The New York Times‘ Andrew Keh has an interesting piece about chaplains in the NBA: Every team has one — as is the case for pretty much every professional sports franchise in the U.S. — and they’re as much a part of the pre-game ritual as the shootaround.
Today, all 30 N.B.A. teams have volunteer chaplains, with no guidance or oversight from the league. One hour before every game, inside every arena, players from both sides are invited to attend a closed-door meeting in some designated corner of the building. The sessions usually last no more than 15 minutes. For some players, attending chapel service has become as much a part of their pregame routine as having an ankle taped.
“It’s a little different than just sitting there, reading some Bible verses by yourself, as opposed to getting the word with others and really studying and praying together,” said Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, who said that about half his teammates attended chapel before every game.
Because the NBA is a private organization, there’s nothing illegal going on here (as opposed to public universities, which cannot have chaplains). Still, the same issues of obligation and social pressures that we see in high schools and colleges crop up in the NBA:
One former N.B.A. head coach, granted anonymity to speak freely on the subject, said that pregame chapel services were not uniformly productive.
“God’s not a good-luck charm,” he said.
He said that some players attended chapel because they felt peer pressure from teammates or coaches. And chaplains, he said, sometimes appeared to have ulterior motives, whether it was trying to make connections with the players or promoting their personal projects.
“If it’s not real, it can be worse than useless,” he said.
Incredible, isn’t it, how even adults have to worry about losing playing time or the respect of their teammates if they don’t participate in the prayers?
You have to wonder what these chaplains are offering players that they couldn’t do by themselves for a few minutes before every game. I know athletes love their superstitions, but when half of them are losing their games, you’d think they’d eventually take the hint…
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