But First, Let Me Thank God

But First, Let Me Thank God June 19, 2024

Game 5 of the NBA Finals 2024 seemed more like a coronation ceremony for the Boston Celtics than a competition. It was not hard to believe. During the whole season, the team has put up incredible numbers and had taken the first three games in a row from the Dallas Mavericks. After the game, I watched the trophy ceremony and was impressed by the humility of the individuals involved. Each one was quick to thank God. They were quick to thank God and speak about faith, but without overdoing it. The team were all wearing shirts proclaiming their latest NBA Championship, while their coach wore a different shirt.

But First, Let Me Thank God

For those of us who have gotten to know 35-year-old head coach Joe Mazzulla, it was no surprise that he would take this opportunity to make a statement. He has been outspoken about his Christian faith and his shirt did not disappoint. “But first, let me thank God.” The man had just accomplished the highest goal in his profession, and he made sure to render praise to God. He seems to have taken to heart the psalm verse:

How can I repay the Lord for all the good he has done for me? (Ps. 116:12).

Coach Mazzulla After NBA Championship 2024
Coach Mazzulla put on a different shirt after winning the game | Courtesy: Twitter

Royal Family

Mazzulla has shown a pattern of bringing his Christian faith to the foreground. November 30, 2023, the Prince and Princess of Wales visited the Celtics facilities. When asked by a reporter if he had met the Royal Familyon their visit, he responded with a smirk: “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph?” He made it very clear that his Christian faith is very important to him.

Not Playing the Race Card

More recently, he was questioned about the significance of two Black head coaches leading the teams in the NBA Finals. He refused to speak about race and answered with a blunt question: “I wonder how many of those have been Christian coaches?” Once again, he brought his faith to center stage.

Professional Capacity

Perhaps what I enjoy most about Mazzulla’s no-nonsense testimony of faith is that he does not make his performance depend on his faith. It is not faith leading to a miracle. He trusts the process and is meticulous in his preparation. Mazzulla speaks about going down 3-0 in the NBA Finals last year as a gift. He is well known as a highly analytical coach and took the opportunity to break down the 3 losses in a different way. Working with General Manager Brad Stevens, he worked to make the necessary adjustment in strategy and personnel until it paid off with Championship number 18, edging out the Lakers for the most Championship titles in the NBA.

What Does it Mean?

Recently, he was questioned about what he wants to do after winning the championship. Once again, his faith comes to the forefront.

“If we win the championship this year, we’re flying to Jerusalem and we’re walking from Jericho to Jerusalem,” Mazzulla told NBC Sports Boston last month. “And it will be kind of like just our reconnect. But we went last year and we stopped right along this mountain side of the Kidron Valley and you could see a path in between the mountains … the only way that [Jesus] could have gotten from Jericho to Jerusalem was through this valley. And right there I was like, ‘We have to walk that.’” He added: “Most people go to Disney World or whatever but … I think [the Holy Land is] the most important place to go back and recenter yourself” (Clemente Lisi, “Head Coach Joe Mazzulla’s Catholic Faith Helped Guide The Boston Celtics To An NBA Championship”).

Using His Faith to Connect to God

He does not use his faith as a crutch, but it is an important part of his life. It connects him to what is most important, or rather with whom is most important: God. Belief in God is not for him a tool to achieve professional success. After the game, he shouted to Jayson Tatum, “I told you.” They asked him about it and he shared that he had told Jayson they would win. Then he added, “we might lose,” but that is not what is most important. Winning basketball games for Coach Mazzulla is not like the show-down of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. God consumed Elijah’s holocaust to show he is real. The way he integrates his faith into his coaching shows how we are called to be in this world, but not of it. (cf. Jn. 17:14-16).

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About Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, LC
Fr. Nicholas Sheehy was ordained a Catholic priest in 2013 for the Legionaries of Christ. He has been involved in youth work including missions, retreats and apostolic outreach in Germany, Italy, the United States and Central America. He is passionate about the New Evangelization and formation for young adults and married couples. He is a spiritual director and retreat director, offering marriage preparation and marriage counseling through the Divine Mercy Clinic and Family Center. He is currently Executive Director and Chaplain of the Newman Center at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Pasadena, California. You can read more about the author here.
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