“What will you do when the chips are down?” That is the age-old question that always seems to be asked at the wrong time. No one asks the question before the proverbial chip falls to the ground. Honestly, I can’t fathom walking into life situations with the normal expectation that it will take a turn for the worse. In fact contemporary psychology would say that such thinking would go further to create one’s outcome as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy than it would merely prepare for the worst.
Nevertheless, reality demonstrates that we will not only experience difficulty, but will likely respond to it in a way that will force the question, “How will I respond better next time?” This is the question the Los Angels Lakers should be asking themselves now. The big news in the sports world Sunday night should have been how the NBA champions for the past two seasons were quickly ousted from the playoffs in a blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks (and a 4-0 series sweep to boot), but a couple of LA Lakers chose not to go quietly into the off-season.
In the Western Conference Semifinals the Dallas Mavericks jumped to a 3-0 lead in the best of seven series, though they were given almost no chance to beat the perennial finals contestants. With a 3-0 lead and home court advantage it seemed nothing could go wrong for the Mavs leading in to game four. Then, Kobe Bryant, arguably one of the all-time greats of the NBA, guaranteed a series victory for the Lakers, something that no team has ever done after being down 3-0 in a best of seven series. Well, I’m sure Hollywood is glad they didn’t go ahead and book the movie deal because apparently the Mavs didn’t take to kindly to Kobe’s prediction (or all the hopes for the next great basketball movie since Hoosiers and Space Jam) because game four was practically over by halftime with the Mavs up by 24 points.
After being down 24 points in the first half the Lakers didn’t come out of the Locker room fighting their way back into the game. Instead, they came out dropping shoulders, throwing bows and nearly inciting fights during the fourth quarter. As I watched replay after replay of Lamar Odom doing his best Ray Lewis impersonation by lowering his shoulder into Dirk Nowitzki for absolutely no reason I was absolutely disgusted with the lack of class and respect. Then, not even a minute later, Andrew Bynum throws an intentional elbow into the ribs of a defenseless JJ Barea on his way to the basket. This only served to feed my contempt for the Lakers and what seemed to be an absolute lack of sportsmanship and grace in the face of sure defeat.
So, what gives in the Lakers’ fourth quarter response to losing big and why should Christians care? Better yet, how can Christians grow and learn from watching the game and the innumerable amount of replays that follow? We should care when we witness things like this in our world. We will one day be forced to respond to hardships of some form or fashion. Thus, we should take every opportunity to be conformed more into the image of Christ. Sometimes it will be through the faithful, gracious response of others to adverse situations in life. Other times it can be through two grown men losing all sensibility during a basketball game and causing harm to others through their malicious fouls.
We should learn from these experiences throughout life, but our learning must be guided with the understanding that these situations are not moments whereby we get to express the greatness of our own character over that of another. It is not an opportunity to boast. This is the fault I made with the judgment I cast on Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and the Lakers. My first thought was how much greater my moral fiber was than theirs. I was more concerned with how great I am and not so concerned about who Christ is. Truthfully, my response showed the depth of my own sin and pride.
As I reflect on the Gospel now I can’t help but think of Jesus being condemned to death through the angry and impassioned voices of people yelling “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” One response would be to say, “Look at those horrible sinners yelling at an innocent man like that. I’m glad I’m not like them!” I believe, however, the more proper response for the Christian to be, “It is but by the grace of God that I am not still chanting those very words.” Dear Christian, do not be quick, as I was, to boast of your greatness when another falls. Recognize it as not merely an opportunity to see what not to do, but also as a chance to plow up the fallow ground of hardened pride that can easily be mistaken for fertile soil. So, good is the question, “what will you do when the chips are down.” Just as good though is the question, “what are you really thinking when someone else drops their chips?”