It’s one of the greatest times of the year—the start of college basketball. Oh, and Christmas…that too. But seriously, basketball. And the beginning of this season has been rife with scandal and controversy across the board. Numerous coaches and other “fall guys” have been implicated in bribery and theft from universities in an FBI probe, and we even had the privilege of experiencing the continuing saga of the Ball family. Lavar, Lonzo, LiAngelo, and Lamello. NBA, college, and high school basketball players led by their brash and confident father. A self-made, self-promoted, basketball family who can be found anywhere from basketball gyms to appearances on The Today Show.
LiAngelo Ball, the middle son and an enrolled freshman playing for UCLA, recently took a trip with the team to play in China. While over there, he and two other teammates were charged with stealing from multiple stores, including Louis Vuitton. These accusations were found to be true and after negotiating, the three young men were released and returned to the U.S. During the investigation in China, Lavar Ball, the father, said that the theft “ain’t a big deal.” And now, after expulsion from UCLA, Lavar withdrew his LiAngelo from the university to go play professionally in Lithuania.
Are you kidding me? The kid stole something while acting as an ambassador in a foreign country, has the charges dropped (when he admitted he did it), is rightly expelled, and the father says that it wasn’t a big deal and moves his sons to Europe to play basketball professionally. Commit a crime, shirk all responsibility, and talk about how awful your two days in Chinese prison were. How noble.
Isn’t this the reason our culture is quickly going down the drain?
A lack of respect.
We could easily take the route of, What’s wrong with the youth of today? What’s wrong with the father, Lavar Ball? Why do our youth feel so entitled? Kids don’t know the truth anymore! They don’t respect people…
They don’t respect people…
Maybe this is what bothers me. Students don’t respect their elders. Elders don’t respect each other. Nobody respects anybody. LiAngelo didn’t respect the people he stole from. Officials in the universities didn’t respect the institutions they stole from.
And why should we? Why should we respect one another? LiAngelo didn’t have enough respect for the Chinese people, for his university, for the property of others, not to take something that didn’t belong to him. It was wrong. He committed a crime.
WHAT’S THE REAL PROBLEM?
But is Lavar Ball right? It ain’t a big deal. So he took some stuff that wasn’t his. Who cares? Make a mistake (get caught) and move on. Right?
Mark, you can’t be serious. Stealing is always wrong. Period.
Sure. We don’t steal, do we? Have you ever taken a pen or envelope or paper that belonged to your company? You didn’t pay for them, and they were to be used for company work, but the items were so small—cost so little. It ain’t a big deal, right?
What is the monetary value that makes taking something “a big deal”? At what point does not respecting people become problematic? When we break civil laws? When we get caught? When we face penalties?
Because if respecting people comes down to laws and getting caught, there’s a large grey area, isn’t there? Stolen any time from your employer? I have. Stolen dignity from someone in an argument? I have. Stolen a pen? I have. A lack of respect. A lack of responsibility. Only I didn’t happen to be over in China with a spotlight in my face.
We can tell our students You shouldn’t steal. But why not? Why shouldn’t we steal?
Well, because it’s wrong. That stuff doesn’t belong to you.
But what makes it wrong? Why should we respect people?
GETTING TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER
In Matthew 5, Jesus states that anyone who fails to keep the least of the commands is guilty of breaking the whole law, and we learn that this extends far deeper than the surface act of committing a sin; it applies even to our thoughts and motivations.
The spirit of stealing comes down to a respect for our fellow human beings, and this respect comes from the truth that each individual was handcrafted by a God who made them with the utmost love, care, and value.
The Samaritan woman. The leper. The Pharisee. The Roman centurion. The disciple whom Jesus loved. Which one of them would Jesus have us respect?
Of course. All of them. And if I see every individual as the craftsmanship of the God I love, I must honor them. I must respect them. The irritating neighbor. The overbearing boss. The disrespectful student.
This isn’t a youth problem. It’s not a them problem. It’s an us problem. Stealing. Just a symptom of the underlying problem. We don’t respect each other. What would it look like if we truly respected one another out of a love of the creating God? What would our time look like? Our relationships with one another? Our disagreements? How we use our possessions?
Did LiAngelo steal? Yes. Was it a big deal? Yes. Did it originate from a lack of respect? Yes. Do I place myself in the same situation every day? Yes.
Let’s not simply diagnose symptoms of a disease we all suffer from. Let’s always be willing to be examined by the great physician in order to eradicate any potential maladies.
SOME QUESTIONS WE CAN ASK:
- What is stealing?
- Have I ever stolen?
- What would make stealing OK? What would make stealing unacceptable (beyond punishment)?
- How does respect “solve” stealing? Why?
- What is the opposite of stealing?
- In what ways can I practice the opposite of stealing?
Mark Taylor has worked with youth for over a decade as a youth minister and volunteer. He is currently working with the Center for Youth Ministry Training to help create more theologically grounded youth workers while breathing fresh life into youth ministry through innovation. Mark lives in Memphis with his wife, dogs, snakes, and whoever happens to be needing a place to call home for the time being.