I love sports. I hate sports.
Updated: Oct 22, 2021
Take the Olympics, now underway in Tokyo. The cost to host countries is enormous. I bristle at the idea that professional athletes compete, preferring the lie of my childhood, that Olympic gold was the pinnacle of amateur athletic achievement, though even then athletes from Communist countries were professionals. And despite all of that, there is something amazing about this event, the idea that all the nations of the earth can come together around the beauty of our human bodies, fearfully and wonderfully made: swimming, running, riding horses (equally amazing animals), hitting little white balls with the uncertain hope that they might fall into a hole in the grass...
I am delighted that this week the Cleveland Major League Baseball franchise abandoned a name and mascot that many believed denigrated the First Peoples of North America, a cause the United Church of Christ supported. Still, Guardians? Like most folks, I don't do change well. It's going to take some getting used to...
Sports, like everything we do, lives in that tension between the best that we are, selfless and transcendent, and the worst that we are, fearful and greedy. Our goal is to lean into the good, to be honest about the bad, and to always try to do better, whether that is as an athlete, as a spectator, or as a participant in the sports economy.
Which brings me to my favorite sports story of the week. I've always been willing to cheer for the local team. (Except for the Red Sox, because there are always limits.) While I was in Wisconsin, I happily pulled for the local NBA franchise, the Milwaukee Bucks, and their star player, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis was born in Athens to Nigerian immigrants, was stateless throughout his childhood, shared one pair of basketball shoes with his brother Thanasis (who also now plays for the Bucks) and earned money as a street hawker. When the Bucks drafted him, he'd just received his Greek citizenship, and was a scrawny 18 year-old. This week, Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Championship, and he was named the Finals Most Valuable Player. He was already a two-time league MVP, and had received plenty of offers to jump ship, to go to a team of superstars like the Lakers or the Nets. Instead, he chose to do it the old fashioned way, with loyalty and hard work. Grinding it out.
The Bucks took a chance. They stuck with him. He stuck with them. Together, they did something no one thought was possible, bringing Milwaukee its first title in fifty years. No easy fix. No superstar signing. Just vision, hard work, and patience. I love sports.