Strength in numbers

strength-in-numbers-2Some people (including some who read this blog!) know that I find sermon illustrations everywhere. Even in professional basketball.

I was born and raised in Oakland. My father was a San Francisco Warriors fan back when Rick Barry was their star player. And I’ve become a Golden State Warriors fan since their meteoric rise to the 2015 championship.

This year, needless to say, I’m disappointed.

Behind their unselfish style of play and the long-range marksmanship of Klay Thompson and two-time MVP Steph Curry, the Warriors dominated the regular season. They set record after record — if someone has the stat on this, I’m guessing they set a record number of records! — including most wins in a regular season at 73. They were nearly unbeatable on their home court, and looked to be the heavy favorites throughout the playoffs.

Then the playoffs began. And suddenly, the Warriors looked vulnerable, particularly in the conference finals against Oklahoma City. The Warriors struggled against the Thunder, and barely dug themselves out of a 3-1 deficit to advance to the Finals.

After the first two games of the Finals, it looked like it was all over, and Warriors were sure to repeat as champs. Then the Cavs dug in, and Golden State’s vaunted offense stalled and stumbled.

One could point to a host of factors. Curry was probably still not 100% after his earlier knee injury. Draymond Green’s suspension cost them Game 5. Harrison Barnes was missing in action. Andrew Bogut went out in Game 6, and his backups couldn’t fill the void. Andre Iguodala was playing through pain. The team relied upon their dominance with the 3-ball, but sometimes the Splash Brothers didn’t splash (25% from distance in Game 7), and they didn’t get to the foul line enough.

And perhaps worst of all, the MVP didn’t look much like an MVP. Curry shot well below his regular season averages, made too many errant passes, and was badly outplayed by the Cavs’ Kyrie Irving.

The Warriors lost on their home court, in front of a raucous crowd wearing bright yellow “Strength in Numbers” t-shirts. That was the slogan coach Steve Kerr brought with him two season ago, to tell his players, Everyone matters. Everyone has a contribution to make. Trust your teammates. And have fun.

That, I think, is as good a way as any to describe what went wrong. During the regular season, the Warriors played free and loose. They played together and enjoyed the game. Then, somewhere in the playoffs — maybe Game 5 of the Finals? — it stopped being fun. You could see it in Steph Curry’s body language.

There were stretches, even whole games, in which the team-first philosophy was on brilliant display — Game 1 especially. Neither Splash Brother was shooting well. Kerr trusted his bench players, and they came through. But then the Cavs, and especially LeBron James, ratcheted up the defense. The Warriors stopped playing their game, stopped moving the ball, and the Cavs took deadly advantage of every lapse.

Ah, well. Enough already. Where’s the sermon illustration?

It’s the idea of Strength in Numbers. Put simply, in the church of Jesus Christ, there should be no distinction between the starting lineup and the bench.

Yes, there will be those who have the showier roles, those who seem to be MVPs because they have great gifts and can give astonishing performances. But those gifts are meant to complement those of everyone else on the team. Everyone has a role to play.

In some churches, there’s too much of a spectator mentality: we’re here to watch, not play. Some people get more involved, moving from the stands to the bench. But in the larger scheme of God’s work in the world, there is no bench.

Thus, for all those who are simultaneously followers of Jesus Christ and fans of the NBA, I have a new slogan for you: there is no bench. Maybe no one’s wearing your jersey. But you’re part of the team, and you have a role to play.

Get in the game.