This is one of my favorite basketball stories of all-time. It's from March 2, 2013. I don't follow the NBA to any great extent until the playoffs but I try to see what the hometown Houston Rockets are up to as often as possible. Like most casual fans, I have a favorite player or two. I like Tim Duncan because all coaches like fundamentally sound players and Duncan is at the top of that list. I like Steve Nash because he sees everything and is the model of unselfishness. I like Jeremy Lin because his story of unpredictable success resonates within the Asian community. And I like James Harden because he has the best beard since that Lincoln guy in Washington. There's another player I never see play who I have a great deal of respect for but it's for something that happened off the court and it happened a long time ago.
In 2004, St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia was enjoying a magic run with their basketball team. Going 27-0 through the regular season, the Hawks were featured in a Sports Illustrated article featuring the young man who would be National Player of the Year, Jameer Nelson, on the cover. The piece, written by Michael Bamberger, chronicled the fairy tale year for St. Joe's, focusing on Nelson. Bamberger included a insight into both Coach Phil Martelli and Nelson when he divulged an incident that no one but the coach and player knew of. During preseason workouts. Martelli called a young man named Andrew Koefer into his office. Koefer, a freshman walk-on, was positive he was about to be cut after his third practice. With the door closed to make it less painful, the office phone rang, even though the coach had told his secretary no distractions. Thinking it was an emergency, Martelli answered. It was Jameer Nelson. Jameer asked about the red haired kid trying out for the team. Martelli told his star that Koefer was sitting in his office. Let me quote Michael Bamberger here:
"I think you should keep him," Nelson said. Nelson didn't know the kid's name.
"He's a hard worker, and he'll help us practice better."
"Is this important to you?"
"All right, then."
Nelson had never requested anything like that of the coach. For that reason, and because of his abiding respect for Nelson, Martelli turned to Koefer and said, "I've decided to keep you." He never mentioned Nelson's plea on Koefer's behalf.
(taken from Sports Illustrated, February 16, 2004 issue; article entitled Full Nelson by Michael Bamberger)
You can guess the rest of the story. Andrew Koefer stays with the team that is ranked # 1 in the country and temporarily becomes the most famous college basketball walk-on in America. Interestingly, Koefer never knew of Nelson's intervention on his behalf until Martelli told him as the SI article was about to hit newsstands. Koefer went on to play one more year for the Hawks while Nelson, who just turned thirty-one, has had a solid career with the Orlando Magic of the NBA.
It's amazing how life can turn on a chance meeting or a conversation or a phone call. Christians believed these happenings are sometimes woven together by God in ways we cannot foresee or understand. Still, it remains up to us to do an act of kindness or speak up for those in no position to do so whenever we have the opportunity. As sinners, we stand accused by Satan but that's not the end of the story! John tells us in the second chapter of his first epistle that,
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
I like that term advocate; an attorney or champion, maybe even a hero! What Jameer Nelson did on a small scale in private, Jesus Christ does for us in the only arena that ultimately matters! Jameer Nelson kept Andrew Koefer from being discarded as a player while Jesus protects our souls from destruction due to our sinfulness. Being cut from a basketball team stings temporarily; being cast in outer darkness has no end. Someday, Jameer Nelson's basketball playing days will be over, long after Andrew Koefer, the young man he is linked with, hung up his sneakers. The best play Jameer Nelson ever made was off the court and on the phone. He sustained the basketball life of a young man whose name he didn't even know at the time. In John 10, where He refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus teaches that if we are of His flock, He knows our name! In that case, I guess it's pretty important not to get cut from the Sheep team!
Applicable quote of the day:
"A lot of dreams don't come true in life. If you can make somebody's dream come true, you should."
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org