Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Augustinian Joy of the Golden State Warriors

QUICK DISCLOSURE: This is an article I wrote for Think Christian magazine and I just wanted to archive it here and keep the weekly posts up since I missed a week do to illness.

Saint Augustine once wrote, “When large numbers of people share their joy in common, the happiness of each is greater because each adds fuel to the other’s flame.” I don't think there is a better example of this than the Golden State Warriors right now.

With five games left in the NBA regular season, the Warriors are four wins away from breaking the 72-10 record currently held by the Chicago Bulls. Way back at the beginning of this season, when the Warriors were 15-0, ESPN ran an article by Ethan Strauss describing the "joy" that surrounded the team. It caught my attention because joy is one of those "Christian" words. It is rarely used in the sports world. Strauss even acknowledged this: “Joy? Sports aren’t supposed to be about joy. …Happiness is viewed with suspicion in a hypercompetitive world.”

The sports arena isn't the most Christ-centered aspect of our culture, but it is not the least either. Christianity usually isn't spoken about in relation to sports unless there is a polarizing athlete — say, Tim Tebow — who is very outspoken in their faith. Steph Curry, current NBA MVP and star of the Warriors, is an outspoken Christian athlete, but it’s his team’s play, not necessarily his personal faith, that I want to consider (though of course they may be related). Why joy, exactly? Why is joy the motivator for this team and the word used to describe it?

The Warriors’ style of play reminds me of Christian joy in that it is not bound to individual success or happiness. Christians find joy in God, in His blessings and in the shared blessings of the people around us. Christian joy is self-giving. It is communal. It expresses gratefulness for God’s good gifts. Our joy is not our own because our lives are not our own. And neither are our accomplishments or our talents.

Why is joy the motivator for this team and the word used to describe it?

The Warriors are unlike any other team we’ve seen before. They (and Curry in particular) make long-distance shots far beyond the usual range. Their passing is especially fast, crisp and on-target. Draymond Green, who is 6 feet, 7 inches tall, plays center, a position usually reserved for 7-foot players. They celebrate on the court in ways that suggest a cohesive camaraderie. When Steph Curry recently hit a game-winning shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the celebration was almost as magical as the basket. Curry was the one who made the shot, but the reaction was collective and wonderful. The team joined together. They were joyful.

The joy surrounding the Warriors can also be experienced at the stadium in which they play. The Oracle Arena is one of the loudest venues in sports. The Warriors have lost only one home game this season. A communal, Augustinian joy takes place there, where thousands of people share a joy for their team, which in turn encourages the Warriors, adding fuel to the other's flame. The Warriors know how much they mean to their fans because of the joy the fans express for them. We know how much we mean to each other because of the joy we share with each other.

As the NBA season comes to a close and the playoffs begin, we can enjoy watching the Warriors’ unique brand of basketball and be reminded of the joy we have as Christians. Joy does not come from our own, individual efforts. It comes from the Lord, through His gifts and through others around us. When we are surrounded by such joy, our joy is only heightened all the more.

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