In 2013, my third post ever for the post calvin was about Vince Carter, and notably, about how Vince Carter had adapted his game to increase his longevity in the league and ward off retirement. No longer dunking over any living being in his path, Vince intensified his defense and honed his three-point shot to fit his play into the three-and-D era of the NBA (The 2010s have been defined by the basketball world’s full embrace of the three-pointer as easily the most efficient and valuable shot in the game. Teams now prioritize role players who can shoot well from three—spreading the floor and offering much more space for creative players to operate —and play serviceable to top-notch defense).
Well, six years later, and Vince is still playing professional basketball. He’s now forty-two, and he’ll turn forty-three this season; this is his twenty-second season in the NBA (the most in the league’s history). He plays for the Atlanta Hawks, a team rebuilding with a roster full of younger players. Carter began his NBA career in 1998, which means his career is the same age or older than four of his teammates. He’s a father-figure and basketball sage who offers indispensable wisdom to the Hawks franchise while still playing around fifteen minutes a game.
But what still grabs my attention and gains my respect is the way Vince Carter has subverted the expectations of aging basketball stars. His career averages have dropped steadily since the 2007-08 season, but he keeps playing, seemingly unconcerned with those individual statistics. He hasn’t followed the path of ring-chasers either—veteren athletes who join championship level teams to win a title. From the outside, it seems to me that Vince offers all of himself to the game of basketball; the Hawks are gifted with both player and person—a fully present Vince Carter.
In Advent, we often hear this messianic passage from Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (NIV). At our family’s Christmas gathering, my dad asked me why the passage says “the government will be on his shoulders.” Is that why many Jews expected a messiah who would overturn Rome and be crowned king? Was the government really on Jesus’ shoulders, and did his good news incorporate a political coup?
I don’t have a cut and dry answer for all those questions. But Jesus certainly did subvert messianic expectations, and the gospels go to great lengths showing us how. From being born in a manger to “turn the other cheek” to “walk an extra mile with their coat” to riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus revolutionized political revolution. The messiah many expected never arrived, but God had other ideas: Immanuel, God-with-us, a fully present God. A new kingdom and a new reign.
The church serves this messiah and claims this messiah as Lord. Christians are called to subvert in the pattern of Jesus, in the presence of a fully present God.
This, of course, is an inexact (and actually kind of absurd) connection to make. Vince Carter is no basketball revolutionary or subversive messiah. Nobody claims Vince Carter as Lord. But maybe the church can learn from both Vince and Jesus, forgoing culturally-defined ideas of relevancy and status and power-displays for the true power of real presence.
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.