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Did God Throw the NBA Finals?

Did God Throw the NBA Finals?

God is the ultimate MVP. Doesn’t the guy I’m dating know that?


It’s Game one of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals, Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers. “The guy” who lives out of town and I are wildly texting. He’s a big Celtics fan and the energy is changing before our eyes. Suddenly the Celtics are in big trouble.

I’m about to go out on a limb here, given that my hometown team, the Lakers, and the Celtics are mortal enemies. This may be viewed by some as treason.

“As a devoted Celtics fan, now would be a good time for you to say a blessing and give some tzedakah.”

He texts back. “LOL.”

“Seriously. Start praying, and give a few bucks in the merit of a Boston win.”

I hear nothing back. Then Paul Pierce, the back-bone of the team, gets hurt. He’s taken off the court.

“I’m not kidding. NOW!!!!,”


“When the Miami Heat are down, my son, Benj, takes out his teffillin.”

“God has nothing to do with this. It’s in the hands of the trainers and the ice packs.”

I feel a thump in the pit of my stomach.

I know a lot about the guy. There’s real keeper potential here. But I didn’t know he thought God has nothing to do with this.

A gulf between us is growing. “I think God has something to do with everything.”

“God has better things to do than worry about basketball,” he texts.


“This is a juicy conversation we can have tomorrow,” I text.

But the truth is, I don’t want to converse, I want to convince him that God is the ultimate MVP. Why doesn’t he already know that?

The game ends but the thump in the pit of my stomach remains.

Is a difference over prayer a deal breaker? And, can God throw the NBA Finals?

Related Article: How To Get Your Prayers Answered

Game Two. We’re watching it while talking on the phone. A player makes a fast break, then trips and tears a muscle, ending his season. “I don’t want to get into the prayer thing, but that had nothing to do with God. That recovery was from years of stretching.”

There’s nothing that endears a girl less to a guy than her making him feel wrong. You can disagree. You just can’t make him feel wrong.

I feel like I’ve stepped into making-him-wrong territory.

But I've given “the prayer thing” a lot of thought. For a lot of years. A LOT. For over 30 years, my spiritual quest to find Judaism meaningful has sent me studying with dozens of rabbis, delving into endless texts, asking zillions of questions, and well, praying. A LOT.

“The prayer thing,” it’s the core of my life. And as a self-appointed mouthpiece for the Creator of the universe, I’m not backing down. Especially to a Celtics fan.

I’m not proud of what I did. I actually prayed for the Celtics to lose. And they did.

I’m done for tonight. I’m not proud of what comes next. I can’t think of a time I was so mean-spirited, and I will probably be banned for life from Beantown for this: I actually prayed for the Celtics to lose. Then they did.

The next day, he’s recounting last night’s game. “I don’t know what happened, it was going so well then it just fell apart.”

“Kind of like us,” I’m thinking.

Instead, I tell him about what happened earlier. The Lakers were losing badly to the Spurs. My son’s friend Dorel was so distraught, he clutched a Chumash hard to his chest, and prayed out loud, “Please God, let the Lakers win… let them make this basket… let them get this rebound…” It was so heartfelt, I almost cried.

It’s been hard for me to love the Lakers this year after they showed no love to Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher and dumped them like yesterday’s trash. But Dorel’s prayer was so moving, I had to join in. A longshot, no doubt, but God’s taken on mightier foes than the Spurs’ starting line-up.

It’s true I expect my prayers to be answered, and sometimes they aren’t. And sometimes that hurts. But that’s no reason to give up. At 15, Dorel gets that. He might not be a Laker on the court, but he’s on the Laker’s team, doing his part. So, the Laker’s lost that game. But he was right back at it, Chumash in hand, prayers flying, the next game. If you don’t believe prayer works, who, then, is God to you?

Game Three. I’m getting ready for Shabbat. He calls and I’m feeling bad about trying to tank his team.

“It’s a close out,” he says. But I hear: Boston is great without your prayer thing.

I’m not going to make him wrong. And I’m not done cooking for Shabbat so I have to go. “Yeah, the Celtics are on fire. Thanks for calling.”

It’s been prickly this week, with me and the guy. I light the Shabbat candles. I pray my usual prayers. I pray for him to pray. I pray for love, for my bashert, but not for the guy to love me or for the guy to be my bashert.

He didn’t call or text over the weekend. Except to say that in a stunning comeback, Phillie hammered Boston. Oh, well.

Monday – Game 4. It’s tied at halftime. “Saw the score, it’s your call,” I text.

To pray or not to pray, that is the question…

We could use all the help we can get.” I take that as a sheepish yes.

I text back a smiley face.

I have to admit, I stand before the Almighty feeling sheepish myself now asking Him for The Celtics to win after having just asked for them to lose.

On one hand, it’s kind of chutzpadick, this changing my mind. On the other hand, it’s me involving God in what’s important to me in the minute. I hope He won’t take out my mercurialness on the guy’s team.

“Please God, may it be your will the Celtics win.”

Let me say, I like Paul Pierce, and he’s an LA guy, but I’m not a big fan of Rajon Rondo who walked right by me once and snarled. It doesn’t seem right to pray for a meanie. Ray Allen, though, seems like such a nice guy, and he’s near the end of his career. If anyone deserves to win, it’s him. But who am I to judge who “deserves” to win and who doesn’t. My head hurts thinking about how God sorts through all the pros and cons of every decision, as if I can apply human thinking to God. For a split second, I think, “Who am I to pray for the Celtics to win?” And in a way, I should be rooting for Phillie, I went to college in Philadelphia. I’m kind of a traitor. Maybe I should just stay out of it. But I don’t.

“God, let’s show him who runs the world. Let’s show him that prayer works. Please God, may it be your will the Celtics win.” Minutes later, my cell phone vibrates.

“AMAZING run!” he texts.

Big surprise, I think.

Ten minutes later, Boston is up by 12. The game’s over.

I text two words: “You’re welcome.”

Game Five was Boston’s, game six, Phillie’s. The last minutes in game seven advanced Boston to the Eastern Conference finals – against the Heat.

The thing about prayer, you can talk all you want about it. But it doesn’t make sense until you do it. A wise rabbi once said to me, “Start by saying hi. Start a dialogue, and then listen.” Maybe the guy will start a dialogue.

The Heat – Celtics Eastern Conference Finals, it’s game five. The guy asks, “Sher, could you say a brucha for both teams?”

“Ummm,” I said, as if I were giving it some thought. “No. I’m davening for Miami.” I like the guy but Miami’s my son’s favorite team.

“Well, I’m praying for Boston,” he says. We start laughing. “I’m so glad you’re praying,” I say.

But in my heart, I wasn’t glad at all. I knew we were doomed that night and the game hadn’t even started. Because now the guy is praying real out-loud can-you-hear-me-God-I’m-talking-to-you prayers.

I’ve turned over my best defense to the enemy.

Based on no facts whatsoever – no Torah, no Talmud - I see it as a “welcome home” gift, from God to the guy, this Celtic win that hasn’t happened yet but I know will. “So glad you’re back!” I imagine God thinking. “Stay awhile, what can I get you? A Celtic win? It’s yours!”

I have total faith the Heat can handle this loss but I feel totally responsible.

Game Six. “Beginner’s luck,” I tease.

“Game on,” he says.

It was a valiant effort on his part, but Miami wins.

It all came down to the last quarter of game seven, a prayer duel of epic proportion and Miami wins again.

Now, it’s the Finals. Oklahoma Thunder vs. Miami Heat.

“You’re praying for…?” I expect Miami-madness. “I’m praying for great basketball and seven games.”

“You want my son’s team to lose three games?” It’s getting prickly again.

“I’ll be praying for Miami in game seven.”

“I’ll be praying for Miami in game seven.”

So, the end of the NBA season is growing near. Miami is up 3-1. One more win and they clinch the championship. Lose now, and they head back to OKC for game six, and if it were up to the guy, game seven.

The guy’s been texting me all afternoon, trying to psych me out. “Durant will go for 40!” “OKC hasn’t lost four in a row since April 2009.” And on and on.

Let me say, I understand wanting a game seven. If you’re a basketball fan, you just don’t want the season to end.

But the Heat’s not going back to the deafening screams of Oklahoma City fans. Not on my watch. And not on my son’s.

Benj, his arsenal is in place. He’s well-armed for the battle to come: Teffillin in one hand, a siddur in the other, the couch is covered with a Chumash and the five volumes of the Metsuda Chumash with Rashi. And he’s wearing his Miami Heat kippah made in Israel.

I text a picture of this to the guy with two words: “Dream On.”

Miami is doing well, but the energy is changing, Oklahoma has a wicked run.

The guy texts, “You better tell Benj to get busy!”

And I do. “Benj! Are you on the team or not??”

A look of intensity comes over my son’s face like I’ve never seen. He was davening so hard, I swear, I thought the Messiah was going to show up at our front door.

In that second, OKC missed a wide open lay up.

“I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it myself,” the guy texts.

And from then on, it was like an open miracle. I’m not kidding.

My son who usually plays the position of power forward is now in the position of power pray-er.

And Miami begins a barrage of three pointers never before seen in a finals game. The Miami greats – LeBron, D Dwade, CB – they play like champions. But so do the rest of the team, the rookie nails down back to back threes, one player from the bench, Mike Miller, scores 23 points in 23 minutes. Up until now, the games have come down to three or four points. Miami is up 20.

Benj shows no mercy. He does not stop davening. He’s on full Jew octane for the entire game.

I lock eyes with Dorel and he knows what I’m thinking. Dorel says, “I’m not davening for the Heat but I’m not davening against them either.” Well, that’s a relief!

I want to be clear, there’s no idol worship going on here. Benj is praying to God. The teffillin and the Bibles, the siddurs – it’s Benj’s way of saying to God: “I’m on your team, please be on my team.”

The buzzer sounds: 120-106 Miami. The game, the championship, The Heat.

The guy calls. “You know, The Heat played great but Benj won that game. Really, I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. The owner of the team should hire him.”

But he doesn’t need to because Benj is on the team. And it sounds to me, so is the guy. Game on.

June 24, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 28

(16) Diana, July 2, 2012 6:58 PM

a better argument (from Diana, who has commented earlier)

This topic has really captured my brain. I’ve been thinking about it for days so I’m taking another go at it. Prayer is a conversation with Hashem. And we should pray often so we develop the conversation with Hashem. When the rabbis say we should talk to Hashem frequently, even about the smallest matter, I think it means we shouldn’t evaluate every prayer to determine if it is worthy. Because if we look at the “big picture,” we would determine that most of our prayers are too petty for Hashem and we would never be worthy of engaging in prayer. How can we pray to resolve a conflict with our parent when there are Holocaust survivors who don’t have a single living relative? How can we pray about the discomfort of physical therapy when others are dying horrible deaths from cancer? How can we pray for our job to improve when others are unemployed? How can we justify a prayer for almost anything when millions of people around the world are starving to death? The point of prayer is not to pull off parlor tricks with Hashem as the magician. Examples are praying for pro teams or for a parking space. Hey, it’s OK by me if that’s what you want to do, but it seems like you’re putting Hashem to the test every day, just as you put a Vegas magician to the test every time he saws a woman in half. Sometimes you are rewarded, sometimes not. (I’m talking about miracles here, not the sawing-a-woman trick. It always works.) -d

(15) Yehoshua Friedman, June 30, 2012 6:49 PM

Benji should go to the beit midrash and learn in the merit of his team

The big problem is that being hooked on the adrenalin of win-lose instead of keeping on an even keel day in and day out makes the Big Game look better than the eyes focused on the text of the gemara. It is hard to focus on learning and hardest in this period of history so close to the end with so much going on. We need to take up the challenge of focusing on what's really important instead of grabbing onto something popular to appear to be cool with our outreach target audience.

(14) shelly, June 26, 2012 8:50 PM

I think it's right for someone to connect to G-D through something they are attached to, such as a team. but to say "G-D I'm on your team, please be on mine" is not so Ok, since your level of observance cannot be just in the area of life which you benefit from. Worshiping Hashem should be constant, not just when you require it!

Sherri Ziff, June 27, 2012 3:53 PM

Yes, worshiping G-d should be constant.

Hi Shelly - Thank you for your comment. In defense of my son, let me say that "I" said it's as IF Benj were saying, "I'm on your team, please be on my team." I'm just wondering why (if I'm reading you correctly) you're assuming here his/my level observance is just in the area of life which he/I benefit from. My hope as a mom is to inspire my kids to develop a deep connection to Hashem and one way is to talk to Him all day, about everything. Just by way of example, and this is personal but I'm going to share it anyway, two days ago in the car on my dad's yahrzeit, on the way to the cemetary yahrzeit where my kids davened in THEIR OWN WORDS for my dad's neshama to have an alyiah to the highest heights, along the way, among the many bruchas we said: "Please Hashem may it be your will that he (the cyclist who had just been hit) has a full and speedy recovery,"Please Hashem may it be your will no one else was hurt," Please Hashem may it be your will that the ambulence gets here fast" "Please Hashem may she (the homeless person we had just stopped to buy food for) has a home and is safe," "Thank you for the perfect parking space" (no need to ask for one because we had just gotten one at the market). And on and on. There's a Jewish expression that says we should run to do a mitzvah. I think we should run to say a brucha. One line I wrote that was cut due to space had to do with my belief that davening with passion for his team will lead my son to daven with passion in other areas. It's all about deepening your connection to Hashem. Perhaps you don't like the language, "I'm on Your team..." but isn't that what we're all saying to Hashem by doing mitzvahs, following halacha, keeping Shabbat, giving tzeddakah, etc? Isn't that our way of showing Hashem we're on team G-d? When we pray for something we want, for a friend to recover from an illness - or anything - aren't we asking Hashem to do what we want, to be there for us, to be on "our" team? all the best, Sherri

Shelly, June 29, 2012 11:36 AM

To sherri ziff

I actually was not referring to your son but rather "the guy". In this article you are convincing him to pray, not because it's the right thing to do- to give thanks to H', or not because he's involved in every aspect in life, but only because HE may benefit from it.

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