“There will be two playing basketball in the playoffs; one will triumph, and the other will fall.”
The Rapture in Christian eschatology appears frequently throughout history, and a recent appearance in modern-day US society coincides with the 65th playoffs of the National Basketball Association (NBA). While it appears that the world remains unchanged after the 21st of May, the Rapture offers an insightful lens into the deeper echelons of NBA fandom.
Here, we show how tenets of the Rapture apply to a fuller comprehension of the sport known as basketball:
1. The belief in the return
NBA fans hold a fervent belief in the return of a savior figure. Some popular examples of the return and reign vs. the lack thereof:
- Chicago Bulls fans longed and prayed for the return of Michael Jordan during his baseball years. Jordan’s .202 batting average, fortunately, worked in Chicago fans’ advantage.
- Magic Johnson made a tearful comeback to Los Angeles. In spite of his weight and loss of step, Jack Nicholson cheered him from the sidelines fervently. Unfortunately, the magic had passed on, and Lakers fans were already feeling the tremors of Shaq + Kobe around the corner.
- Cleveland fans know in their hearts that Lebron James will never return to the ‘Mistake by the Lake,’ which explains their rancor. James has finished with Ohio.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dropped Milwaukee—however, unlike Lebron, he did so in style. Milwaukee’s championship ensured that Kareem occupies a special place in the Brew City.
2. Dynastic rule
Successful teams are seen as dynasties. In recent years, the Spurs, the Lakers, the Rockets, and, most importantly, the Bulls create the impression that dynastic rule is the norm. Dynasties bring order to the world. Times of discord and chaos are marked by weak leadership and civil war. Situations such as these allow for, say, the NJ Nets to make it to the NBA Finals—twice.
3. The elect
Some teams do well; some do not. That is the rule, according to some fans. Followers of certain teams—the Clippers spring to mind right away—rue fate and may slip to predestination: We are not the elect, they say. Of course, Blake Griffin may bring in a new era. (The savior complex is far too large to discuss here but also constitutes part of the Rapture-NBA connection.) On the flipside, the performance of the Lakers over the last decade and a half surely points to divine favor.
4. Sweeping away the old…
The young Grizzlies knocked out the aging Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. The 1980s were the decade of the Lakers and Celtics, but the 1990s ushered in a different style of play associated with younger, urban players. Some sweeping is saddening; watching Hakeem Olajuwon playing with the Raptors is enough to bring tears to one’s eyes.
5. …and the final judgment
First, there were 16. Then 8. Then 4. Then 2. And, to borrow from Highlander, an artistic forte of the 1980s, “There can be only one.” Periodically, pundits take stock of the league and its history—such as the NBA 50’s Greatest in 1996—but most of the time, fans focus on summer and the (semi) final judgment: the NBA Finals. The tension and suspense of the NBA on NBC, which provided better coverage than ABC ever could aspire to, bespoke a battle of primal forces and apocalyptic proportions.
There are further connections between the Rapture and the NBA. Coincidence? Of course not. The connections are inextricably woven into the living fiber of the NBA.
Supposedly the Rapture occurred already. If so, I’m disappointed that the Bulls were presumably chosen to be taken away without a trace—kind of like Carlos Boozer in Game 5 against the Heat.
Donald Trump did drop from the early Republican presidential candidate pack—although that’s a different type of winnowing. Rebekah Black’s “Friday” has diminished in popularity, though it has (unfortunately) not yet disappeared. The NBA Finals, though, have not yet started. Much rests on how the rematch of the Mavericks-Heat 2006 series proceeds. As is probably obvious, the Rapture is a pivotal moment in the struggle between good and evil. I won’t say which team is good and which is evil, but woe betide those who ignore the cosmological connections between basketball and the very meaning of life.