Of God and Basketball Victories

BasketballEditor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Dan Miller’s book Spiritual Reflections. It appears here verbatim.

On the evening of March 30, 2002, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia, the Indiana Hoosiers upset the Oklahoma Sooners in a “Final Four” contest of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Following the game, Indiana coach, Mike Davis, credited God for giving his team the victory. “I have a lot of people praying for me,” he told the press, “God has placed his favor on me.”

Let me be the last to object to any praise going to God in the media. A man steps up to the microphone and declares that God factors into his view of the world, even the world of basketball—I’m with that! I lauded Mike Davis’ courage to proclaim his faith to the world on that occasion and I laud him still.

Yet I must confess my growing discomfort with the array of athletes and coaches announcing into a microphone their euphoric gratitude to God moments after an athletic victory over their opponents. My discomfort has nothing to do with bringing God into the sports world—he’s there anyway; kudos to those who acknowledge reality! My discomfort stems more from the message that may be subtly communicated by such public expressions of divine adulation.

That message, I fear, is that God plays favorites or doles out victories like a cosmic vending machine to those willing to acknowledge him publicly as the dispenser of their triumphs. I’m also troubled by the concern that thoughtful viewers will ask why God chooses not to answer the prayers offered in behalf of teams who lose. And why did, in this instance, coach Davis and his Hoosiers lose the championship game two nights later? Did the power of prayer fail between Saturday and Monday? Did God’s favor, which supposedly rested on Davis’ head on Saturday, dissipate by Monday night? Did coach Davis do something wrong on the Sunday sandwiched between those two game days?

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