Sports & Theology: Kevin Garnett & Ray Allen
Let’s set the scene: Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were teammates together for several years with the Boston Celtics. Not only had they won a championship together but they were close friends. That is, until Ray Allen left as a free agent to join the Miami Heat. How would this move affect their friendship? Greatly.
“I don’t have Ray’s number any more,” Garnett said at the Celtics’ media day at their training center on Friday. “I’m not trying to communicate. I’m just being honest with everybody in here … It’s just what it is.
Pressed on why he cut off contact with Allen, Garnett added, “I choose not to. I choose — that’s a choice I personally made. I told you all, I’m very close to Ray. I know his family. I wish nothing but the best for him and his family. I’m just making a choice on my own. That’s all.”
I’m going to go out on a limb and say they’re not best friends anymore. A fact that is illustrated in this video when the two teams opened the season. Watch as Ray Allen checks into the game and greets some of his former coaches and players before walking onto the court.
That was frosty. If you weren’t able to see it clearly, here’s a written description:
Garnett doesn’t even flinch or show any inkling of a desire to acknowledge Allen’s existence, which, all things considered is about as Kevin Garnett a way to handle this situation as we could have predicted. Allen greets his former coaches and teammates and offers a congenial slap to the back of the man with whom he won the 2007-08 NBA championship; KG avoids the situation by lapsing into what appears to be an intensity coma.
Now that the scene is set, let’s analyze. I’ll insert my usual disclaimer here and say that I clearly don’t know all the facts and intricate details regarding the friendship between Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Perhaps there is more here than meets the eye. From the outside looking in though, it seems pretty clear. Garnett was good friends with Allen up until the point he switched teams and when to the rival team. Now, Garnett does not even acknowledge his existence as seen in the above video.
So, what’s wrong with the situation? There's nothing wrong with being competitive, right? This whole story does bring to light questions like who our friends and enemies are in sports (or in life). And that’s the problem; in sports, we make these lines in the sand. If you’re my teammate, you’re my friend. If you’re my opponent, you are my enemy. “Us” vs. “them.” “Good guys” vs. the “bad guys.” I’m not sure that’s what God would want.
This whole proposition of “us” vs. “them” is really an extension of the naturalist worldview. In other words, sports–just like every other area of my life–is a place to assert my dominance. It’s a representation of the “survival of the fittest” mindset. When you think like this, your opponent (and even at times, your coach and teammates) become the enemy. They become someone to overcome and dominate in order to survive.
This begs the question, what would the Christian framework be for looking at teammates and opponents? To answer this question, you have to go back to the beginning, back to the Garden. What if we saw sports as just another place in this world to unearth treasure - not only in ourselves or our teammates but also in our opponents? And what if we saw unearthing treasure in competition for the glory of God as the ultimate goal? There would be no lines in the sand. No enemies. No bad guys. Only partners in the dance to glorify God.
At the end of the day, this whole episode with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen is ultimately all about Kevin Garnett. Allen leaving the team hurts the team and thereby hurts his ability to succeed and win. Therefore, he’s mad at Ray Allen. It’s born out of selfishness and proves that the relationship, at least from Garnett’s perspective, was a commodity-based relationship. In other words, he valued Allen as long as he got something out of the relationship. Now, there is nothing to receive from the relationship so he becomes the enemy.
That’s sports. That’s human nature. And, oftentimes as Christians, we are no better.