It is usually better to compare apples with apples than apples with oranges. When you examine two things in a similar category, the resulting shades of difference tend to be more illuminating than comparisons drawn across far-reaching domains. That’s why I don’t think the discourse about Tebow being the anti-LeBron sheds much light.
Yeah, I get it, Tebow usually under-performs in the first three quarters before shining in the fourth, while in the fourth quarter, LeBron takes his talents anywhere but through the hoop. We know that these guys are at least Twitter friends but beyond that commonality, there are not a host of obvious similarities between the two.
Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton is a much better point of comparison. He, like Tebow, is an overtly religious athlete who shares Tebow’s belief that God likes to play sports—or at least that God gets in on the action sometimes. God helps Tebow complete passes (come on, have you seen that throwing motion?), and God helps Hamilton hit it out of the park.
If you don’t believe me, listen to what Josh Hamilton said after the sixth game of the World Series:
"He said, 'You haven't hit one in a while and this is the time you're going to.'"
The “He” there, in case you might be confused, is God. Hamilton had been in a dry spell but when he needed one the most—in the 10th inning of arguably the best game in World Series history—God helped Hamilton come through with a two-run blast. But the Rangers lost that game and the final one after that as well.
Hamilton had an explanation: “He didn't say, 'You're going to hit it and you're going to win.'"
According to many, though, God helps Tebow win. Why has Hamilton had to face such excruciating losses while the anti-Josh Hamilton, Tim Tebow, usually wins? Are they praying to different gods?
At this point, there are a number of things you might be saying back at your computer screen. You could derail the discussion with an atheist trump card: There is no God.
OK, fair enough. We are talking about something Tebow and Hamilton believe in, not necessarily a religious position we all share. Conversely, if you believe in a God or gods, or some divine force, you might hold that divinity in such high esteem that you think the sacred would never descend into the muddy mundane of sports. Why not, though?
Why would this realm be any more out of bounds than all the other trivial things people pray for: a parking spot, a new car, the cancellation of Keeping Up with the Kardashians (OK, that last one is important, but you get my point).
Besides, sometimes sports are not trivial, they are tragic.
On July 7, 2011, Shannon Stone, a 39-year-old firefighter, fell over the guardrail at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington while attempting to catch Josh Hamilton’s nonchalant toss into the stands. Security and paramedics rushed to his attention. Stone, conscious, but in what must have been excruciating pain, pleaded for someone to attend to his son, who had just watched his father plummet about 20 feet onto concrete. Shannon Stone died in an ambulance en route to the hospital.
In the fresh sting of that loss, Cooper Stone, six-year-old son of Shannon Stone, was invited by the Texas Rangers to throw out the first ceremonial pitch in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. Guided by the reassuring touch of his mother, who shaded her grief behind sunglasses, Cooper walked to the mound and confidently threw a strike to his favorite player, Josh Hamilton. The crowd roared in approval. Hamilton then bent down on one knee and spoke face-to-face to his biggest little fan. He proceeded to embrace Cooper’s mother, Shannon’s widow, as the crowd cheered wildly and they and she wiped tears from their eyes.
The Rangers lost the game 9-0.
Maybe we need to redefine victory in sports and life. Maybe that was Josh Hamilton’s best and most inspiring victory of his career.
And perhaps that poignant moment helps us understand what Hamilton would say months later—that outrageous claim that God told him he would hit one out of the park in the World Series.
Like many of us, Josh Hamilton hopes that after all the emotionally-searing losses of this life, there is someone whispering, “You got this. I’m with you; especially when you lose.”
Eventually, Tim Tebow is going to need to hear that, and so will we all.