Taking care of the little things

I haven’t written a basketball-oriented post in a while.  But I just have to comment on this one…

Right now in the NBA, all eyes are on the Miami Heat, as they chase history with the second longest win-streak on record (currently at 24 games).  I still dislike the way the team of “Super Friends” came together; money is bound to contaminate professional sports, sometimes in egregious ways.  But I have to give LeBron his props.  He is, quite possibly, the most talented player on the planet right now, and few question his will to win anymore.

But out west, quietly, the Denver Nuggets (who?) have put together a nice little streak of their own: 14 games as of last night, a franchise record.  And the way the game went down is a perfect parable of the importance of taking care of the little things.

At this point in the season, the playoff contenders are fairly well set, and the stronger teams hope to fatten their records by feeding on weaker teams.  Denver has already guaranteed their spot, and the Philadelphia 76ers are almost surely out.  So when Philly came into town, burdened with one of the worst road team records in the league (they’ve only won six away games all season), the odds were strongly stacked in favor of the Nuggets.

But in the waning minutes of the game, Philly took the lead.  With less than ten seconds to play, Corey Brewer, making a huge contribution off Denver’s bench, hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to two.

And then the real drama started.

Everyone knows that games can be won or lost at the free throw line.  But not like this.  Not usually.

Seven seconds left.  Philly’s Evan Turner gets a trip to the charity stripe for two free throws.  If he makes both, the two-point lead grows to four, making a Denver comeback nearly impossible.

Both free throws go in–and then rattle back out.

We go back the other way.  With two seconds left, Brewer hoists another three pointer, which misses.  But he gets fouled on the shot, earning him three free throws.  He’s a subpar free-throw shooter, making two out of every three for the season.  Two of three here will tie the game; three will probably win it.

The first goes in.  Then the second.  The game is tied.  Sixers coach Doug Collins uses the typical ploy, calling a time-out to disrupt Brewer’s rhythm.  After the time-out, Brewer returns to the line, and calmly hits the third.  A last second desperation shot by Philly is blocked, and the Nuggets win by one point, keeping their streak alive.

Look at the wall posters made of NBA players.  Here’s someone soaring for a dunk, or grappling for a rebound, or dribble-driving around the defense.  But how many people would buy a poster of someone shooting free throws?  Where’s the glamor in that?

In some ways, life imitates basketball.  There are the unglamorous, mundane, little things.  We take them for granted; we don’t focus on doing them well.  In relationships like marriage, for example, we may give more attention to the big things: events like anniversaries and Valentine’s Day, or blowout conflicts we’re desperate to resolve.  But we may ignore the little things upon which a marriage is truly built: small, repeated gestures of kindness, empathy, humor, and the like.

And the Christian life?  Only a few are called to be heroes of the faith by being martyred penniless and alone in some distant land.  All, however, are called to holiness, and that means sweating the small stuff.

Not in fear, but freedom.

Not by mere duty, but devotion.

That’s what it takes to be a championship team.