Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I've mentioned before that I'm a lifelong Lakers fan.

The "3-Peat" years of 2000-2002 are an especially sweet memory for me, though the feat was not easy for the team to achieve, nor for the fans to live through.

Honestly, it almost didn't happen (see Game 7, 2000 Western Conference Finals vs Portland), and once begun, was nearly cut short at two titles, not three, by the Sacramento Kings in the 2002 Western Conference Finals.

That series against Sacramento was nearly the death of every Laker fan everywhere. What was supposed to be a turnstyle into a third straight NBA Finals appearance turned into a 7-game, alleyway knife-fight that the Lakers weren't expecting and were fortunate to survive.

As excruciating as that series was to watch, there was a pivotal moment, right in the middle of it, that I missed, on purpose, in a fit of disgust with the play of my team.

The Lakers entered a must-win Game 4 as lethargic and out of sync as I had ever seen them, which was more than I could take, given the life-or-death stakes of that particular game.

With the Lakers trailing Sacramento by more than 20 points before halftime, I turned off the game and put it out of my mind, resolving to make peace with my team's demise.

That is, until the next morning.

I arrived early at work that day, and had time to peruse the news online before my workday began. In a somber mood, I opened the ESPN web site to read the Lakers' obituary.

Much to my shock, my eye caught sight of what seemed like an awful lot of yellow on the screen, and the headline took my breath away. The made-up word "Horrywood" led the story of a Hollywood ending in Game 4 of the series, capped off by a game-winning 3-point shot by Laker star Robert Horry.

I read on, dumbfounded, to learn that after I had given up on the game and quit watching, the Lakers had begun an historic rally, slowly chipping away at the Kings' massive lead, pulling to within two points in the final seconds of the game, setting the stage for Horry's heroics.

Seeing the replay now, almost 8 years later, I still can't believe I missed it when it happened live.

Redemption is a mysterious thing.

You never can tell who will be the one to overcome past failure and set things right.

*The long-troubled student who finally gains perspective and maturity.

*The uncommitted athlete who at long last grasps the dedication it takes to win.

*The chronic debtor who eventually gets right-side-up and stays there.

*The husband who finally lays down his pride and accompanies his wife to worship.

*The "friend" who could never keep a secret, but comes out of nowhere to have your back in a time of trial.

*The wounded soul who once turned bitter, but later learns to comfort others.

Yes, for every example like this, there are other people from whom we've come to expect little, who never change that expectation. For every great comeback in Laker history, there have been many other games in which they played poorly, fell behind, and stayed behind.

But even so, how do I feel now about missing the comeback I missed?

And, especially, about the reason I missed it?

How many times have we given up on people we loved more, with more on the line, and with more reason for hope, than I had over the outcome of a basketball game?

Consider the story of John Mark.

Acts 15 tells the story of Mark's departure from Paul and Barnabus at Pamphylia, in the middle of a missionary journey. Luke records Paul's interpretation of Mark's actions as nothing less than desertion and a failure to finish the job (15:38).

We're not given any of the circumstances of Mark's decision to leave Paul and Barnabus at that point in their effort. Perhaps if we knew why he left when he did, we might feel differently, but there is no question that Paul considered the decision inexcusable, so much so that later on, when Barnabas proposed having Mark re-join the team, Paul was so opposed to the idea that he parted ways with Barnabas over it. (15:39) Mark had blown Paul's trust, and was not a worthy risk in Paul's eyes the second time around.

That's all we read about that phase in the Paul-Mark relationship, but it's not the end of the story.

At the end of Paul's second letter to Timothy, written from prison, Paul asks several favors of Timothy, instructing him to bring a cloak and some scrolls, but also, out of nowhere, he asks that Mark be brought to him, as "he is helpful to me in my ministry" (II Timothy 4:11).

Just as we weren't given details of Mark's previous departure from Paul, we're given no details of Paul's reversal of opinion about Mark. We don't know what happened in the time between these two events, but somewhere, sometime, something happened, or several things happened, that changed Paul's mind completely about Mark.

We don't know whether the resurgence of Mark's stock caused Paul to regret his previous stance, or whether Paul still felt his earlier tough call was justified, and possibly served as the needed prompt to spur Mark to make this comeback.

One thing we can safely assume: Paul was glad he was around to see the comeback take place.

Is there anyone you've deemed unworthy of your confidence? Anyone you've written off and given up on, not even wanting to see how the story plays out?

Not even praying for them anymore?

Who might we encounter in heaven that we once wrote off in this life?