I am from Kentucky. I played basketball in high school for a small school in the Appalachian Mountains. As with many people my age who grew up in Kentucky, college basketball is the most exciting sport out there. At the top of the sport is our own beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats.
We grew up playing basketball outside with a hoop attached to a barn. Our parents and grandparents were lifelong fans. We know the history of the program, which started in 1903. The Kentucky Wildcats have won more basketball games than any other college in the country. To get an idea of what basketball means to us, the movie Hoosiers gives you an idea (even though I hate that the movie is about Indiana basketball).
For people like me, the Super Bowl isn’t that great. The World Series isn’t anything to get excited about. We don’t even know what hockey is. But every March we enter into the holy days of sports. It is known as March Madness, where the 64 best college basketball teams compete for the national championship. The goal is to get to the Final Four and then win the whole thing. Each year we Kentucky fans wait to see what “bracket” we will be in. We expect to win the championship every year. When they win the trophy, many tombstones in the state are decorated with blue balloons by families in honor of the fans who are no longer with us.
It takes six games to win it all. Before every game we are a nervous wreck and we follow every bounce of the ball. Because of our tradition and our fanaticism, a loss is devastating and the disappointment can last for days or even weeks.
This year was a particularly hard year. We were playing a game against North Carolina. If we won, we would be in the Final Four and would probably be the favorite to win the championship. North Carolina is one of our fiercest rivals. Prior to the game it was found out that one of the referees had, in the past, made many questionable calls against Kentucky and had a reputation of favoring whoever we were playing. In fact, we lost 80% of the games in which he had been the referee.
Sure enough, the game was full of questionable calls. Even non-Kentucky fans commented on the corruption. I won’t bore you with the calls. But trust me, something was rotten in the state of Denmark. Kentucky lost the game by two points on a last second shot. It was easy to see that the ref in question had cost us 10 points. In other words, our season was over and our dreaded enemy was headed to the Final Four as the favorite the take the trophy to North Carolina. To make matters worse, for the last year the basketball team for North Carolina has been under investigation for cheating and every Kentucky fan (and anybody else with a brain) felt that they should not even be in the tournament.
All of this caused a crisis of faith for me. When that last second shot went in, the first decision I had to make was whether to throw my TV out of the window of my den. When I had victory over that sin, I had a theological battle.
I was convinced that if that referee was a believer, he had lost his eternal salvation. His actions had to be part of what Matthew 12 means when it talks about the unpardonable sin.
After much reflection, however, I realized that this man did not lose his salvation. That is impossible. I concluded that if he is a believer he is definitely a carnal believer. He needs to do some serious repenting.
And that is the first lesson I learned. Even though I knew what the Bible teaches, I was reminded that even cruel people, people who rip your heart out, can be saved. As hard as it is to fathom, there is a place in the Kingdom even for people who don’t like Kentucky basketball.
The second lesson I learned is that it is possible to take things too seriously. In the final analysis, does it matter what a bunch of 18-20 year old men do with a round ball? Is it really that important? When Paul said to “set your mind on things above” (Colossians 3:2), perhaps I need to realize that he is not talking about college basketball.
Of course, it might be that I am thinking this way because Kentucky lost and I am convincing myself that college basketball isn’t that important to make me feel better. I only hope I can have this spiritually mature attitude next year when Kentucky wins it all.