LEAVENWORTH, Ind. (Christian Examiner)—It's easy to spot the bad news in sports. Spend any time following athletics and you'll find the arrogant athletes, greedy owners and obnoxious fans. That's a given. But dig a little deeper. Sports also provides the storylines that make us stand up and cheer.
Looking for some of those stamd-up-and-cheer stories this summer? Here are five sports storylines featuring Christian athletes you should keep an eye on in the coming months
1. Can Stephen Curry complete one of the greatest seasons in basketball history with a second-straight NBA title?
"I know I have a place in Heaven waiting for me because of Him, and that's something no earthly prize or trophy could ever top,"
Hitting 402 three-point shots in a single season isn't just historic—it's stratospheric. Consider this. Curry broke the all-time single-season record for three pointers by more than 100—increasing the record by an additional 40 percent. And whose record did Curry break? His own. In fact, the Washington Post's Tim Bontemps suggests that the game's reigning Most Valuable Player (Curry won the award last year) should also be its Most Improved Player (an unheard of accomplishment if it happens).
Curry also served as the best player on arguably the greatest team in NBA history. This past regular season the Golden State Warriors won 73 games, setting an NBA record that had lasted since Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in the nineties.
Yet being the best player in his sport doesn't seem to be the accomplishment of which young Curry seems proudest.
"I know I have a place in Heaven waiting for me because of Him, and that's something no earthly prize or trophy could ever top," Curry has said of his relationship with Jesus.
Curry grew up in a Christian home and committed his life to Christ while he was in the fourth grade. He and his wife, Ayesha, have relished being role models in recent years.
Despite Curry's banner year, his season will likely be judged (at least by the commentators) by what happens in the NBA Playoffs in May and June.
2. What will Adam LaRoche do now that he is officially retired?
Baseball fans had a hard time missing the drama surrounding Chicago Whitesox first baseman Adam LaRoche this spring. LaRoche abruptly retired from Major League Baseball in March after Whitesox General Manager Ken Williams told him he couldn't bring his son into the clubhouse on a daily basis. LaRoche then left $13 million on the table by choosing to retire.
LaRoche has been outspoken about his Christian commitment. He has been a regular speaker at Faith Days for different teams for which he has played. Read his story and you'll likely realize that the gospel has shaped his life and priorities.
In fact, according to QPolitical.com, there's more to the story of why the journeyman firstbaseman left the Whitesox this spring. Last fall he and fellow major league pitcher Blaine Boyer spent 10 days in Southeast Asian brothels wearing hidden cameras and attempting to rescue underage sex slaves. Both LaRoche and Boyer called it a life-changing trip.
"Perhaps, for the first time, he saw the difference he could make in the world WITHOUT having to hit a ball. Maybe God has enormous plans for this small-town slugger, turned sex-slave recovery operative," wrote the unnamed QPolitical writer.
Who knows? But it's definitely a story to follow.
3. Can Jordan Spieth bounce back from an historic collapse at the Masters?
If you turned on a television set April 10 or the next few days afterwards, you likely heard the story. With just nine holes left in the biggest golfing tournament in the United States, Spieth led by five shots. The year earlier he had burst onto the scene at the Masters by leading from start to finish, capturing his first green jacket and his first of two golf majors. A five-shot lead should have been insurmountable. What followed was reminiscent of watching a car wreck. You knew you shouldn't watch but you simply couldn't take your eyes off of it. He eventually finished third, four shots back of the eventual winner, Danny Willett.
Afterwards, the world's number two golfer admitted that "this one will hurt" and "it will take a while."
Undoubtedly he is leaning upon his faith for support. An active participant in a Bible study with other golfers, he has talked openly about his faith.
Now the attention will turn to Oakmont, Penn,, June 16-19, where the next major tournament of the year, the U.S. Open, will take place. Can he recapture his 2015 form?
4. Will the acquisition of Ben Zobrist pave the way for the Cubs to win their first World Series since 1908?
The last time most of America has seen Ben Zobrist was when he was helping the Kansas City Royals win their first World Series title in three decades last October. During the offseason the super-utility player signed a four-year $56 million contract to join his former manager Joe Madden in the Windy City. Zobrist was one of three high-profile acquisitions by the Chicago Cubs that many baseball insiders think might turn the nation's loveable losers into the presumed favorites to win their first World Series since Teddy Roosevelt was president.
Zobrist, the son of a pastor, seemed headed to follow in his father's footsteps and attend Calvary Bible College in Kansas City, Mo. Not long after graduation, God changed his plans and directed him into the collegiate baseball program at Olivet Nazarene University?—a move that would in time lead to a professional career.
"I don't dream of fame, fortune or popularity; but for me, if God allows me to [continue to] play, I will have a different perspective—to direct people back to the Lord," Zobrist has said, according to beyondtheultimate.org.
If Zobrist can follow up his efforts to help the underdog Royals win the series with a title for the Cubs (after helping the hapless Tampa Bay Rays get to the World Series in 2008), he'll help cement a personal legacy of a winner who catapults his teams to the next level.
5. Will Gabby Douglas snag more Olympic gold this summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil?
During the 2012 London summer games, Gabby Douglas put on an historic performance, becoming the first American female gymnast to win an individual all-around gold and a team gold during the same Olympics. She followed up her Olympic performance with a Lifetime movie about her life and a Zondervan-published autobiography.
Despite being a mere 16 years old when she won Olympic gold, Douglas consistently spoke of her faith and attempted to honor God with her words.
"I love sharing my story and I love sharing about my faith," Douglas said, according to charismamag.com. "God has given me this amazing God-given talent, so I'm going to go out and glorify His name."
A current member of the U.S. national team, Douglas can secure her spot in Rio de Janeiro during the U.S. Olympic trials, July 8-10.