How to Win a National Championship

June 16, 2016

Was Villanova’s Kris Jenkins lucky in hitting the winning shot in the NCAA men’s basketball championship game? Or was that moment the culmination of years of practice, study and teamwork?

by Victoria Atkinson White

KrisJenkinsFor 4.7 seconds on April 4, University of North Carolina men’s basketball fans thought they might win the NCAA national championship.

Off balance and way outside the 3-point line, Tar Heel Marcus Paige had just hit a shot to tie the game.

But then Villanova inbounded the ball, and Kris Jenkins launched his own 3-pointer as time ran out. Nothing but net.

It was a devastating loss for Carolina fans, who whipsawed between pure elation and stunning defeat in a matter of seconds. Yet before being able to process their own emotions, Carolina fans who are parents had to step up and guide their children through the loss.

My 10-year-old daughter wanted to know, “Why did Jenkins have to be so lucky?”

She just wanted me to console her, and likely bad-mouth the winning team or the referees, to validate her feelings of disappointment.

But Jenkins’ shot had nothing to do with luck. Nothing.

Jenkins’ birth mother played college basketball and later went on to coach. She taught him to play from a young age. When their family circumstances became more than she could handle, she asked another family they knew through basketball to care for Kris and become his guardians. In his new family, he played competitive basketball with his siblings, including Nate Britt of UNC, whom he played against in the national championship game.

Jenkins practiced that last shot for years.

“I assume every shot will go in,” he told a reporter. While some might call that arrogance, others would see it as confidence in his mental and physical abilities. He trained his body to make that shot. He trained his body to make every shot.

And yet so much of basketball is about improvisation -- all the practice and observation and study and teamwork play out in the particularity of 40 minutes of one game on one court.

It sounds a lot like ministerial leadership. You use what you know from your education and training. You depend on the wisdom and stories of your tradition. You find mentors and colleagues. And you improvise according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In a previous career, I spent eight years as a retirement community chaplain. I was called to the bedside of a dying elderly person several times a week. No matter how many hours I had shared with that person, I never knew exactly what I would find. Would there be family present? Would the death be gruesome or peaceful? Is it really time, or does the patient still have a while?

Even though I took pastoral care classes and taught others how to do what I did, I was never fully prepared for a death. Each one was as different as the person in the bed. Different families, illnesses, final wishes, sounds, smells. The best I could do was rely on my training and experience and trust that the Holy Spirit would guide me as I led the family through the rest. With each death, I had to improvise.

New colleagues shadowing me at the time of death would ask, “How did you know that was the right thing to do? Has that ever happened before?” My answer was always the same: “No, it has never happened that exact way before. You won’t need to copy what I do; you’ll respond in your own authentic way. I did what I did because there are a few underlying themes that are always the same, and I improvise the rest.”

The themes come from my education and experience. Everyone wants to feel special. Everyone wants to feel safe. Everyone wants to feel heard. Everyone is in need of forgiveness. Everyone wants to be assured of God’s love and presence at the time of death. And everyone dies only once -- an experience the person’s loved ones will remember for the rest of their lives. Everything else is improvisation.

Kris Jenkins wasn’t lucky. He had trained for a lifetime for that one shot. Because he made it, he will be remembered in sports history for generations. Marcus Paige wasn’t unlucky. He had trained for a lifetime for that one shot. Because he made it, he will be remembered in sports history for generations as the buildup to Jenkins’ story.

So what is the lesson to teach our kids as they drift off to sleep with tears in their eyes because they feel that their beloved Tar Heels unjustly lost the game? Is it just a game? Will it be better in the morning? Is it best simply to distract them with a story with a happier ending?

My daughter liked my answer -- that it had nothing to do with luck -- about as much as I do. Sometimes we get to shoot first, and sometimes we get to shoot last. Both Paige and Jenkins trained as hard as they could. They sacrificed, studied and practiced to get to the top of their game. But just because you trained for years and just because you tried your best, that doesn’t guarantee a win every time. Life is hard.

To their teams, they are both heroes. At the same time, one left the court a national champion, and the other returned to the locker room gutted and disappointed.

Into that locker room walked Michael Jordan. He was the first to address the team, and Paige didn’t recognize his voice at first.

“But I look up and see the greatest player that ever played basketball assuring us and saying it’s OK, that he’s proud of us, that we made him proud to be a Tar Heel and be a Tar Heel alum, that you can’t be a great winner without having to experience struggles and losses, and how to use this as fuel,” Paige said.

Jordan was a leader in that moment, and he improvised. He reminded the team of the themes common to being a Tar Heel. He told them he was proud of them. He told them it would be OK. He told them that life happens. And he assured them they would be better prepared for their next challenge.

That is a message parents of distraught Tar Heel children can pass on. The best you can do is show up prepared, be present in the moment as if it is the most important moment of your life, and pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you through the rest.

This article was originally published on Faith & Leadership website, click here to see the original piece.
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A Summons to Witness, Protest, and Promise

We give thanks for this Summons to Witness, Protest and Promise written by the cabinet of the North Carolina Conference.  In our ongoing collaboration, we affirm these words alongside them.  Across our state, we invite all United Methodists to be a part of building “the new world God promises as heaven in time descends to earth.” (Revelation 21)

A Summons to Witness, Protest, & Promise

We, United Methodists in The Western North Carolina Conference, join our voices with The North Carolina Conference in witness, protest and promise in these times of violence against our Black brothers and sisters.

We believe. . .

We believe that the Holy Spirit is indeed poured out upon all people.
We believe that in baptism, we are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation, and commissioned to resist evil, injustice and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves.
We believe that God’s intent for humanity is community, compassion, and holiness, and that justice has been marred by the history of enslavement and racism.
We believe that repentance is urgent for the historic and ongoing violence against Black girls and boys, men and women.
We believe that in the wounding of Black bodies we see Christ crucified.
We believe that those who have been steeped in white privilege, through repentance, can be transformed into humble servants of the living God.
We believe we are called to work for the day when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

We protest. . .
We protest violent murders of Black men and women, most recently Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
We protest the narratives of fear and suspicion that divide people from one another.
We protest our historic failure to ensure all our churches are places of hospitality, welcome, and belonging for our Black brothers and sisters.
We protest the historic and continuing suppression of voting and other basic rights.
We protest all incendiary public leadership in this time of crisis and turmoil.
We protest the lack of will in our communities, our state and our country to protect the lives of our Black brothers and sisters, and especially the most vulnerable, the young and the old.

We promise. . .
We promise to use our voices, resources and power to dismantle white privilege and racist systems, especially within our own United Methodist Church.
We promise to read the Scripture with ear and eye attentive to the continued call toward God’s will for all people.
We promise to exercise the right to vote and to work against voter suppression.
We promise to create around ourselves at all times hospitable space for all people.
We promise to name prejudice when we see it and to receive the correction of others who see prejudice in us.
We promise to be life-long learners, to constantly make adjustments in the way we use our power and influence, to be active participants in the building of the beloved community, and ultimately growing always in holiness toward the perfection we see in Christ.


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Samuel Moore, Jr.
Dan Pezet
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