, Curry gets labelled as soft and temperamental. Such is life in one of the most star-obsessed leagues.
The larger narrative is that when the Warriors win, it’s because Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, and Andre Igoudala all have stellar performances, and when the Cavs when, it’s because Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Richard Jefferson are all locked in. The final outcome is much more dependent upon these secondary players than most would like to think.
Both Curry and James have had to deal with their share of criticism during the series, and while Curry currently finds himself as the target, you can bet that if the Cavaliers lose, James will be harpooned for not being able to bring a championship to his beleaguered city of Cleveland. One of these star players will stand on the podium and receive the Larry O’Brien trophy on behalf of his team Sunday night, while the other will sit dejectedly with his teammates in the locker room, wondering what might have been.
As media attention has swelled around any and all sports, so has the culture of criticism. The instant nature of social media, combined with sporting events being one of the few things keeping the cable TV industry viable, creates a volatile atmosphere where every action from star players is chronicled, dissected, and critiqued. A player tweets out a joke meant to poke fun at a fellow player, and before long the media has created a narrative of a rift existing between the two players.
Star players like Curry and James are scrutinized so heavily because they are more than simply athletes to us; they are heroes we have imbued with too much responsibility. We place on their shoulders the hopes and aspirations in our hearts and expect them to carry those weights for us.
All of us deal with outsized expectations at some point in our lives. We feel the weight of expectations from others to achieve a goal or accomplishment of significance. We also put this weight on others around us. When we fail to achieve the goal, the crushing weight of our unmet expectations can forever mar that relationship.
In a culture where everyone points fingers and is quick to fix blame, Christians can be different because we know the power of grace and forgiveness in our lives. In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller explores idolatry in our contemporary age and explains that idols break the hearts of those who worship them.
Our culture is full of broken hearts. For every mass shooting, there are a thousand relational conflicts that leave just as much damage and carnage in our unseen hearts. Our culture needs Christians who will guide hurting people to the One who heals and restores all of our broken places. On the battlefield of the human heart, we need to offer the mercy of Jesus, which is the only antidote to what ails us.
The sports culture breeds an endless cycle of praise and criticism that is only representative of the larger truth that our nation is fractured, hurting, and in need of what only Jesus can offer. As Christians who live in this specific culture, our mandate is to be ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). As we enjoy the best of what sports bring to our lives, we should remember to also be quick to look for opportunities to extend love, grace, and forgiveness to those around us who need the touch of Jesus in their lives.