Winning and Losing and March Madness

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April 9, 2013 by Jay Helms

Wow! As I opened my web browser this morning, a harsh picture of such rare emotional contrast drew my eyes like a moth to a flame. Take a look below at a picture taken moments after Louisville defeated Michigan in the Men’s Basketball Championship last night. One could stare at this picture and consider it’s details, meanings, and realities for hours. It is utterly fascinating. What a moment to capture on film.


The Michigan player in the retina-searing yellow jersey is named Trey Burke. There is one particular detail worth noting within the story of this picture: you are looking at a dejected player who, the very night before this picture was taken, was a guest at a banquet held in his honor to be named National Player of the Year, the very best of all of the players in college basketball.

In some corner of my mind I can hear a song… “I’d be building my kingdom just to watch it fade away…it’s true. That’s me without You.”

If we are honest, underneath it all every one of us is playing a game, each one arranging the rules to stack the deck for personal victory. I am convinced this is true. We do not live aimlessly. We live to be the winner when the buzzer sounds. As Tiger Woods recently said,”Winning takes care of everything.” We may live, in the words of Wiz Khalifa, “Young, Wild, and Free”…we may live angry…we may live desperately…we may live with a cheerleader’s enthusiasm or even with a who-cares nihilistic outlook, but we are all still trying to win, period. And it seems to me it takes a mountain’s worth of internal toughness and maturity to use this tendency for good rather than self-advancement.

Watching the NCAA College Men’s Basketball championship last night, I was taken back to April 4, 1994. Gathered with 6,000 other crazy college students and fans in Cameron Indoor Stadium, we watched the Duke-Arkansas National Championship game.

I was part of a crowd with a reputation…who likes to chant “That’s alright, that’s OK, you will work for us some day,” at opposing teams who are outscoring our team. This crowd makes it clear: We are better than you, whatever the game we are playing. Our team is better than you and if not, our lives are better than yours. What a lovely bunch.

So there we were, our team moments away from a third national championship in 4 years. And then it happened…Scotty Thurman drove a stake into our hearts.


Scotty hit a game winning 3-pointer over Tony Lang’s outstretched arm. The crowd that was so delirious moments ago was silent. The game ended and that was it. There were no “Our House” or “We’re Still Better Than You” chants this time. Silence. And then as we all shuffled out of the arena, all that remained was the oddly deafening sound of a thousand audible whispers of defeat mixed with untold numbers of grumpy murmurs. I am not exaggerating. I was there. Weird. Surreal. It was a remarkable moment to witness…from total euphoria to stunned silence and disillusionment within about 60 seconds.

In that moment, standing 10 feet outside the northern door of Cameron Indoor Stadium, I had a profound encounter with Jesus himself. No joke. As I stood in a sea of people passionately putting their hopes in a bunch of young men trying to put a 9-inch leather ball into an 18-inch orange metal hoop. He said to me, “If you build your life on the things of this world, you will lose. It will crumble to the ground before your very eyes. If you build your life on me, you will live undefeated. I am telling you the truth.”

From that day forward, I made it my aim to win where it matters in life…for the life of me, I do not want to walk away like Trey Burke, with a team of people partying behind me. I want to order my life where the likelihood of losing is dramatically limited. It is essential, though, to win in such a way that there is always room for more to join in the win.

In the process of pursuing a trophy that will not fade, I have discovered that when Jesus is involved, he sets the rules. He sets the rules regarding life and death. Even death could not keep him in the grave. He turned death on itself. He put death in the grave. And while he does not lose, he’s the perfect winner in that he is even on the side of the loser, wanting that no one should be left out of the victory. I did not come to this conclusion myself, rather He took the time to show it to me himself back some nineteen years ago on that night in April as I stood among a thousand sad whispers and murmurs.

It was once said…”Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Some additional views of the scene after the game last night…




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Jay Helms


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