||Steve Patterson was an extraordinary man. An athlete and an historian, a father and a husband, a visionary and a Christian, Steve touched the lives of many people. He was the fund-raiser for TheGoal.com, and his dying has left a void that has yet to be filled.
During the days leading up to his dying, on July 28, 2004, Steve shared his thoughts about sports and life and dying and faith and family with The Goal. The following is a paraphrased transcript of his thoughts.
Steve pointed to three men as having great influence in his life. One was his father. The other two were coaches Bob McCutcheon and John Wooden.
Steve said, Im a firm believer that the mark of the man is not that he is the biggest or the fastest or the strongest. My father was kind and gentle and self-effacing. He put others first and taught me not to go solo. Thats the real mark of a man. It was through his father that Steve learned of salvation through the grace of God.
While many fathers read to their children, their reading material is usually limited to childrens stories. Not so in the Patterson household. Steve remembers his father reading to him from a classic book, As a Man Thinketh. The little volume, as the author, James Allen, calls it, formed the basis for much of Steves thinking and the tone of the book could be heard as an echo in Steves thoughtful and articulated conversation as an adult.
Bob McCutcheon, Steves high school coach, was the first to point out to Steve all the potential and the vast horizon that lay before him. Coach said, I see great things for you. My father was a humble man who expected excellence but didnt demand greatness. Coach McCutcheon was the first one to tell me I could achieve something great.
It was completely liberating, and impossible to describe the power his encouragement gave me.
And then there was Coach Wooden the legend the Wizard of Westwood. Steve knew he was blessed to have been a student of Coach Woodens.
Reflecting on his days at UCLA, where he was surrounded by and practiced against teammates who would go on to be some of the greatest players in the NBA, Steve sometimes felt out-classed. It was a situation where it makes you better or kills you. More than once I thought it would kill me. Others would mock me and laugh at me, and there were times when I was awkward and less than glamorous. But Coach lifted me up.
I could probably write on book on going through difficulty, and some of that difficulty was at UCLA. I had to be content with little victories. The team had already won national championships. The players were the best.
At the right moment, Coach Wooden would say to me, If you are ready, youre time will come.
It went from possibility to probability to reality.
Playing at UCLA and being part of the string of championships, even though I was the center on the team Coach Wooden referred to as the team with no center, was so precious. I felt I had earned something very rare. It wasnt given to me I worked for it.
And having Coach encourage me to be ready for my time to come is something that has grown in value for me over the years.
In his typical way, Steve made a connection between what he learned as an athlete, and his faith. Thinking how Coach Wooden had quietly encouraged him to be ready for his time, Steve said, Maybe we dont do enough of that. Maybe Christians dont whisper in ears enough, offering encouragement and assurance that, in time, things will work out. We want it all now. Sometimes we have to wait, and while we wait, we get ready.
Steve was a bridge. He was a bridge between two of the greatest college centers to ever play the game Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton.
He was also a bridge in a more metaphorical way. He saw himself as a connecting point between sports and faith. He was an athlete, and competed on the highest level and the largest stage, but he was first and foremost a Christian.
At times being both an athlete and a Christian was difficult for Steve. He struggled with what he called the dichotomy between faith in Jesus and athletic competition. As a thoughtful person, he occasionally struggled as he attempted to reconcile his place in athletics with his faith. It tore me apart, he said, speaking of his own internal struggle to blend competition with faith, It probably kept me from developing the kind of profound relationship I both wanted and needed with God.
Yet Steve recognized the important place sport has always had in the world wide culture, even from the Greek and Roman periods. Being both a Christian and an athlete carried with it, for Steve, a set of ethics above and beyond those standards and ethics that most follow.
Reconciling sports and faith became Steves life passion. Being in sports ministry was something Steve found liberating, and provided a sense of integration in his own life. God is calling me, Steve said with utter certainty, to bring my sports experience and contacts and my competitive instincts to serve the Kingdom of God.
Steve had felt Gods hand upon his life at an early age. I went to church and Sunday School, in fact my high school coach was my Sunday School teacher. I learned to be in the world without being of the world. I was taught a Kingdom perspective. I always felt I had been set apart set apart by God, which caused some resentment on the part of my peers.
But I always felt God had a purpose for my life maybe a moment, or a series of moments in which I could proclaim the Gospel on His behalf.
I take responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel very seriously, because its such an awesome task. Its an awesome task to always be prepared to give an accounting of yourself why your yea is yea and your nay is nay.
Now that I am retired from basketball Ive been able to work out a more consistent platform to share my faith, within a context in which God would have me share it.
The opportunities to proclaim the Gospel go on and on, if we are faithful.
Speaking about what it means to be a professional basketball player, Steve went beyond the superficial element of pay. A professional, he said, has a craft and has mastered that craft to such a degree that it separates him with respect to others. The professional has the attributes and the qualifications and the training to overcome challengers unique to extraordinary events and extraordinary times.
Being a professional is more than having talent. Talent alone does not always suffice. Talent can insufficient due to a lack of training.
Again, Steve made the connection between the sports world and faith. He compared the attributes of a professional athlete with those of a mature disciple.
The correlation is to the disciple, who has talents and has trained those talents through exposure to grace and to the Word of God, and who has the calling who has felt the calling and heard the calling to be a servant of God and is prepared for the unique demands of extraordinary times.
Perhaps weve developed an understanding of Christianity that is too trite. A pro is set apart so is a disciple of Jesus.
Again drawing parallels between sports and faith, Steve spoke of teamwork. In fact, one of Steves oft-repeated expressions was, God is a Team Dont Go Solo.
According to Steve, there is no success without teamwork. Its possible to have all the individual accolades and still not win. Teamwork requires a mental mindset of sacrifice being able to give up whats in your own individual interest for the sake of the team.
In fact, in Steves viewpoint, there is no success without individual sacrifice not only in team sports, but in life. To win you must lose, he said, and talked about the concept of harvest, of dying and rebirth.
In some ways playing at UCLA, in such a team-minded system, created a dilemma. The team took precedence over the individual, and yet the pro teams were looking for individual games. There were games when I didnt have the statistics, but did what I needed to do to help us win. Thats what winning as a team meant.
This concept of sacrifice for the greater good of the team is something he especially learned from Coach Wooden. But Steve took it to another level, and made the connection with faith. Ultimately, he said, It boils down to whether a man will give his life, as a mustard seed placed into the ground. When that happens, God gives him his life back again, with even greater force, and he lives powerfully, both now and for eternity.
While Steve came to faith at an early age, his faith was honed and sharpened during his time at UCLA, both by learning from Coach Wooden and by being involved in faith enterprises.
Steve talked about two such faith enterprises during his college years that had great bearing on the man he would become.
One was at Hume Lake, a Christian conference grounds. He worked as a night watchman, and would spend even after evening contemplating issues large and small. I realized, he said, that in regard to life I needed to take a larger view. It wasnt just about me, and it wasnt about basketball. It was about Jesus.
The other experience through which Steve was shaped while at UCLA was his involvement in JC Light and Powerhouse, which he referred to as a counter-cultural takeoff on the early church. The concept of this somewhat radical campus ministry was to blend faith into modern living an idea which stayed with Steve the rest of his life.
While Steves accomplishments were many ranging from being Commissioner of the CBA and CEO of Super Bowl XXX and Executive Director of the Grand Canyon State Games, he was first and foremost of disciple of Jesus Christ a fact which shaped and formed his relationships with his family and friends, associates and co-workers.
His life was rich and full robust was the word he often used and it was all based on his understanding of grace the unconditional love of God upon which he learned to rely.
He was faithful to the end.
When the Time Comes
Steves thoughts on the focus required to be a professional seem an apt way to remember him.
For Steve, the key to being a professional, whether as an athlete or a disciple, was focus. Making a free throw is easy. Making a free throw in a pressure packed situation is not. A skill or an attribute, whether in sports or faith, can be lost because of a lack of focus. Steve found that focus came through practice. Coach Wooden was a firm believer in practice. He used to tell me, If you practice, your time will come. If you dont practice, your time will come and you wont be ready.
Ive seen that principle demonstrated time and again in my life in sports as well as in my faith. Focus refines a skill, and focus comes through practice. I saw it at Super Bowl III. There were all these things that had to happen at a certain time, and they had been rehearsed and rehearsed, and we were ready.
Focus is about being ready in the moment. St. Paul said it well, Putting aside every weight I press on toward the goal. Thats focus. Putting every obstacle and every distraction aside, and being in the moment.
The outcome will be achieved if you are ready in each moment.
On July 28, 2004, God called Steve Pattersons name, and Steve was ready.