My son has loved basketball since he first came into contact with one of those orange, bouncing orbs. When we put him into a large Christian school that had a well-established basketball team, he was absolutely in heaven.
In his second year there, he became a starter. The team was well coached, with a head coach and two assistants, all of whom know the game well. The Mustangs won a lot, even against some much bigger schools.
Part of the game of basketball is the officiating. Like any sport with kids playing and parents watching, the refs are often not the favorite people in the building. For my part and that of my family, I have always stressed the fact that the officials are to be respected, even when you believe they are wrong. Even when they clearly blow a call, or several calls, it was my demand that no Wagner is to argue, fuss or complain. Referees are human, and they have a very hard job.
And then "the game" happened.
I am not exaggerating in the least to say that this was the worst-officiated game I have ever seen at any level. And far from being bad evenly, it was entirely one-sided. My son's team was clearly the better of the two teams, but the officials were clearly intent on making sure that did not matter.
One of the Mustangs drove to the basket, and was fouled, hard. When he heard the whistle blow, he got up cheering. He was immediately given a technical foul; the ref had called the foul on him and then teched him for cheering.
The bench was stunned. The player from the other team went to the line, shot and missed. But the refs turned to each other and actually asked, "Now, did he miss that or did he make it?" The assistant coach incredulously asked, "Do you not know?" He was teched. He dropped his jaw and opened his eyes wide and was teched again and ejected. The head coach did not open his mouth, but shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "For what?" He was immediately given not one, but two technicals, and ejected.
All of this was in the first half. The team was now without their top two coaches, and the opposing team had hit 10 straight free throws, been given the ball back, scored again and completely blown the game open. I always give referees the benefit of the doubt; but in this case they clearly had an agenda that read as follows: The Mustangs will not win, no matter what we have to do to accomplish that. It was so bad and so visible that the coach of the opposing team came over and apologized to our entire team when the game was done and promised never to have those referees back. When our school turned the video of the game in to the conference, the main antagonist referee was barred from officiating any more games.
Sitting in the stands, though, I did not open my mouth during any of it. I knew that a testimony is too valuable a thing to lose over dishonest referees. I also knew that something much greater was in play, something directly from the hand of my very good God. The Mustangs, including my son, were being given a golden opportunity to show whether or not they had any real character. Knowing that they would not be allowed to win, how would they respond? Would they quit at halftime? Would they give a half-hearted effort in the second half, knowing that it would not matter?
As Paul Harvey used to say, there is a "rest of the story."
My son put up his first ever triple double, a rare thing in basketball — 14 points, 10 steals, 10 rebounds, two assists. He played the game of his life. In fact, all of the Mustangs did.
If Hollywood were making a movie, they would have miraculously won on a last-second shot. But this was real life, with two referees who kept blowing the whistle whenever they needed to change the momentum. We lost, at least on the scoreboard.
But we won where it really matters, which is what I really cared about.
In John 11, Jesus asked his disciples to go with them into a situation that was very likely to get them killed. Thomas' response in verse 16 was "Let us also go, that we may die with him." A no-win situation? No problem, Lord, if you want us to go, you can count on us 100 percent.
Character. It is what you do when no one is watching, but it is also what you do when you have no hope of achieving what you desire. Do right. Give your best. Never quit. Jesus went all the way to Calvary for us; win or lose, we can face whatever is needed for him. Today it is just basketball. Tomorrow it could be so very much more.
Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, North Carolina, a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and at www.wordofhis mouth.com. Email him at email@example.com.