Tuesday, July 08, 2014

All That Jazz

In a society obsessed with celebrity, we increasingly are inundated with the minutest details of the lives of athletes, politicians, entertainers, etc. Sometimes, we may even have a brief encounter with one of the famous, or at least, nearly famous. Here is one of mine, from March 12, 2007.

He never really made it big. In spite of being Utah's first round pick, Greg Ostertag was to most observers a marginal NBA player. He looked like a good fit for the Karl Malone-John Stockton led Jazz squads but it wasn't to be. Ostertag flashed great potential as a collegian at Kansas but usually when his name was in the papers as a pro, it was negative publicity. He was often in Coach Jerry Sloan's doghouse and it seemed Malone never believed his younger teammate worked very hard for a team that was so close to winning a title. He retired after the 2006 campaign, ranking fourth in Jazz history in number of games played, and maybe first in fan frustration.

I met him in June of 1995. I was working Bison Basketball Camps at Lipscomb University in Nashville for NAIA Hall of Fame coach, Don Meyer. Each week, a well-known player would come in for several sessions, put on a clinic, and mingle with the kids. At lunch, I sat at the same table with Greg Ostertag and watched him interact with campers. Rumor had it he commandeered one of the golf carts maintenance workers used to move around campus, taking it for a joy ride. You have to understand that Ostertag was 7'2" and tipped the scales at 280 pounds. Watching him with the youngsters, I could see the validity of the golf cart story. As I recall, when a kid asked what he was doing to prepare himself for the next level, his response was that it was the first time he had touched a ball since the NCAA tournament in March. I thought this was a bad omen for a pro career with a franchise that took winning very seriously. And yet, I heard something that summer that in spite of what some perceived as shortcomings, a great term for a seven footer, made me gain respect for Greg Ostertag. Coach Meyer told us that after leaving Nashville, he discovered that he had been overpaid, according to the agreement he had with the camp. The millionaire-to-be promptly sent the extra money back. How many athletes, or non-athletes for that matter, would have done the same? Many would rationalize that it's just making a big deal out of nothing and let it slide. Twelve years ago, Greg Ostertag did an honorable thing and I have remembered.

In Luke 16, Jesus gives us the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. In verse 10, the Savior makes this statement: "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." Jesus may not have been making a prophecy about a basketball player twenty centuries in the future but it applies. I've never seen Greg Ostertag again but I'll go to my grave knowing he is an honest man. Many athletes with better credentials can never say the same. There is one more footnote to the Ostertag saga. In 2002, he became the first NBA player to become an organ donor, volunteering his kidney to save the life of his sister, Amy. ("He ain't heavy, he's my brother.") Greg Ostertag: my first nominee for the Family Hall Of Fame.

Applicable quote of the day:
"I've had my ups and downs, but I believe in my heart that I've had more ups than downs. I can't complain. Eleven years is a long time."
Greg Ostertag (on his retirement from the Utah Jazz)

God bless,
Luke 18:1

E-mail me at steve@hawleybooks.com

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