This Weekend in the NYTimes: Basketball and the Bondage of the Will

In this week’s NYTimes Magazine, there is a fascinating article entitled “The No-Stats All-Star”. It […]

R-J Heijmen / 2.16.09

In this week’s NYTimes Magazine, there is a fascinating article entitled “The No-Stats All-Star”. It centers on how Shane Battier, formerly of Duke, currently of the Houston Rockets, is one of the most valuable players in the NBA even though his statistics are unremarkable, to say the least.

As a life-long UConn fan and Duke-hater, the article was a bit tough to take, but there was one paragraph which caught my eye:
“In the statistically insignificant sample of professional athletes I’ve come to know a bit, two patterns have emerged. The first is, they tell you meaningful things only when you talk to them in places other than where they have been trained to answer questions. It’s pointless, for instance, to ask a basketball player about himself inside his locker room. For a start, he is naked; for another, he’s surrounded by the people he has learned to mistrust, his own teammates. The second pattern is the fact that seemingly trivial events in their childhoods have had huge influence on their careers. A cleanup hitter lives and dies by a swing he perfected when he was 7; a quarterback has a hitch in his throwing motion because he imitated his father. Here, in the Detroit Country Day School library, a few yards from the gym, Battier was back where he became a basketball player. And he was far less interested in what happened between him and Kobe Bryant four months ago than what happened when he was 12.”
As much as we are tempted to see ourselves and others as “free agents,” capable of making impartial decisions and breaking loose of our past, thoughtful observers of human nature, like the author of this article, know better. Simply put, people are not free, but bound, enslaved to patterns of behavior and emotion that are deeply, perhaps intractably, rooted. I certainly am. Thank God we preach a Gospel of grace for captives, of rescue for prisoners.