an open letter to the gonzaga men’s basketball team

first of all: “you can hold your heads high. you had an amazing season. you just had an off game; you will be back next year”

now that these cliches are out of the way– and you will hear plenty of similar versions in the days to come as well as the rest of your lives– i offer you some of my random thoughts that may or may not bring you solace in your grief.

being from gonzaga, i am sure that the good jesuits there have taught about the power of the cross of jesus. we liturgically celebrated easter the day before your crushing loss. at least for now, it seems that existentially you will have to live an extended hoops version of good friday. i hope that you take advantage of being at a great catholic university and can more profoundly explore what this basketball experience means in your lives. hoops is just a glimpse on life and faith and it helps us see ourselves in a larger context. given that your hearts are probably hurting right now because of the way the season ended, faith can help you move toward a hoops’ resurrection sunday. God’s will is to heal our hurt.

when i checked the headlines of espn, i read that baylor coach scott drew said: “First and foremost, I want to thank God for blessing us with this opportunity tonight.” in the sports universe, it is easier to feel thankful immediately after the game when you win. losing can feel like a curse. upon first read, it can seem that drew is saying that God is blessing the bears with the win. if that is the case, it follows that God is then cursing you all with the loss. God gets some bad press if this is what people really believe. that is not my understanding of God.

God is not a super santa clause in the sky randomly blessing and cursing sports teams. (although as a mariners fan, i can question this theological understanding at times!) as is shown during these past days of holy week, God shows us constantly that through suffering, death and resurrection, God is creating, saving and helping us toward holiness. Hoops gives us a unique way to see this in our world. through your hardcourt talents and what happened last night, the Spirit is a moving.

i’m a huge nba fan. the only college basketball that i watched in several years, was the second half of your exciting win over ucla this past saturday. i have very little interest in the college game overall unless the washington huskies are in it. after that, i cheer for the underdogs and any pac8/10/12 teams still alive in the tourney. as an 11th seed, all the more was i cheering for the bruins. so, when suggs hit that lucky game winning three pointer at the buzzer, my heart immediately felt for the ucla kids. since then, i have been thinking about one question and its corollary:

is it better to lose in the tourney by a shot at the buzzer or totally get blown out? would you rather walk away from the game disappointed or feeling like your heart was ripped apart?

in sports, winning feels better than losing. perhaps it comes down to expectations and how one views winning/losing. perhaps it depends on how we see the game as microcosm of life

you all had huge expectations on your shoulders as the year progressed. until last night, no one had beaten you on the court. whenever we do not live up to expectations, we can feel like we let ourselves and others down. expectations at times can obscure our sight to what is actually in front of us. when we can see what is actually in front of us, we can appreciate it more. disappointment is part of all of our lives. getting blown out in a game is disappointing.

so, if your expectation was to win it all, then you will be hurting more than others because of baylor’s superior play last night. as in life, the higher the expectations, the more we can lose sight of what is actually happening and the good/grace/blessings that are accompanying what is real– even in disappointment.

in sports, as in life, unexpected events happen that we do not control. sometimes you make the lucky shot and move up and sometimes the lucky shot from your opponent knocks you out. there are some that argue that you make your own luck by hard work and proper preparation. those who are unlucky only have themselves to blame.

tell that to the ucla kids who might be thinking right now: we would not have lost to baylor by 16 points. maybe so. but baylor might have beaten ucla by 25 points. we can all play the “what if” game– in sports and life. this is the sports version of meritocracy: we deserve what we get because we earned it. when we think we deserve certain things because of our heard work, we can easily think that others do not deserve things because we perceive that they did not work hard enough. in our american society, meritocracy is a dangerous way of thinking, so beware.

but how do we recover after being victims to bad luck? yes, the ucla kids had their heart ripped out after that final shot. they could be thinking, “it could have been so different if that shot did not bank in!” something out of their control sealed their loss. i think that more compassion is needed after heart breaking losses.

having our hearts broken is more difficult than disappointment. it is very difficult when our “fate” is decided by factors outside of our control. “bad luck” tears at hearts. as in sports, so in life…

we see broken hearts in many places in our world: scared kids crossing a border, , losing jobs because of covid19, people drinking leaded water, people living on the streets and in cars, people sifting through their scattered belongings after a hurricane/flood/tornado, our elderly asian brothers and sisters being randomly attacked, our black brothers and sisters systematically treated with contempt, elderly folks forgotten in care facilities, people on ventilators dying from a virus, hungry people in long lines trying to get a box of food,

and many more.

do you see them? it is understandable if you missed them since you have probably been focused with your goal of winning basketball games these past months. many people actually turn away from really seeing the suffering of our sisters and brothers.

so, in the larger picture, the baylor coach was right: an opportunity to play a game in front of millions of people is a blessing– win or lose. what a rare experience you have had at such a young age. i hope that the disappointment from the loss does not crush you.

the game of basketball offers all of us many life lessons.

thank you for sharing with us all the talents that God has given you. the joy that comes through sports is truly a gift.

may God’s love be the ultimate source as your hearts heal. may all your disappointments shape you to be men of compassion and understanding. may saints aloysius and ignatius’s intercession help you become “men for others” in our broken world. in your service with others, may you bring Christ’s compassion and healing to whomever you encounter. may the grace of the gifts of the Spirit help and guide each step of your life’s journey.


  1. Gina Bouker says:

    Hey Art!
    This was the exact message I was trying to relay to my teenage son last night. You helped me out!
    Thanks, Gina


    1. frarthurcmf says:

      gina, i am glad it helped ya out! there’s always next year


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