There’s something that lures even this non-sporty girl to the NCAA tournament. In the process of 67 games there are so many beautiful stories—countless surprises, nail-biters, overtimes, upsets, and tearful moments surged by both “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Monday night was the grand finale of the tournament, and for me there was not one, but five shining moments that stood out exemplifying what being the best versions of ourselves, embracing our true beauty, looks like.
1. Even though everyone was convinced they would lose, Middle Tennessee State University (a 15 seed), believed they could beat Michigan State (a 2 seed). They not only imagined the unthinkable, but MTSU went out there and played their hearts out, making their dream a reality winning 90-81. This is only the 8th time in NCAA history this kind of upset has happened. It wasn’t a fluke or a tight ending. MTSU—the underdog, the predicted loser, the presumed weaker link—outplayed the team that many, including March Madness authority, Dick Vitale, thought would win the entire tournament. As Michigan State’s coach, Izzo, said after the game, “We got beat by a team that played better than us today. There were no bad calls. Nobody missed a free throw that would have saved the day. We just kind of got beat.” I do feel badly for Michigan State, but MTSU reminded us that we all have potential, that we all have God-given talents, and we are called to use them to the best of our abilities, even when things look bleak. MTSU exemplified hope to all of us underdogs fighting our own giants, showing us that even when the world doesn’t believe in us, God does.
Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone. Samuel 17:49-50 NKJV
2. Typically when we think about March Madness, we’re not thinking about the music, but Pitt’s band showed us not only how important a fight song can be, but more importantly how to live out the Golden Rule. Pitt’s band heard Weber State’s band would be unable to attend their game—Weber would be without anyone to musically cheer them on. Knowing the importance of a band and a fight song for moral support, Pitt’s band stayed in town after their own team was defeated earlier in the day to play for Weber State. Not only did they stay, but they ditched their own outfits for Weber State spirit wear, learned, and played Weber State’s fight song as enthusiastically as if it were their own. The Pitt band could have gone home. They could have been bitter about their loss. They could have shown zero interest in learning another random team’s song. But instead they exhibited how beautiful it is to love your neighbor as yourself. This class act was a reminder to all of us to do unto others, and that is beautiful music to everyone’s ears.
And Jesus answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Luke 3:11
3. Another example of being the best versions of ourselves, living to the full potential of our true beauty was given to us by a young man named Angel. After winning the game against Wichita State, scoring a career high of 28 points, and advancing his team to the Sweet 16, Angel Rodrigues, the University of Miami’s point guard was asked by a CBS reporter what he thought about the praise his coach gave him. Angel responded, “Well first, let me give all the praise to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Here is his big chance to take a bow, to pat himself on the back, to revel in the glow of stardom, but Angel humbly points the spotlight back to Jesus. What a beautiful example to sports fans everywhere. What if we all did that? What if every time we got a compliment, achieved a goal, conquered a problem, or overcame a struggle we first, before anything else, publicly gave all the praise to Jesus? What a beautiful reminder of where our identities, our true reflections come from. No wonder his name is Angel.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
4. When the Virginia Cavaliers (a one seed) lost to the Syracuse Orangemen (a ten seed), you might have predicted something ugly might ensue from the UVA side of the bench, but instead, their coach, Tony Bennett, exhibited the truest beauty. As Bennett watched the 16 point lead his team had established disappear, he never yelled. Not once. He knew his boys were playing hard, doing their best. After the game the press wanted to interview the coach of the losing team who many (*cough* including me) had slated to win the tournament. When asked what he would say to his team, Bennett, replied he had an old church song ringing in his ears, “’Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’” He continued, “There will be some weeping and some pain for some nights because of this, but absolutely, joy will come in the morning for these guys, “ Bennett said. “For what they’ve established for our program, where they’ve taken us—what they’ve done for me – joy is coming. My guys are disappointed tonight, but they’ll look back and see what they accomplished, that what they did was amazing.”Did I mention this game took place on Easter? What a beautiful message to remind us all that even though basketball is pretty addicting in the spring, something even more important is taking place. That just as things looked bleak and dark for the world on the original Good Friday, God was at work, there would be joy in the morning. For all of us. That no matter what we’re going through right now, today, you and I, Jesus loves us. He’s cheering for us. And that message of amazing grace is the most beautiful thing I know.
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5 NKJV
5. Only in the Big Dance could a tango between two brothers create such a beautiful finale to the NCAA tournament. In the championship game, Nate Britt from UNC played against his adopted brother, Kris Jenkins, who by the way made the winning shot for Villanova to win it all. Nate and Kris met playing AAU ball together as youngsters, but due to extreme challenges in Kris Jenkins’ family, the Britts not only took him under their wings, into their homes, but legally adopted him. Kris says about the Britts, “They accepted me for who I was and elevated me as a person and made me better. It's something that I'm always thankful for. I thank God for it every day." In the past few days the Britts traveled back and forth from Philadelphia, to Louisville to Houston in order to see both of their sons play. And the brothers? Both of them were there to cheer the other one on in their final four wins prior to their match up Monday night. Kris Jenkins experienced family trauma (separation of parents, death of a sibling), struggled academically, and ten years ago was placed in a family that was not his own. His story could have been one of desolation and defeat. But a family who loved him as if he were their own, the nurturing of the Britt parents and of his brother, Nate, strengthened, enabled and inspired Kris to go to college, play the game he loves and make the shot that was heard around the world.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this.” John 15:12-13
How about you? Did you notice anyone exuding true beauty during the tournament? I’d love to hear your highlights. Leave them in the comments below.
Laura L. Smith