I Would Have Chosen Kanter

Kentucky Center Josh Harrellson celebrates after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes in the NCAA Tournament (Photo by Mark Cornelison, Herald-Leader)

I would have chosen Kanter. For those of you curiously unaware to what I am talking about, allow me to explain. Enes Kanter was going to propel my beloved Kentucky Wildcats to the Final Four. The Turkish big man was going to give the Cats an inside threat that few college teams could contain or match-up against. But he never set foot on the court. The NCAA deemed him permanently ineligible due to the fact that his family had received $33,000 from a professional team in Turkey. To the NCAA, Kanter was a professional. His amateurism had been compromised. When the news broke in the Bluegrass State, Final Four expectations were tempered. Everyone knew that our front-line was too thin. Frankly, we didn’t think much of our chances with Josh Harrellson as main weapon down low. Sure, we had other talented freshman, but our weakness was the man on the block. The one we affectionately call “Jorts“. We loved Josh, but we never expected him to do what we knew Kanter could have done for us. If it came down to me, choosing Kanter or Harrellson, I would have chosen Kanter. Because if you told me in November, that in the Sweet 16, our best chance for beating the best team in the tournament rested on the broad shoulders of Jorts, I would of said that we will not have a chance. I’m glad it didn’t come down to me. The story I would have wrote can’t compare to the story we are witnessing before our eyes.

In case you don’t care much for sports, a really big game was played last night. My beloved Wildcats sent the best team in the tournament packing. In probably one of the most exciting college basketball games I can remember watching, the Cats beat the Buckeyes 62-60. Number One is done. And although it was one of our star freshman, Brandon Knight, who hit the winning shot, it was because of Jorts that we won that game. He took on one of the best big men in the country and held his own. He also added 17 points and 10 rebounds. His performance will go down in Kentucky basketball lore. But the story hasn’t ended yet. There is still, at least, one more game to be played. There is more drama to unfold. I cannot wait for the game on Sunday night against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

As I was pondering the fact that I would not have chosen to write this story for the Wildcats, I could not help but think about another story that I would not have written. Right now, we are in the middle of Lent. Each day brings us closer to the grand celebration of the resurrection Jesus Christ. The Story that God has written in the Gospel is the very story that I would have never written for myself or the world. I never would have chosen for the Savior to be born in a rank stable. I never would have chosen 15 years of menial labor as a carpenter. I never would have chosen three years of itinerant teaching without a place for the Savior to call home. I never would have chosen to have him killed at the hands of evil men, appearing to be defeated. The story that we find in the Gospel is not the story that we would have written. No one would have written it in this way. Yet, how grateful are we that we didn’t get our way? What would have happened if we had written on our own story? Would it not have ended badly for us? Would we not have been given over to the lusts of our hearts, drowning in idolatry? Would not our own story ended in our destruction? The truth is, yes. If we have the power to write our own story, we will destroy ourselves.

From the very beginning, Man was meant to live in the story God was telling. Yet, God’s story never looks like the way we would do it. A Tree from which we cannot eat? “Did God say you would really die?” The moment our First Parents ate of the forbidden fruit is the moment Man has tried to write his own story. God’s story was rejected. We decided that we were god enough to write our own story. And when our stories were thwarted and disrupted, we questioned and grumbled. We rebelled. We aligned ourselves with the wilderness generation, with the prince of the power of the air. Praise be to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who has rescued us from this propensity to write our story, to define our own good. Thank God for the Gospel. The joy is deep, the hope, eternal. For it is a far superior story than I could have ever written for myself. Thank God it wasn’t up to me or up to you.

Even if the Cats fail to reach the Final Four, this will be one unforgettable season. It will be unforgettable for all the right reasons. It will be especially unforgettable for me, because it has given me a glimpse of the Gospel. It has proved to me, once again, that my own ideas about what is best are flat wrong 99% of the time (even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while :)). I would have chosen Kanter. And I would have missed out on one of the greatest stories in Kentucky basketball history. Go get ’em Jorts!



Renounce Your Fandom

I love sports (just ask my wife). But over the past year, I have grown increasingly frustrated with fandom. So frustrated in fact, I am about do something about it. I, Justin Camblin, hereby renounce my fandom. What do I mean by fandom? Fandom is the realm within sports were ordinary, seemingly respectable people wear the colors of their favorite team and root them onto victory. At least, that’s what fandom used to be about. Now those ordinary, seemingly respectable people have turned in to pugnacious pooh-bahs pontificating on things they know relatively nothing about. I can take no more of it.

The epicenter of my disgust is found in the Pharisaical moralism that has been revealed in the fan psyche. It is no longer possible to simply follow a certain team. You must also assail the moral integrity of all those associated with the rivals of your team. You are not a real fan of Team X unless you hate Team Y with every fiber of your being and point out how they are all moral reprobates. A majority of the time the hate directed at your team’s rival is based on factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the play on the field or court. They are moral factors or ethical factors. Allow me to expand upon what I mean with a few anecdotal tails from the Land of Fandom.

Here in the Bluegrass State, the University of Kentucky Basketball team is king. Fandom here is intense. And if you’re going to be properly initiated into the Fandom of UK basketball, here are two rivals you must hate: the University of Louisville and the University of Tennessee. Benign indifference will not cut it. You must hate these two teams. Yet, your hate and bile will always come from the moral and ethical failings of those rivals. This past summer, fan websites here in Kentucky reported, with glee, the sordid details of a tryst between University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and some woman (not his wife) he met in a bar. This woman had attempted to extort Coach Pitino and in the course of the trial, the details of that unfortunate night were made public. This was fodder for weeks on the blogs and fan sites. It had absolutely nothing to do with the game played on the court. It had everything to do with trumpeting the moral failings of our rival in order that we might look better. It doesn’t end there. This past year has also seen several players from both the football and basketball teams of the University of Tennessee get into legal trouble for a sundry of reasons. In the build up to this past week’s UK/UT football game, those legal troubles were again trumpeted on the blogs and fan sites, complete with mug shots. You see, UT is nothing but morally deficient thugs. And don’t get them started on their fans. Rednecks and mullets…and you’d never see that in Kentucky. Us Kentucky fans are morally and culturally superior. Ethically superior as well; at least we think so.

Outside the UK realm of Fandom, we are not viewed as pure as we see ourselves. Exhibit A is John Calipari, our beloved basketball coach. Ever since Coach Cal (as he is affectionately known in the UK realm) came to Kentucky, a lot of hate and vitriol has been directed towards UK fans (some reporter said that UK fans would accept Hitler as coach, as long as he was winning, thus implying UK fans would trade the slaughter of 6 million Jews for a winning program). You see, apparently Coach Cal is a cheater. He is the only coach to have the distinction of having two Final Four appearances vacated from the NCAA record books. The first happened while he was at the University of Massachusetts. One of his players accepted money from an agent, which made him a professional and thus ineligible. The second happened at the University of Memphis. Apparently, one of his star players cheated on his SAT back while he was in high school, so he too, was ineligible. There it is folks, proof positive that Coach Cal is a dirty, rotten scoundrel and enough of a reason to shower the UK program and it’s fans with hate. If Coach Cal wasn’t reason enough, Kentucky’s basketball program does have a checkered past. They have cheated in the past and been caught (In fact, it was Rick Pitino, the man UK fans love to hate, that saved the program and brought it back to national prominence, but that isn’t mentioned too much anymore…softens the hate too much). So we’re not as pure as we’d like to think…bummer.

Perhaps this moralistic fandom is localized in collegiate athletics. Surely professional sport fandom would be far more civilized. Unfortunately, this realm of fandom is also polluted. For example, my favorite baseball team is the Boston Red Sox (followed closely by the Atlanta Braves). If you know anything about baseball, you know exactly who I am supposed to hate. The Yankees. Ever since the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919 and the Yankees became one of the greatest franchises in professional sports, Red Sox fans have hated the Yankees and their fans with an everlasting hate. While this rivalry is rooted a little more in the play on the field, the moralistic hearts have been revealed again; especially in the modern era. One such example of that moralism is Alex Rodriguez. Initially, he was hated because of his greed. Rodriguez currently has the richest contract in all of Major League Baseball. And Red Sox fans loved to point out his greed. They loved to point out how he wasn’t worth the money, that he couldn’t deliver when it counted. Not only did we hate Rodriguez for his greed, but the Yankee’s owner who gave it to him. George Steinbrenner was ruining baseball. He bought his championships, we said. He didn’t develop talent like the rest of the teams. Not only that, but he was a jerk. Tails of his rants and tirades can be quickly found. In fact, he was so dictatorial in his control over the Yankees, he once paid a man to dig up some dirt on one of his own players that he could use as leverage in negotiating a new contract. That got him suspended from baseball. Ole George was a real winner and Red Sox fans love to hate him for it. Back to Alex…he’s also hated because he is an admitted cheater. Ignore the fact that his talent is matchless in this generation, Red Sox fans (and others) love to talk about how Rodriguez used steroids. How anyone with any moral scruples could root for the Yankees is beyond comprehension for the average Red Sox fan.

No fandom is exempt, sadly. Lebron James is hated for stabbing an entire city in the heart on national television. Tiger Woods is hated for destroying his family with multiple adulteries. Michael Vick is hated for running a dog fighting ring. What is really interesting is, this moralistic fandom doesn’t end at the borders of sports. Politics, religion, fraternities, sororities, clubs and cliques all suffer from the malady of moralism. It effects every institution known to man because man is a moralist. We desperately need and want to earn our own salvation. We desperately want to be apart of something bigger than ourselves. So we give ourselves to all this things, all these functional saviors. Is it any wonder that we must assail the other functional saviors that are competing with the one we’ve chosen for ourselves? Should I be surprised that sports have been overrun by these incessant, bloviating, empty-headed blowhards that fill the internet?

What should we do? Renounce your fandom! Lay down these functional saviors. We are not citizens of the Big Blue Nation or Red Sox Nation, but “our citizenship is in heaven and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). You see, I need to have my mind reoriented. My world does not rise and fall on the latest sporting event. I have a feeling that many of my friends could use that same reorientation. It’s easy to lose our minds (and our souls) when it comes to sports. It’s easy because we are so prone to love ourselves. What we need to remember is the gospel. We need to remember that we are no better than anyone. In fact, we are wicked. And no association can make us better than anyone. Apart from the grace of God, there is no salvation, no matter how high we build that tower. And that’s all sports can ultimately become. Another attempt at the Tower of Babel. So, renounce that fandom, and let’s spend our time reflecting on the only citizenship that will matter in the end. It sure will make watching sports enjoyable again.