Every once in a great while, an athletic performance transcends sports and instantly becomes folklore.
Tiger Woods’ fought through a knee injury to capture the 2008 U.S. Open. Last November, New England quarterback Matt Cassel-the previously unheralded backup to Tom Brady-passed for over 400 yards in two consecutive games.
A couple months earlier on September 1st, Stephen Drew of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Adrian Beltre of the Seattle Mariners became the first Major League Baseball players since 1920 to hit for the cycle on the same day. That means they hit a single, a double, a triple and a home run in one game.
This past Wednesday, Texas Tech basketball player Mike Singletary scored 43 points (including 29 straight) to lead the Red Raiders in an upset over Texas A&M in the Big 12 Tournament. Did I mention the guy comes off the bench and only averaged 11.1 points per game during the rest of the season?
Those are just a few recent examples of singular greatness.
And then last week-Tuesday, March 10, to be exact-Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade had one of those rare moments. In a game against the Chicago Bulls, Wade hit a desperate three-point shot to end the first half. He followed that up by scoring a game-tying three-pointer at the end of regulation.
Then, with just three seconds remaining in the second overtime, he stole the ball from John Salmons and lofted a running three-point shot into the basket to give the Heat a 130-127 victory.
Wade’s post-game celebration was reminiscent of when the Heat won the 2006 NBA Championship. He jumped up on the sideline media table and whipped the fans into a frenzy.
A few moments later, he gave a live interview with Sun Sports reporter Jason Jackson with this response: “Aw man, God is good, man.”
After a few more remarks, Wade then repeated his opening sentiment, “Like I said, God is good.”
Wade’s performance-he finished with 48 points and 12 assists-was the top sports story of the night. The highlights dotted ESPN, FOX Sports and many local news casts across the country. It re-established the fact that Miami’s American Airlines Arena is still Wade’s house. SportsCenter even played his aforementioned God comments and rhetorically quipped back, “You’re pretty good too.”
As a freelance journalist and occasional author, I do a lot of work with professional athletes. So anytime I see someone make a public faith statement of any kind, my first reaction is always positive. The fact that God is getting glory in the midst of a lot of “man praise” (did I just make up a new word?) is always a good thing.
Of course, the more I think about it, the more likely it is that my naturally-occurring cynicism will rear its ugly head. You see, Wade is an athlete that I’ve been keeping my eyes on for a while now. I had been assigned a feature story on the All-Star about three and a half years ago and was fortunate to get his response to some questions, albeit via e-mail.
The story never ran, however, as the magazine’s editorial staff was advised by people close to Wade that they should wait until some situations in his life played out. Turns out, Wade was about to go through a nasty divorce. In fact, his legal issues have now been ongoing for over a year including a countersuit he filed against his ex-wife for defamation of character.
There’s no need to break out the gory details here, but suffice it to say most onlookers probably believed the worst of Wade considering the reputation that so many professional athletes (especially within the NBA) have collectively (and sadly in many cases, deservedly) earned.
But there’s something else about this guy that is strikingly different. It’s partly in the way he carries himself on the court. For the most part, he avoids the typical bravado and despite his superstar status, he’s a great teammate.
Then there’s his curious life away from basketball. For starters, he’s a self-professed tither. That’s right. Olympic Gold medalist and five-time NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade gives 10 percent of his (get this) pre-tax income to God.
“I’m a firm believer in the Bible,” Wade told me back in October of 2005. “I believe everything in there. I’m given so much, so giving 10 percent back to God is nothing to me. That’s why I do it, and I don’t think twice about it.”
What can I say? I mean, I bet 50 to 60 percent of most regular church goers don’t practice the biblical principle of tithing and here’s this very imperfect star athlete going on record (more than once, I might add) that he’s giving back to the “storehouse” as referred to in Malachi 3:10.
And Wade doesn’t just tithe, he’s an All-Star giver too.
In May of last year, Wade purchased a church building for his mother Jolinda (a former drug addict that received Christ while incarcerated) who co-pastors Temple of Praise in his hometown of Chicago.
Then, back in December of 2008, Wade bought a new home for a South Florida woman whose nephew accidentally burned down the family home. He also donated some furnishings, clothing and Christmas gifts.
It’s also been reported that Wade chose the number 3 for his jersey because it represents the Trinity.
So how do we reconcile Wade, the guy with major personal problems, with Wade, the man striving to follow basic Bible truths?
Maybe that’s not something we’re supposed to do. I’m not saying we should prop the guy up as the next Shaun Alexander, Tony Dungy or Kurt Warner-you know, an outstanding godly sports figure that will carry the banner of Christ for all to see. But perhaps we should see his life as a testament to God’s grace and understand that he (just like the rest of us) is a work in progress.
And besides, the only real difference between Wade and the average Christian is that his screw-ups are public knowledge. Most of mine (and yours too, I’m sure) are kept relatively private and don’t make the breaking news ticker on CNN or ESPN.
Which is why Wade (and people like him) remind me a lot of David. Pardon the second David reference in two weeks, but it’s hard not to see some obvious comparisons. Here’s a guy who totally loved God but had all kinds of problems with lust, anger, revenge, poor parenting skills, dishonesty, etc., yet God referred to him as “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22, NIV).
During the procession that brought the Ark of the Covenant back into Jerusalem, David famously gave God uninhibited praise. 2 Samuel 6:14 tells us that he, “danced before the LORD with all his might” and as the Ark entered the city, David was “leaping and dancing before the LORD” (6:16). This was just three months after the newly-crowned king had been humbled in a botched attempt to return the Ark.
Last Tuesday night, Wade celebrated his team’s victory with everything he had and then calmly gave two distinct shout-outs to his God with no concern for what people might think. Even knowing much of his dirty laundry has been publically aired over the past year or so, he did exactly what one might have expected based on his responses to my questions back in 2005.
“There are going to be good time and bad times,” Wade said. “There are going to be people who love me and there are going to be people who don’t love me. As long as you are real with yourself knowing that you’re still human even though some people put you on a pedestal, I know that I have to be the same person no matter if people like me or not.”
Sounds like some pretty solid advice from a guy who knows what it means to sit at both the base and the top of that aforementioned pedestal. Reminds me of the words of Wade’s biblical counterpart found in Psalm 40:1-2.
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”
Chad Bonham is a freelance author, journalist and television and documentary producer from Broken Arrow, Okla. He authored a recent four-book FCA series (Regal Books) and is the coordinating producer on a forthcoming documentary called Choosing Life.