December 20th, 2005
Back to Opinion columns.
Pacers controversy brings to mind valuable lessons from the Bible
Indiana Pacers all-star forward Ron Artest recently told the Indianapolis Star that he wanted to be traded to another team. Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana's other all-star forward and MVP candidate, has essentially said "it is either him or me" in response to Artest's trade request.
Before I go forward, I think it is irresponsible of the sports media to repeatedly refer to Artest's statements as a "demand" for a trade. "Demand" is a lot stronger word than "request", and use of "demand" has inflamed this story.
A lot of people are upset with Artest for requesting a trade, considering how strongly the Pacers have stood behind him through the ordeal following the infamous brawl with Detroit Pistons fans last year. Artest has been criticized for a lack of loyalty to the organization. I think there is a Biblical lesson we can learn from this controversy.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:15-17 that if someone sins against you, the first step is to go to him or her privately and try to resolve the situation. Further steps are taken if the person who wronged you fails to repent.
This lesson is to Christians within the church, but it has practical applications to areas of life outside the church. Artest did not go to anyone in the Pacers organization to quietly request a trade. Instead, the Pacers found out about what he said when they picked up the Indianapolis Star. If Artest feels that both he and the Pacers would be better off if he were playing somewhere else, he should have gone to them man to man instead of painting them into a corner in the media.
If Artest is unhappy with Rick Carlisle's coaching style and feels his talents are not being fully utilized, he should take it up with Carlisle directly. If Artest is still not satisfied, he could take it up with Pacers management. This would more closely follow Christ's words and would have resulted in a lot less stress for Artest, his teammates, and the Pacers front office.
By the same token, while many people (fans, players, owners, coaches and general managers) might understand how Jermaine O'Neal feels about this situation, he only made things worse by talking to the media. If he feels that strongly, he should have taken it up with the Pacers front office and let them sort it out. With his words, O'Neal has made a difficult situation even more problematic, because there is more pressure to unload Artest and other teams will likely try to use this to their advantage in trade negotiations.
In all fairness to Artest, he is certainly not unique in the way he handled this situation. Many professional basketball players have done the same thing many times. This has been out of control for a long time. It hurts the image of the league, and makes players look like overpaid crybabies. That certainly does not excuse Artest, but it does indicate a growing problem.
The way the sports media covers the NBA (or any other pro sports league) brings to mind another Biblical lesson. God's Word strongly condemns gossip in both the Old and New Testaments. (For examples, see Leviticus 19:16, Proverbs 11:13, and Proverbs 20:19.) Much of the sports media is rumors of who will be traded where, who is trying to sign what free agent, and many other things. This causes problems and difficulties for NBA teams who have to deal with this gossip and the corrosive effect it has on the team. While I vigorously defend the sports media's First Amendment right to print such things, they would do well to reconsider what they write.
Artest might want remember what happened to another Pacer who was unhappy with the way he was being used and asked for a trade. The Pacers traded Al Harrington as he requested, but they traded him to the absolutely horrible Atlanta Hawks. Artest may be able to showcase his skills somewhere like Atlanta, but he could well be losing 60 of 82 games instead of contending for a championship.
In other words, Artest would do well to remember Galatians 6:7. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."