Jewish Journal

Sports and Spirituality

by Beit T'shuvah

May 6, 2013 | 3:05 pm

By Matt Shapiro


Despite living in Southern California for the better part of a decade, I still consider myself to be a Chicagoan. This is most clearly reflected in the sports teams I root for: Bears, White Sox and Bulls. I was thrilled that over the weekend, the Bulls defeated the Brooklyn Nets in the deciding game of their first-round playoff series to move on to face the defending champion Miami Heat, both because of my own personal rooting interests and, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, deeper spiritual reasons as well. In this game, the Bulls were missing two different players who were in the starting lineup at the beginning of the series. On top of these key absences, all season long the Bulls have been without Derrick Rose, one of the best players in the league, who has been out since the playoffs last spring after tearing his ACL. So what?, you ask. Any team can win short-handed once in a while. What makes this situation notable in my eyes is the underlying philosophy of the Bulls’ coach, Tom Thibodeau.

Coach Thibs, as he’s known (saving me from having to type that more than once), espouses a coaching philosophy of hard work and hustle, always pushing his players to the limit of their talent and energy. Over the past two weeks, each time he was asked about the key players the Bulls were missing, Thibs has said simply, “We have more than enough to win.” Instead of coming up with excuses in advance or finding half-hearted ways of explaining how his team might still have a chance, he answered confidently and without hesitation in support of his team. The effort of his players reflected the faith of their coach, keeping their season alive.

To be sure, there are people in our world who are needy, missing things they sorely need, in which lack of success is not merely a case of lack of effort. At the same time, there are also many of us who have everything we need, and either cannot see it (because of our own blindness) or choose not to see it (so that we can always have either 1. an excuse, for when things don’t go our way, or 2. something superficial to be striving for). I’m blessed each day to have more than enough, and when I remember that, not only am I in a place where I’m more able to see accurately what’s right in front of me, but I’m happier too.

It calls to mind the well-known song many of us sang a few weeks ago at our Seders, Dayenu, in which we recount all of the different things God has provided for us, listing them all and reciting after each, “dayenu,” it would have been enough to just have this. Having it, whatever it is, isn’t a guarantee of success, but noticing that it’s present deepens what’s possible. It’s easy for me to lose sight of how much I have, and I’m humbled when I remember to notice those gifts. I’m so used to the presence of my wife and child that I have to make a point to remember how lucky I am to have them and how grateful I am; without them, I wouldn’t have nearly enough to contend, let alone win, but because they’re fixtures in my life, I can lose sight of that. Another example: it would have been enough for the Bulls to just make it past the first round of the playoffs after everything that happened…dayenu! But, man, it will really be great if we could take down the Heat…

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