Hooray for the home team

“Ring for a King,” screamed the headlines last week as the Miami Heat won the National Basketball Association championship for 2012. The king of the court was Lebron James, crowned most valuable player of the year and the tournament.

Hopefully showing no disrespect to his majesty, I was reminded of the viewing/funeral of James Henry Smith a few years ago. James Henry’s family wanted to remember him as he was in life. The funeral home was understanding and honored their request.

The family and friends agreed it was the perfect touch. They used the usual phrases. “He looks so natural. That’s how we remember him alright. He looks just like he’s asleep.” No one seemed to mind the television set and the video player showing a continuous replay of the greatest moments of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. It was all a part of the last special remembrances with James Henry.

And instead of having James in the casket, they had him slouched comfortably in his Lazy Boy lounge chair with the remote channel selector in his hand, a couple of cold ones at his elbow, a few Doritos on the table. It was a touching occasion. Even the agnostics among the viewers sensed that there is an afterlife, and that James Henry was in heaven.

Most of us don’t get quite that wound up or unwound about our local sports teams, but we do some bizarre things, screaming ourselves hoarse, painting our faces, traveling to far off places to attend road games. We may not know the grade point average of our children, but we know the earned run average of the pitcher on our team. We may ignore our own strains and sprains as we agonize over the latest ankle twist the running back has sustained and what that injury may mean to our future. We cheer in victory, and hold solemn wake over the water cooler in defeat.

What is this hunger, this driving force? Partly it may be memories of our own days of triumph and tragedy in sports. Often we are better athletes in our minds and memories than the actual history would substantiate. And, as the saying goes, “The older I get, the better I was.” Seeing someone perform the way we do in our dreams lets us live in a better world.

Tied to that is the irrational feeling that somehow if my team is winning that reflects on my self esteem and my value as a human being. Don’t try to parse out the logic of this position. There isn’t any. Unfortunately this rah rah can stimulate riots, wars, and bloodshed. Agitators, demigods, and hate mongers know how to light and stoke these fires in the emotional unthinking masses. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is the most current example of bad logic leading often to worse actions.

But in its more benign forms a display of “…root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame,” is just one more entertaining kooky eccentricity of which we humans have more than enough to be entertaining.

And sometimes the sporting world rewards us with a role model we can take home and apply. Such an one may be Jabari Parker from Chicago. Only a high school junior, he has already been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And is being pursued by every college with a basketball court–that is when they can get past the palace guards. That would be Jabari’s mom and dad. They want him to be a son first, then a star maybe. Jabari agrees. “Basketball is what I do, not what I am,” he states. What he is, is a respectful son, gentleman student, and faithful member of his church. As a committed Mormon, he attends early morning seminary classes, treats his dates with dignity and respect, and serves in his church assignments. He humbly acknowledges his abilities, and encourages others to develop theirs. Here is an athlete we can cheer for no matter who he plays for.