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BILL RENJE: Life lessons from the NBA Finals

Bill Renje

Bill Renje

There are many different reasons to watch sports. The first and most obvious is for entertainment purposes. We all need time to kick back, relax and escape life for a while. So what better way to do that, for sports fans, than to watch the big game?

But for me, having matured from my twenties and thirties when sports were more akin to idol worship, I now look for life lessons from the games watch. This is helpful, not only in raising a family, but in — coincidentally —  being active in sports ministry the last five years.

So as the NBA season will be winding down over the next several days, here’s some observations I’ve seen while watching Cleveland and Golden State battle on the league’s biggest stage. These four observations can be used as life lessons for up-and-coming student-athletes.

1. BE WHO YOU ARE. I’m not a Lebron James guy, mostly because I’ve rooted against Cleveland as a Chicago fan my entire life. And as a Chicago fan, some of my greatest thrills were watching the Bulls of the Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson era. But I gained a lot of respect for Lebron when he was called out by Jackson, with the Cavs down 0-2, and told to dominate more like MJ.

To which Lebron responded, “I think for me to go out and be who I am and play as true to the game and as hard as I can and try to lead this team, that’s who I am.”

He continued.

“Not anybody else. I’m not Michael. I’m not Ali. I’m not nobody else that’s done so many great things for their sport. I am who I am, and if I’m able to go out and put together a game like that, it wasn’t because I was possessed. It’s because I worked on my craft all season long and that’s the result of it.”

I found that statement to be pretty profound and enlightening regarding Lebron’s maturity and personal growth. So many of us — particularly when young — grow up trying to be like somebody else, or let others define us as who they want us to be in life.

One of the reasons I don’t wear sports jerseys anymore with somebody else’s name on it (except, I confess, my childhood hero Walter Payton) is because I’m not them, I’m me.

It’s important that we develop our own identities and be true to who God created us to be. I don’t think Lebron has always been comfortable in his own skin, although he seems as if he’s there now.

2. PERSEVERE THROUGH THE PAIN – Simply put, watching an undersized Steph Curry grind through injuries throughout the playoffs should inspire those that watch to grind through the inevitable problems, trials and tribulations in life.

If you are a Christian, as Curry is, you know that God doesn’t promise us a pain-free existence. Life is full of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual challenges. But God does promise the ability to endure and grow stronger in our problems through Him.

3. STAY THE COURSE – I believe one of the keys to having peace and joy in our spirit is to keep an even keel, not getting too high with the victories, or two low with defeats. Great athletes, coaches and teams master this concept as everyone around them — fans and media — are hitting the panic button.

We saw this in the Western Conference Finals when everybody, including me, pronounced the Warriors dead down 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. And we’ve seen it in the Finals series with how the Cavaliers responded on the road in Game 5 after also being down 3-1.

Stay tuned to see how that one plays out.

4. PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY – Lost in the controversy over whether or not Warriors forward Draymond Green should’ve been suspended, and whether that is part of some larger league conspiracy is the teachable moment for our youth.

Green’s suspension is what happens when you have a history of putting yourself in bad situations — whether in sports or life. And your decisions have consequences that not only affect you, but your team, and others around you. Personal responsibility and accountability still must matter in the world we live in.

I’m sure the plot will be enhanced with Game 6 back in Cleveland and the very real likelihood of a Game 7 where one of two things will happen back in the Bay Area. The Warriors will validate themselves as one of the best teams of all-time, or the Cavaliers will end its city’s heartbreaking 52 year championship drought.

Stay tuned, stay entertained, but keep an eye open for teachable moments and life lessons to share.

Bill Renje is a staff writer with, and is also on staff with the South Metro Atlanta Chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Follow him on Twitter @BillRenje.