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The God Squad: Who knew hoops could teach spiritual lesson?

December 17, 2010|Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: I play basketball at a local gym. You pay to belong. Four-on-four pick-up: you win, you keep playing. Certain guys are just horrible, beyond belief; if you get stuck with one of them, you're playing three on four. They have every right to play, yet they drag down the team and you have a long wait to play again. When do the rights of the community come ahead of the individual? These players are not stupid; they know they're harming the greater good. Are they being selfish, or are their rights as important as those of the 'community' as a whole?

— R., via godsquadquestion@aol.com.

A: Clergy guys like me seldom get sports questions, but yours touches on the way the values of faith affect other areas of our life. The ethical issue here is clear. You signed up for a particular play format knowing its limitations, so you must bear the consequences. If you don't like it, don't play ball at that gym.

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Could you come to the game with three other pre-selected players, like Lebron, Carmelo and Dwane Wade?

Another way to look at this with a more spiritually based ethic is that you're doing a good deed for the lousy players because you're giving them a chance to practice with better players, get some exercise and enjoy the camaraderie. I knew a high school kid who was a great athlete and purposely picked a lousy player first for pick-up games to let the kid feel included.

Remember Jesus' teaching in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:24-25, and Luke 18:24-25): "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a basketball player who cares more about winning than helping some child of God who happens to be a lousy player feel better about himself, to enter the kingdom of God."

(I think I got the quote right, but I'm a rabbi and I'm relying on my memory, which could be a bit off.)

Q: My mother died at home this past June while under hospice care. It was her wish not to go to a hospital. I'll never forget the look on her face the morning after placing her on morphine. She sighed, and with a huge smile said, "No pain" when asked how her night had been. She'd endured terrible pain for months.

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