Joe Mazzulla, Tom Brady – What Christians Can Learn from Both

People who pay attention can learn a lot of things – especially from the spectacle of professional sports.

The NBA Finals wrapped up on Monday night with the Boston Celtics claiming their record 18th title in their storied franchise history. Beantown baller head coach Joe Mazzulla, just 35, donned a t-shirt after the game that read, “But First … Let Me Thank God.”

Throughout this year, Coach Mazzulla has done just that – and very publicly.

Speaking with NBC last month, the coach said, “If we win the championship this year, we’re flying to Jerusalem and we’re walking from Jericho to Jerusalem … [last year] we stopped right along this mountain side of the Kidron Valley and you could see a path in between the mountains … the only way that [Jesus] could have gotten from Jericho to Jerusalem was through this valley. Most people go to Disney World or whatever but … I think [the Holy Land is] the most important place to go back and recenter yourself.”

When a reporter recently asked Mazzulla about the fact that both coaches in the NBA Finals were black, the young coach responded, “I wonder how many of those have been Christian coaches.” The reporter never followed up.

Asked about the influence his faith plays on his career, the Celtics head coach replied, “It’s my anchor and it’s been the most important thing and I’ve enjoyed just the challenge of having to stick with that and even when it’s difficult at times.”

Tom Brady, another favorite in New England, spent twenty years leading the Patriots to six Super Bowl wins.  Recently inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame, the retired quarterback’s remarks have gone viral. Especially this portion:

Understand this, Life is hard. No matter who you are, there are bumps and hits and bruises along the way. And my advice is to prepare yourself because football lessons teach us that success and achievement come from overcoming adversity, and that team accomplishment far exceeds anyone’s individual goals. To be successful at anything, the truth is you don’t have to be special. You just have to be what most people aren’t. Consistent, determined, and willing to work for it.  No shortcuts.

It’s difficult to disagree with such sentiment – especially since such truths easily apply to Christians engaging with others in a culture that is increasingly hostile or indifferent to people of faith.

It’s tempting to wait for everything to be just so, to get the college degree or credentials, land the right job in the right city, maybe even cut some corners to reach the goal more quickly.

Yet, Mazzulla and Brady make clear there is no substitute for hard work – and that now is always the right time to act.

“In the competitive environment that we are in, we are always used to earning something,” reflected Mazzulla.

“When you apply that competitive nature to your faith, it creates a lot of, for me, anxiety, stress and like and separation from Christ. So when I was able to really go down the road to grace and understanding that I can’t earn it, and I don’t have to be competitive, it’s not a win or loss. It’s an acceptance. That is one of the virtues that we can really show each other in the world today.”

Brady’s comments about not having to be “special” should also liberate or relieve the perfectionists. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms,” writes Peter (1 Peter 4:10). The key here is to do something, and especially in the service of others.

Two men, two sports – and lots to ponder and put into play.


Image credit NBC News

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