It's difficult to find a meaningful application of religious concepts in the world of sports. After all, ultimate truths about the order of the cosmos and the outcome of a fundamentally profit-driven athletic competition might be even further apart than apples and oranges.
However, watching the finale of this year's NBA Finals aroused such feelings of karmic justice that I cannot help but to feel a validation of the greater order of things. As someone who has studied Buddhism (read: slightly above Wikipedia-level knowledge), I see several important concepts that resonate in the outcome of the series.
For Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks, this championship is the culmination of years of struggle in the face of constant dukkha (suffering), the first of Buddhism's Four Noble Truths. From their Finals heartbreak in 2006, to their shocking first round loss in 2007, the Mavericks have time and again experienced the cruel suffering of defeat. Point guard Jason Kidd had twice reached the Finals with other teams, but had always fallen short of freeing himself from the suffering.
However, all this can now be seen as a necessary part of the journey, a reflection of the Noble Eight-Fold Path as laid out by the Buddha. Veterans like Kidd, Jason Terry, Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion accrued wisdom of the true nature of the game through many seasons of learning from mentors, peers, and their own failures. Now, knowing what it took to play the game the right way, they were able to approach the competition with correct concentration (samadhi), playing a beautiful brand of pass-first basketball.
To go further, the star of the team, Dirk Nowitzki was the perfect embodiment of The Middle Way. Susceptible to pressure and swarming defenses earlier in his career, the German is now the archetype of control and moderation. Always steady, Dirk never wavered from the moment, supremely secure in himself, and the knowledge that his aim was true.
In the case of the Miami Heat, none of the above is true.
From the very first days of The Decision and guarantees of a dynasty, Lebron and company showed an unprecedented level of arrogance and entitlement. In making his Decision, Lebron showed zero regard for his loyal Cleveland fans, only thinking of himself and violating the key tenet of ahimsa (non-harming). This spiritual violence -- betraying his long-time supporters for personal gain -- was the type of action that could only be met with radical karmic retribution.
The second of the Four Noble Truths holds that dukkha (suffering) is primarily caused by craving. For the so-called Big Three, it was clear from the beginning that they were stuck in this mode of craving -- craving fame, craving fortune, craving South Beach and all that goes with it, even craving a championship and seeking the easiest path to that goal.
Luckily for them, the Buddha has laid out a path, and the Mavericks have played the role of teacher, providing a clear lesson for the way forward. All is not lost as they now return to the cycle of next season, hopefully a bit wiser and a bit more detached from the forces of craving that undid their first run together.
As for the Mavericks, we now share in the joy of their successfully breaking free from the cycle of samsara to achieve the ultimate goal, nirvana.
Now ... if only I could figure out what Buddhist teaching will validate all of my schadenfreude.
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