Talking About Faith And The Wizards

E on DC

Several weeks ago before summer decided to close its door, I paid a visit to Dr. Bernard Richardson, Dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University. I was not in need of prayer or counsel, but instead I was seeking a better understanding of what I could expect from the Washington Wizards this season. Should I look up or down? There have only been three other people who have held the position that Richardson does today. One was the great Howard Thurman, a mystic and a major influence on many black ministers. Thurman was appointed dean in 1931. Richardson often quotes Thurman, but he’s also quick to talk about hoops. I wonder at times if our friendship revolves around the bible or the ball.

It was still warm outside as I sat listening to the Dean talking about how the Wizards were going to be much better this year. Better than the Miami Heat? I doubt it. What can we expect from this team? Playoffs? I have no idea.

I came to basketball late. In my neighborhood in the South Bronx, the kids who had basketballs spent their time shooting through the space of pulled down fire escape ladders. They perfected their dribbling on narrow sidewalks. It wasn’t until I was blessed with having a son that I became aware of the beauty of the game. Many of the “Father Joy” moments in my life were spent watching my son play in Pierce Park in Adams Morgan, Fort Stevens Recreation Center in Brightwood, and those great games when he was on the varsity at Gonzaga.

Today my son lives in Philadelphia and is a men’s head basketball coach at a community college in New Jersey. So I’m home alone – with the Wizards. Dean Richardson often invites me to attend a game with him at the Verizon Center. I did once – going to see Golden State, so I could see Stephen Curry play. Have you ever gone to a game with a man of God? I admire Richardson for his deep faith. But how many prayers can one say for the Wizards year after year?

When we are not talking about the Wizards, Richardson will talk about the Lakers.

Too often this is what many of us do in this city. We talk about other teams. We wait for distant heroes to arrive.

Should we change the name of our basketball team? Reload with the Washington Bullets? When conversations and discussions turn to a team’s name or uniforms, that’s a strong indication that the numbers are big in the loss column. What might change things here in the District of Columbia? For starters, three future hall of famers would do just fine. Look at the Wizard’s current roster and ask yourself one question – who on this squad will have a legacy? Who might a young kid imitate on the playground? Do we need more “walls” in this city? We’ve already been going in circles.

When John Wall was chosen by the Wizards in 2010, it was like electing and expecting President Obama to fix the economy overnight. How much can you expect one player to do? You can’t solve the world economy by yourself or win a basketball championship with just a point guard. Saviors don’t come every day and maybe we should accept that hell is hot.

I want to be a believer, and somewhere the words of the poet Margaret Walker keep dancing in my head:

Where are our gods that they leave us asleep? Surely the
priests and the preachers and the powers will hear.
Surely now that our hands are empty and our hearts too
full to pray they will understand. Surely the sires of
the people will send us a sign.

Do you believe in Wizards? The novelist Charles Johnson nicknamed me “Wizard” after I was able to place him and eleven other African American writers on postage stamps coming out of Uganda and Ghana. I didn’t find this to be too difficult. I simply had to push the idea down the court. I had people who thought it was a good idea and so the project soon came together and the entire thing seemed magical. Maybe the Washington Wizards just need to find the wand and the magic. Maybe we need to first embrace the “idea” of winning and hug it close to our flesh.

Months from now a team of basketball players will clutch the NBA trophy and raise it above their heads. Some will kiss it like a lover. Can you imagine that ceremony taking place in Washington? Now is the time for storytellers to step forward. We need hoop dreams. Once in Chicago, people knew a man could fly. Is it not asking too much for this city by the Potomac to discover someone with wings?

The next time I see Dean Richardson I’m going to ask him if God is praying for us.