The Power of Belief
There are things Michael Redd puts ahead of basketball. It’s because of this that his game is what it is.
Over the last six seasons, Michael Redd has averaged 23.5 PPG at a 44.9% clip, almost 2 three’s per game and 84.4% from the stripe. One of the elite shooters in the game, he played a sizable role on the ’08 “Redeem Team.” However, since the ’04-05 season, the Bucks have consistently finished last in the Central Division. Last season it appeared they might test the Eastern Conference, with the acquisition of Richard Jefferson from the Nets. Then Redd tore his ACL and MCL, sidelining him for most of the season. This off-season, the Bucks lost 3/5 of their starting rotation, as Jefferson, Ramon Sessions and Charlie Villanueva all departed. Once again, Redd will have to rely on faith, as Scoop Jackson illustrates below, as he’s always done to try and lead the Bucks out of the last-place doldrums.—Matt Lawyue
By Scoop Jackson
Kanye’s prayer is bumping outside the Bradley Center. A black Lincoln LS, its THX-certified audio system on 8, pulls up to the players-only parking lot. A black left gator steps out, followed by a long black sable. Around the man’s neck, a cross. 58 Van Cleef & Arpel diamonds, set in David Yurman platinum. Those are 6.22 carats. Total weight? Only God knows.
The man has a bible resting on the passenger’s seat. The book is open. Leviticus 5. The book of Moses.
And if a soul sin, and hear the voice swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it, if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity.
The man is refused entree into the lot. He exchanges words with the man guarding the gate. He turns to get back into his whip. He reads the gatekeeper his last rites: “Fuck you, nigger.” Jesus walks with him.
He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and a righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek Thy face.
His face is a smile. At all times. In his mind, he’s supposed to be here. In ours, he’s not. But we, the world outside of Michael Redd, don’t know he. Or He. All we know is that from outta nowhere this cat bust onto the scene in the Year of LeBron and became—officially, it says here—one of the 15 best players in the world. He sits at his locker, towel wrapped around his waist, at peace, in the peaceful days before the season of his passion is about to begin. Unaffected by the pressure this basketball season is about to put on him. His Milwaukee Bucks, at 41-41, were arguably the biggest surprise team in the League last year. And although those two rookies, Terry Porter and TJ Ford, must be given partial due for this ascension, the pressure is all on Redd to prove that last season—both for him and the team as a whole—was real. Unfluke. The success or failure of a once-proud franchise riding on the power of his left hand.
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shall have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and have good courage; be not afraid, neither be dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou go.
He breathes and adjusts the towel. Points his left hand to God after every big shot.
His name has been etched on concrete and stained glass all across the country ever since USA basketball passed away in Athens. His name said from all mouths, all creeds, colors and class. “If Michael Redd was on the squad,” they say. “All they needed was a shooter, and Michael Redd was available. Why didn’t they…” Yes, Garnett and both O’Neals were also mentioned, but he, in most minds, was the answer. He woulda saveth us. Michael Redd, son of a Columbus, Ohio, preacher man. A son of God.
Of the Olympics, he says he watched the games, but only as a fan. He never placed himself in the situation to save. “You know what?” he asks. “When I hear that, I’m humbled, but I don’t know if I would have been the difference. [Defenses] would have honed in on me. They’re not dumb. So for me to get open would not have been easy. I’ll put it this way: that team was good enough to win the gold. Point blank.”
In other words, saving USA basketball wasn’t part of his plan.
As a proud PK, and one of the relatively few professional athletes who unapologetically puts God first in his life—one Dwight Howard must use as a role model if he is to become the new “message center of God’s word in the NBA,” as it’s been written, and one who admits he must “not be too preachy” to his teammates because a lot of the guys are not real spiritual—Michael Redd sees past all the superficiality, fights the temptations of superstar-ism, and never, never gets basketball as a religion twisted. “You have to understand,” he says, “I look at basketball totally different than everybody else. I love what I do, I love playing basketball, but it is not who I am. It’s not everything to me. I value my faith more than basketball. My family, my loved ones. See, I can go 2 for 15 one night and still come home with a smile on my face because of my faith.”
But this “game” is faith. Some people worship this game. People find so much joy in watching this game, playing this game. Even when they have 2-for-15 nights, they never lose faith in this game. People have sacrificed going to church in place of this game; some people have revolved their entire lives around this game. To them, this game is a religious experience.
I tell him this. This is my sermon.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” he replies. “I would call it the greatest sport ever invented. I’ll call it a phenomenon. I’ll call it special. But I wouldn’t call it a religion.”
But be ye doers of the world, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the world, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
The hearers must hear. Both him and Him. All praises due to those who do. And for the first time in his life on this grand stage, a man who 18 months ago was runner-up to Bobby Jackson as the Sixth Man of the Year, a man who just broke into the starting lineup full-time at the beginning of last season and finished 10th in the League in scoring (21.7 per), must lead. And by example more than performance.
It is said that God never puts on us more than we can handle. Michael Redd, a man who shares the same name as the greatest ballplayer of all time and the name of the sea Moses parted, has an omnipresent cloud encompassing him. Pressure fills this cloud, but he does not notice. His faith, realize, will not allow it.
“Can you handle all this heat?” I ask him as he walks into his home, smile never fading. “Can you handle the pressure about to be put on you to re-prove last year?
“Pressure,” he says making me understand he. And He. “There is no pressure.”
He breathes. Stretches. Shakes.
“There’s much more difficult things in life than basketball.” Overstand the path he really walks on and who He walks with. “Pressure,” he professes, “is your mother surviving cancer.”
There is a sanctuary inside his house. Half bedroom, half prayer room. And when he closes the door, you hear nothing, not even his beautifully silent shot. No distractions. Peaceful. Serene. Brown and red. A light brown suede chaise rests in the corner. It represents him: laid back like his personality, smooth like his game.
This has nothing to do with basketball. Not really. It has nothing to do with religion. It really has nothing to do with God. What it—Michael Redd’s life captured in this room—has to do with is faith. Blind faith. Unconditional faith. Internal faith. For leaders come not in just different forms but in times of need. As much as Michael Redd may have been sent here to save the Milwaukee Bucks franchise and possibly save the 2008 Olympic Team and even NBA basketball internationally, he has also been sent here to save the men who can’t get into players-only parking lots.
Before each game, he lays his hands on the ball. Rubs them across David Stern and Spalding. And prays. And while most players ask the Lord for 30, not to get embarrassed by Tracy McGrady (who has found ministry through Redd), or a victory so they can maintain home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, Michael Redd prays for health. And nothing more than that.
“When I grab the ball before every game,” he says, “I pray that nobody gets hurt.”
“Nothing else?” I ask him.
This is how he gets down.
“This is what you don’t get,” he says. “I’d rather be known as a man of God than a great basketball player. Some people hear that and are like, ‘Huh?’ But this is truly what I believe. My integrity is more important than getting 30 a night, more important than getting League MVP. See, a man of faith is not a hypocrite. A lot of people say they love God but they do things contrary to what they say. I’ve seen it. I don’t want to be that type of person. My purpose is not basketball. My real purpose is to help change lives.”
There is a sound of silence. He is on the basketball court now, surrounded by sin and noise. When the ball leaves his left hand, the sound is almost softer than silence. And it’s strange. Less than a handful of others have ever been able to create this silence. And they were chosen. Shhh. There it goes again. Jesus was never loud. Neither was Chris Mullin.
As I watch Michael Redd prepare to meet his fate, the genesis of the ’04-05 season, I look around at the people whose eyes and hearts are following him. Following his lead. They watch his shot float through the air, ascend toward heaven, fall down toward to hell. Two years ago, these same people followed another silent shot, hoping His right hand would take them to the promised land. Their faith is about to be tested. Once more. And in the lost souls of the people of Milwaukee, it’s evident that Michael Redd has not made them believe in Jesus any less for what he did for them, but at least he’s helped them forget about Ray Allen.
I repent. As I leave, I see a familiar car parked across the street from where Michael parks to spread his word. Tags read: REV 1. I walk past. Hear a voice.
“Who won?” the voice asked.
“The Bucks,” I said. “By three.”
“Praise God,” the man shouted.
The car door opened. Sable.
“What were you doing at the game?” he asked.
“Doing a story on Michael Redd,” I replied.
“That’s a good brotha there, good brotha,” he paused. “He’s what we need. More of these brothas in the League should be like him.”
“Strong faith,” I say.
“Amen, young brotha. Amen,” he says back.
As I shake the man’s hand to leave, I notice him glance across the street. Giving one final look at the parking lot and the attendants that wouldn’t allow him entrance. As he lets go of my right hand with his, he holds up a middle finger to them with his left.
Praise the Lord.