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Grieving Rivals

In February of 2009, an article was published about a basketball team that threw a game. Usually-since I am an extremely competitive person-I would have questioned this, but one look at the article, and my questions were forgotten.

An Illinois basketball team traveled to Milwaukee to play in a game that almost never happened. This was because one of the Milwaukee players’ moms had died of cancer that very night. But the game went on. In the second quarter, said player, Johntel Franklin-who had come straight from the hospital-walked into the gym. He wasn’t on the roster, but he insisted that he play. Because he wasn’t on the roster, his team had to give up two free-throw shots. The Illinois coach told his player to miss the shots and he did. Pretty soon, the Milwaukee players knew what was going on. Their fans, and their players, all faced the Illinois bench and applauded their amazing sportsmanship. The Illinois coach, in an interview, said, “They may not remember our [winning and losing] record 20 years from now, but they’ll remember what happened in that gym that night.”

My friend showed me this article only a few days ago, and I struggled with how to present it. To me personally, this act goes so far beyond just being a mensch. And yet, this simple act of throwing a game to show a team cared, immediately brought me to thinking about being a mensch.

A mensch is a person of integrity and honor. In all honesty, the Illinois basketball team took one step further from integrity and honor. They showed that even in a situation that could affect their standings, a team could step down from their pride, and show someone their sympathy and kindness.

I read this article and had no words. I looked at my friend and all he did was nod, knowing exactly my feelings. I can’t begin to describe what I felt. Sadness, happiness, but most of all, I was impressed. I was impressed with the Illinois team’s sportsmanship. I was impressed with their kindness. I was impressed with their willingness to step down from their pride for a moment.

The message here isn’t to follow this exactly, but save this story for a moment, and then think: What would a mensch do?

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