On this last Wednesday night, my son and I watched the San Antonio Spurs run a basketball clinic at the expense of the Minnesota Timberwolves. To watch Manu Ginobili when his eye and his hand coordinate to create laser accurate passes is to watch a demonstration of the incredible power of the human mind and body. God’s majesty presents itself in every way when we watch for it. As it turned out, the highlight of that evening was not the game, but the ceremony that followed the game in which Bruce Bowens jersey, #12, was retired and hung in the rafters with other great Spurs of the past.
Bruce Bowen? He was a defensive player with a decent three shot, but certainly no super star, right? His jersey will hang next to the likes of David Robinson, Sean Elliot, and Avery Johnson. A lot of pundits, and more than a few players around the league, came out criticizing this move by the Spurs. The idea that a utility player deserved such a position did not sit well in the world. As the ceremony began, Sean Elliot rose to do the MC duties. He began with a description of the stats that Bruce Bowen racked up in his years with the Spurs.
• A starting player in 3 of the 4 championships that the Spurs have won.
• Started in 500 contiguous games for the Spurs. (A virtually impossible feat in the NBA)
• All Defensive 2nd team in 01, 02, 03, and 1st team for the next 5 years. (He got better as he got older)
• Nearly 40% field goal percentage overall and on 3 point attempts.
But Elliot was quick to point out, and the highlight reel demonstrated, that his greatest asset was his consistent play as a defender against the best shot makers in the world. David Robinson got up (a man who was known as one of the best defending centers in the history of the game) and extolled the virtues of Bowen on defense. He characterized him as a player that would crawl up a players shorts and irritate them the entire game. I thought that was very funny, a description you won’t soon get out of your head, but makes the point really well. Nobody wanted to have Bowen defending against them. Highlight after highlight showed Bowen deftly knocking the ball out of players hands as if by magic, blocking shots with a simple soft touch from behind, sneaking up on players and stealing the ball, and standing up to the greatest players in the game, putting a hand in their face that tracked their eyes relentlessly .
A look into Bowens past reveals a long and winding road to the Spurs locker room. Foreign play dominated the beginning of his career, and he bounced between several teams in the late 90’s before landing at the Spurs. He worked the entire time to perfect a strategy that began to pay off under the guidance of a Spurs organization that became focused on defense as a strategy to win championships. Player after player spoke of his dedicated hard work, whether on the practice court or the playing court. I should mention that each person who spoke about Bowen also made the point that he has been consistently involved in the community. He may have been the most involved player when it came to using his position for good, and that is saying a lot considering he lived in the shadow of David Robinson.
So why am I going on about this sports enigma in a Christian blog? It is not because Bowen trumpets his faith, he does not. It is more because I was surprised by how his story moved me. I felt a lot of emotion watching the “blue collar” player as he is called, receive amazing accolade. I pay attention to my heart these days, and if it is moved, I ask God why. The word consistency was what I heard.
Ah yes. I have been struggling with consistency in my life lately. My prayer life, scripture reading, attitude, and energy. It has been bothersome, maybe like something has gotten up my shorts and is irritating me. As I process this, I begin to hear the accusation. “You are not consistent Alan, you kind of suck when it comes to that”. I can’t argue. More comes. “It is too late for you to play 500 consistent games”. It feels true. Then this. “All Bowen really did was stick his hand in peoples face and stand on the perimeter waiting for the outlet pass, just like you”. Now I am getting mad. The fruit of these whispers is not good, it is quite the opposite. It is a path being laid to the old tried and true ground of the enemy. Straight to Romans 3:23. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. My inconsistency is disappointing to God, and if I could just get it right, He might finally love me. But I probably can’t, so why try.
Once again I am faced with the bait and switch. If I can do enough things right, God will love me. This is a twist on the truth of God. The truth is that God loves me, and the realization of that causes me to want to do things right. That is where I live most of time, and where I want to live all the time, consistently. From this place, I hear God. Words of affirmation and encouragement. Words of correction and counsel. Good coaching. I know I belong. I am a member of the team and my impact, though not necessarily glorified by the world, brings glory to God.
God takes us on journeys like this. Pricking a response out of something as benign as a jersey retirement ceremony to get our attention. Ah, if we could always hear. This time, I stayed with it until I was compelled to write it down, and in the process, the war ensued. Satan fighting for my resignation, and God fighting for my heart. I have come to recognize this battle, so I accepted the counsel and rejected the lies, this time anyway.
Bruce Bowen’s achievement in the arena of basketball and community service stands now in the record books and hangs in the rafters of the AT&T center. While it is a worldly achievement, in the end, at least for me, it pointed to a picture of something larger. Consistency in the calling of our lives, in loving God for who He is regardless of the current circumstance, and fighting the fight, every day. His journey demonstrated a good way to live.
A last thought as I ponder this. In the same year that Bruce Bowen has received high praise, he has struggled with personal issues. Business failure, divorce, abandonment of freinds, all part of his current journey. It happens that way for all of us. It is a result of the world we live in. But the world that awaits us cheers every second of the day that we glorify God; and the day that we accepted Jesus as our lord, I would like to think that our jersey was hung high as a sign of honor. That would ba a good thing to never forget when this world turns on us. Be consistent for God, like God is for us.
After all, imitation is the best form of flattery.