“Dwight [Howard] and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team.”
This statement, made by James Harden, all-star guard for the Houston Rockets, in a recent interview reflects the common wisdom about how a basketball team is built. It’s how many people view basketball. “Star” players anchor the team; everyone else fills in around them. The other players are seen as pieces to complete the puzzle and are interchangeable.
Such a view misunderstands a fundamental principle of basketball. Every player on the court is essential all the time. The San Antonio Spurs are perennial title contenders because they play better as a five-man unit than anyone else. LeBron James couldn’t win a title in Cleveland his first time around because his teammates weren’t good enough. Two of the biggest wins in Michael Jordan’s career came on three pointers by John Paxson and Steve Kerr respectively. No team is truly great without everyone contributing.
While Harden’s comments reflect a misunderstanding pervasive in basketball, the same misconception is rampant in everyday life as well. We tend to see ourselves as stars. Everyone else is a role player, a supporting actor, there to make us look better and make life easier. We live in a culture that encourages this way of thinking because it values people based on accomplishment, creativity, earnings, or status. It is a self-esteem culture in which we’re told we are the main character in a story and must find those people who make use feel good and help us on our way. Just as the NBA pays its stars more and promotes them publicly, so our culture sets certain people as a standard of stardom for the rest of us to aspire to.
Even the church falls into this trap. It is so often divided into the stars and the observers, the doers and the congregation. Instead of everyone contributing, a few people bear the weight for all the ministry, perpetuating a celebrity minister culture and putting them on a pedestal. They are religious “stars.”
All of this misses something very important: how God created us. Each person is created in the image of God, giving them inherent value. But, since we are finite beings, each of us can only represent a piece of God’s image. Thus we all depend on one another to fill out the picture, the reflection of God. If we see ourselves as better than others, we are not part of the whole image of God made up by the multiplicity of people He created. Some folks have gifts that are more obvious, more public. Others are gifted in subtler ways. But all those gifts are necessary to show a fuller image of who God is.
In sports, “star” is a label given to a highly skilled player, but even they need a team. In the rest of life there are no stars, just created images of God who work best when reflecting Him with others.