Death and Resurrection: UVA Basketball on Embracing Failure

“If you didn’t believe in resurrection before those last two UVA basketball games, then you […]

Henry Harris / 4.15.19

“If you didn’t believe in resurrection before those last two UVA basketball games, then you must now.” This is how Marilu Thomas started her sermon at Christ Church Charlottesville the Sunday before the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final. And then in the third game, the Hoos rose again. I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but last Monday UVA won its first Men’s Basketball Championship only a year after arguably the most notorious and embarrassing loss in tournament history. Much has been written about this story of tragedy and triumph, but just as Coach Tony Bennett said to his team before overtime began in the Final (probably): we’re not done quite yet.

Everyone has failed, hopefully not in a manner quite as public or humiliating as UVA’s loss to UMBC in 2018. But everyone has come up short in some way or another. If you’re like me, your reaction to failure is wanting to curl up into a ball, to crawl into a hole where maybe the feeling of not having that “enoughness” can’t reach you. Failure breeds a certain sense of damage control: how can I make sure the least amount of people see this brokenness that I let sneak out of me? I know I certainly wouldn’t make that failure my phone background and Twitter profile picture like UVA star Kyle Guy did for the entire year since the 2018 loss. Avoiding the failure is certainly easier. But running away from our failures just means continuing to run towards some theoretical place without failures, only increasing our disappointment next time when we find out we’re still not perfect.

Coach Bennett knew that his team wouldn’t have a chance at coming back from their failure if they didn’t learn to embrace it. “If you learn to use it right, the adversity, it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way,” Bennett said in a tournament postgame, quoting a Ted Talk that his wife showed him after last year’s loss. This year’s season could never have been independent of last year’s, and that loss was indelibly a part of this team’s story. But what if they could put that failure in perspective as just one chapter of the story, rather than the end of the world?

Hopefully this is starting to sound suspiciously religious. Rodger Sherman at The Ringer was able to highlight these parallels the best:

The Cavaliers’ coaches and players had to know that they would always be linked with that failure. But they also knew that failure didn’t have to be the whole story…What if the Book of Job ended with Job dunking while Satan wept during the “One Shining Moment” montage?

The Cavaliers’ national championship will forever remain linked with their loss to UMBC. Those two moments explain each other, and magnify each other…Virginia’s 2018 catastrophe is no longer a mark of shame for the team’s players, coaches, and fans—just an unerasable part of a unique story. Nobody has ever been in the valley that Virginia fell into. The Cavaliers climbed out and smiled.

The failure of UVA in 2018 will forever be linked to the triumph of UVA in 2019. A death-like experience that will always begin the great redemption highlight reels. You might see where I am going with this as we move into Holy Week in the church, a week meant to remember the ultimate death and resurrection. Though church attendance won’t show it, Good Friday is just as important to the story as Easter. The death of Jesus must always be linked with the resurrection of Jesus. With that cross, He carried our failures, our shortcomings, our insecurities, our regrets, our jealousy, our stubbornness, our sin. He was humiliated as he walked and as He was nailed to the cross. But because He rose again, Jesus is our ticket. When I find myself in valleys that seem never-ending, I know He will still be walking beside me.

As Sherman says in his article, “And sometimes when your worst-case scenario comes to life, it brings not only shame and sadness but also a strangely massive sense of relief. You wake up the next morning to find that the sun hasn’t exploded.” Jesus is that relief this week and all weeks. The ultimate Cinderella Story you might say.

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One response to “Death and Resurrection: UVA Basketball on Embracing Failure”

  1. Asher says:

    Let’s go HH!

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