Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire are religious athletes familiar with the biblical admonition to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” NBA fans in general and Knicks fans in particular will need to find a way to do both simultaneously, not for an underdog in the new limelight of success, but for an established superstar in the shadow of grief.
In a sports movie when the protagonist faces unimaginable hardship, it signals that an inspiring victory will ensue. Sadly, real life does not always provide cinematic parallels.
After the Oklahoma State University women’s basketball head coach and assistant coach died in a plane crash in November, the OSU men’s football team had to play in the pall of that grief. They had been riding a wave of winning momentum, with the BCS title game in sights, before losing to Iowa State in a game in which OSU were heavy favorites.
In July 2010, firefighter Shannon Stone died after falling over a guardrail while trying to retrieve a ball for his 6-year-old son, Cooper. In the American League playoffs, at that same Texas Rangers Ballpark, Cooper was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to the outfielder who had tossed the ball that Shannon Stone died trying to catch. That player also happened to be Cooper’s favorite, Josh Hamilton.
Cooper threw a strike into Hamilton’s mitt and into the hearts of the tear-soaked crowd. The Rangers lost the game 9-0.
Deep emotions run wild in sports and they are not easily channeled into victorious play.
No matter how Stoudemire performs in the wake of his brother’s recent death, he will inspire. He will inspire everyone who has faced a crushing loss and has had to then answer life’s unreasonable demand to move on, to keep working when everything seems trivial in light of that sudden, tragic encounter with all that is precious and fleeting.
Linsanity needs to take a backseat for awhile, no matter how well Jeremy Lin plays.
Don't get me wrong: The cheers for the Knicks new phenom shouldn’t stop or be subdued. Amar’e has said that Lin’s lift for the Knicks has raised his own grief-stricken spirits, even if it has only been a temporary salve.
That support for Lin, though, should seem like a drizzle next to the downpour of encouragement upon Amar’e in every stadium he plays—home or away.
In an age when social media gives us unprecedented access to our favorite athletes, that intimacy provides new avenues of empathy, new opportunities for human solidarity.
Most of us can’t get close enough to share personal words of consolation and comfort, but we can cheer with all our hearts and souls.
May Amar’e hear loud rejoicing as he works through his tragic mourning.
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