In the second quarter of the Nuggets' Game 1 win over the Warriors on Saturday, the ESPN broadcast team mentioned the well-known fact that Golden State coach Mark Jackson is a pastor for True Love Worship Center International, based in Van Nuys, Calif. The broadcast team referenced a recent story by the San Jose Mercury News' Marcus Thompson III, which documented a preseason team worship session led by Pastor Mark.
It was a Sunday morning in Los Angeles, the day before a preseason tussle with the Los Angeles Clippers, and Warriors coach Mark Jackson had given his team the day off.
But instead of sleeping in or dispersing to meet with friends, nearly the entire team took the team bus to a hotel ballroom in Studio City. Instead of indulging in the Hollywood scene, they worshiped together.
Jackson, pastor at True Love Worship Center International, preached about letting their light shine. Jackson's wife and co-pastor prayed over the often-injured right ankle of team star Stephen Curry. All-Star David Lee renewed his commitment to God. Rookie Draymond Green closed out the service with a prayer.
Faith has a huge role in sports; NBA arenas host open chapel for players from both teams before games, players regularly thank God for great performances and no one ever bats an eye. No one ever asks players or coaches to place their faith on a shelf, to check it at the door. But something about this particular anecdote discomfits me to some degree.
Faith is deeply personal. Thompson III writes that "nearly the entire team" participated. With a man in an authority position on the team -- Jackson, who controls playing time -- leading the team event during the preseason, when impressions are being made and the team is supposed to come together, would you want to be the guy to hang back at the team hotel? What if you're an atheist or agnostic? If a Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu player were on the team, there's no question that Jackson would make an effective argument that despite his worship coming from a Christian theology, it could apply to all faiths. But for those who don't believe, a prayer over Stephen Curry's ankle by the coach's wife isn't exactly a comfortable situation to witness.
I trust that Jackson remains fair toward his players no matter whether they came along to hear his sermon or not. And I trust that most players would not think less of a teammate who stayed behind for this particular team event. Maybe for this roster, it all works just fine. (In fact, Thompson III writes about how devout a number of Warriors are, and one of them -- Jarrett Jack -- indicates that this isn't common around the league.)
So it works for the Warriors, but it might not work for other NBA teams. The problem arises when most of this team remains in tact next year but 2-3 new Warriors come aboard. Imagine one of those new players isn't religious, and isn't comfortable sitting through a religious service. When Pastor Mark invites the team out to a sermon and a prayer over Andrew Bogut's knee next preseason on a day off, that non-religious player uncomfortable with attending a service is put in a tough spot. Do you put your own personal beliefs on a shelf to socialize with your new coach and teammates? Or do you follow your heart and stay at the hotel, or go to the beach or something? If the latter, are you afraid the coach or your teammates will think differently of you? That's a position I wish Coach Mark didn't have to put his players in.
Again, if it works for the Warriors, it works for the Warriors. Pro sports are not like any other job, but there's no chance whatsoever this would fly in most industries. So it stands out and for me raises the question of its appropriateness. It'd be fascinating to know whether there are any Warriors who declined the invitation due to their personal beliefs and to get their honest take on how Jackson strikes the balance.
Note: I tweeted about this quite a bit on Saturday; I thank the folks who had the conversation with me for their role in shaping this.