Every other week in The Coach’s Box, Timothy Thomas explores the various lessons that can be learned from the world of sports.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant is among the NBA’s most electrifying and dynamic young superstars. His bold style of play on the court and braggadocious confidence off the court has put the league on notice that he’s bound to become one of its most prominent faces.
However, that status has quickly come under scrutiny following reports of Morant’s behavior and life choices outside of basketball.
If you don’t know the issues surrounding Morant, I suggest reading this troubling Washington Post article. It details how Morant allegedly assaulted and threatened a 17-year-old with a gun during a pickup game at his home. It also details Ja bringing a nine-deep entourage to a Memphis mall to help his mother settle a dispute at a Finish Line shoe store. Unfortunately, the confrontation went sideways when a member of Morant’s crew mushed a security guard officer and flashed a gun.
All of this came to light during an NBA investigation into a January incident where Morant’s entourage confronted members of the Indiana Pacers. After the game, a slow-moving SUV was spotted driving by with one of its occupants pointing a red laser infrared gun sight at Pacers athletes. Morant was traveling in the SUV at the time, according to reports.
On the heels of that event, Morant live-streamed himself in a Denver strip club following a game against the Nuggets. While streaming, Morant brandished what appeared to be a gun. The Grizzlies subsequently announced that Morant would take at least two games off to work on personal issues.
Morant released a statement announcing that he was stepping away to find better ways to deal with all the stress he’s been under. As of their Thursday night game against the Golden State Warriors, the Grizzlies announced he would take an additional four-game leave of absence.
Everyone in the basketball world has something to say about or to the 24-year-old rising superstar. Most are informative and caring; some are critical and scathing. So here’s some macro-level advice from the Coach’s Box: Ja Morant doesn’t want that smoke. No, not the smoke that ends in a long, drawn-out beef with the streets or another team. I’m talking about the smoke that you recognize as all this life ever was before it’s too late.
“Spiraling” seems to be the correct word to describe what’s happening to Morant. When a constant light is shone on a young man like Morant, it’s not unfathomable to think that stress will influence him to make foolish choices—choices that allow him to avoid the overwhelming sensation of being crushed by expectations.
This, however, is where buzzwords like character, integrity, wisdom, and self-control take on much weightier definitions than the clichés we only seem to spout in situations like this. So the best advice for someone in Morant’s position, who is spiraling out of control, might come from someone who’s done it all, had it all, been there, and done that: the king who wrote Ecclesiastes.
“After looking at the way things are on this earth, here’s what I’ve decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that’s about it. That’s the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 MSG).
A king who obtained all he could (e.g., riches, toys, knowledge, status), enjoyed all he could (e.g., wine, women, fun), and observed as much human life as possible came to a simple conclusion: Life contains balance and we shouldn’t take it so seriously or too far in one direction or another. Instead, we should enjoy life.
For someone like Morant, the king would advise him to enjoy his career and the life accompanying it. He would not recommend that Morant stop having fun. Yet there is a certain truth to understanding when enough is enough and when things have gone too far. Again, the King in Ecclesiastes has this to say:
“So don’t knock yourself out being good, and don’t go overboard being wise. Believe me, you won’t get anything out of it. But don’t press your luck by being bad, either. And don’t be reckless. Why die needlessly?” (Ecclesiastes 7:15-17 MSG)
Being an upstanding citizen has rewards but it’s not the defining quality of the Good Life. Good work is virtuous, but it’s not life’s ultimate aim. Thus, the king might advise Morant to strive and aim to be the best basketball player he can be and seek to be a model citizen. All of this has its earthly rewards. Yet even that won’t define the Good Life Morant is searching for.
The king concludes the book of Ecclesiastes thusly:
“When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 CSB).
This latest string of incidents could be Morant’s inflection point; he could change his behavior and completely turn his life around. Such a hopeful change might satisfy those of us who judge others based on their outward appearance. But even if he does change, the greater reward will come from whether Morant fears God above all else.
When fear and reverence for God precede and conclude everything else, all of the changes that the basketball world hopes to see in Morant will inevitably fall in line. This is not to say that someone who prioritizes their lives this way won’t make any more mistakes or foolish choices. But such decisions will be followed by humility marked by wisdom and self-control.
Perhaps Morant will never change and his beloved career will end in tragedy. God forbid that happens. But in the end, whichever way this story goes for Ja Morant, I hope he remembers the king’s words before it’s too late: “It’s all smoke, nothing but smoke” (Ecclesiastes 12:8 MSG).
And that’s not the smoke Ja Morant—or any of us—wants to dismiss unthinkingly until it’s too late.