To learn more about these posts, see our first one on Kobe Bryant. *It has been unintentional that the first three of these posts have all focused on NBA players. It’s just the way it’s turned out.
Let’s set the scene: Kevin Durant, forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder, was recently featured in a NY Times article. Here’s an excerpt from the story:
Growing up, Durant told me, he was a sore loser. That all changed one day when he was 11, after he got destroyed by his father in a game of one on one in the driveway. “Of course I knew I was gonna lose,” he said. “He was so much bigger and stronger than me. He was backing me down, dunking, pushing me. He was screaming, talking trash. I scored like one point.” Little Kevin was so upset by the loss (and, presumably, by the bullying) that he burst into tears, ran into the house, locked the door and refused to let his father in. The intensity of his own crying surprised him and, after a while, inspired some self-reflection. “I sat back and thought about it and was like, What am I so mad at?” Durant told me, and in that moment, he said, he made a decision. “It’s good to be passionate, it’s good to hate losing — but I’ve got to channel it the right way,” he said. “You know what I mean? And after a while I just started to learn to leave it where it’s at, get rid of it. Once you’re done and you’re off the court or out of the venue or whatever, go back to being you.”
First off, what a sad story. I’m referring to how the dad played him in basketball. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that he beat his son but he could have gone without the trash talking and pushing. Perhaps another Sports & Theology post for another day…
I want to commend Durant though when he asks this question of himself, “What am I so mad at?” That’s a great diagnostic question to ask when you’re angry after a loss or a poor individual performance. That question tends to reveal your feelings and ultimately your beliefs. After all, “…out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).” Most of the time, when you ask the question of why you are so mad, the answer will be this: you’ve made sports an idol (for more on sports as an idol, see this post and this post).
What I really want to focus on is this quote though: “And after a while I just started to learn to leave it where it’s at, get rid of it. Once you’re done and you’re off the court or out of the venue or whatever, go back to being you.” I’ve heard talk like this countless times on the court/field. After a game, when addressing someone’s behavior, I’ve often heard: “I’m sorry, man. I’m a totally different person when I’m on the court/field. That wasn’t really me.”
And there’s the lie or, perhaps, lies (plural). First off, you’re not a different person on the court than off. As John Wooden has famously said, “Sports don’t build character, they reveal it.” Sports tend to bring out the darkest parts of our soul especially the parts that we are so good at hiding elsewhere in life. When Durant says things like this, he has compartmentalized sports. On the court, playing basketball, has become a place where his faith does not impact his thoughts or actions. Make no mistake though, who you are on the court is who you are off the court. This is not a “Las Vegas” thing–what happens on the court, stays on the court. You are responsible for who you are, what you do, and what you think on the court. It’s a lie to think otherwise. If I were to have a conversation with Durant, I would also tell him that “leaving it” on the court does not work. The emotional brokenness in our lives can’t be left behind in a physical place. The only way to break a cycle is to uncover the pattern. This will never be done by nonchalantly saying, “I leave it on the court.”
Kevin Durant professes faith in Christ and so my prayer for him is that he would work on his basketball playing “as if working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23).” I pray that he would be reminded that God wants all of him not just his attitude off the court but his heart while on the court. I pray that he would be reminded of Jesus’ message to the Pharisees (and to all of us) that our heart and our desires matter as much to him as our actions do (Matthew 23).*
*I don’t pray this arrogantly as if I’ve “arrived” and have this all figured out. All of these things I pray for myself routinely.