Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Years ago, I lived somewhere else. Back then and there, basketball didn't matter so much.
But now I live right in between two of the greatest powerhouses in the world of college basketball. It's true: my house is less than 15 minutes from Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University and less than 20 minutes from the Dean Smith Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
On top of that, my oldest son graduated from Duke University, and my second son graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill just last May. No, he didn't play basketball; he's just as tall as a basketball player.
Around here, basketball matters a lot. And last night, most of my friends were pulling hard for a Tar Heel victory in the NCAA National Championship Game.
It was not to be.
Unless you're completely separated from the world of sports, you already know that the Villanova Wildcats won that game in one of the most exciting endings in college basketball history.
As I watched the final seconds of the game in replay after replay, I couldn't help but think of the iconic opening lines to the ABC Wide World of Sports program I used to watch on Saturday afternoons. In my imagination I can still hear Jim McKay's voice intoning "Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport. . . the thrill of victory. . . and the agony of defeat. . . the human drama of athletic competition. . . " Does anyone else remember that?
For sure, Monday night's game gave us some awfully memorable images of both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
But as thrilling and as agonizing as this game was for Villanova and Carolina fans, there's a story of human drama that captured my imagination even more than the electricity on the court. It's the backstory of the young man who made the game-winning three-pointer for Villanova. Have you heard it?
His name is Kris Jenkins, and if you haven't already witnessed his performance in Monday night's game, don't worry: you'll see it again and again. No doubt every montage of college basketball highlights from this time onward will include that shot of his. But did you know that one of the members of the opposing team is Kris Jenkins' brother?
Nate Britt, a junior guard for the Carolina team, was once an AAU teammate of Kris Jenkins. When Kris's family went through tumultuous times, including the death of his baby sister, Kris stayed with the Britts. Later, in middle school, Kris's mother Felicia--herself a coach who had taught Kris to play basketball--noticed that Kris was making poor choices. She knew that Kris could have a better future, but not in the home environment that she was able to give him at the time. So in one of the most incredible stories of courage and compassion I've ever heard, Felicia Jenkins asked the Britt family to take Kris in as one of their own--and the Britts agreed. They raised Kris as their own son, guiding him through the difficult teen years and helping him to gain a place in the basketball program at Villanova.
So it is that a member of the Villanova Wildcats team and a member of the Carolina Tarheels team grew up as brothers. Can you believe it?
This is a complicated story. This is a story of a grown, educated woman and her family, a loving mom who knew that her son needed something she couldn't provide. Can you imagine how it must have felt for this mom to humble herself, to reach out for help, to willingly separate herself from her child? And can you imagine how it must have felt for the family who were called upon to help to such an extent?
Such faith--on both sides--is rarely seen.
I'll be honest with you: in a world where it sometimes feels that we're all absolutely obsessed with sports, this story is especially riveting to me.
I can well imagine that this basketball game will be the stuff of family lore for the Britt and the Jenkins families for a long, long time. Kris Jenkins has bragging rights about the big game, for sure. But as I see it, both the Britts and the Jenkins have bragging rights when it comes to being the kind of people the world needs.
And so today I pray for the Lord to help me be like that. Lord, help me to become the kind of person who acts with that kind of faith, that kind of courage, that kind of compassion. Will you join me?