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FROM THE OLYMPICS: U.S. ‘Redeem Team’ duo adds perspective to redemption

BEIJING (BP)–They called themselves the “Redeem Team,” and at least two of the U.S. men’s gold medal basketball team know an added something about the word: Center Dwight Howard and shooting guard Michael Redd have openly voiced their redemption in Christ.

The U.S. team targeted redemption from the 2004 Olympics’ bronze medal in Athens, when the embarrassed Americans lost three games. The aberration followed gold medal wins by the 1992 “Dream Team” and the Olympics squads of 1996 and 2000.

In returning to gold, the 8-0 U.S. team topped reigning world champion Spain 118-107 on the last day of the Beijing Olympics Aug. 24.

The 6-11 Howard, who led the NBA in rebounding last season, started all eight games for the U.S. team and was among the top 20 rebounders in Beijing along with teammates LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Redd, who was eighth in NBA scoring last season, appeared in all eight games but played less time than better-known NBA stars such as James, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade.

Howard, who became a Christian as a teenager, joined the Orlando Magic in 2004 from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and was the first player in NBA history in all 82 games directly out of high school to start. He has led the Magic into the playoffs for the last two years.

“All the success I’m having is because of Him,” Howard said of his faith in God in a 2007 Baptist Press article.

During the NBA All-Star weekend’s Slam Dunk contest in 2007, Howard used his free hand to slap a sticker on the backboard. The sticker had Howard’s initials (DH), his photo and number (12) plus the words “All things through Christ,” in reference to Philippians 4:13.

Redd, son of a pastor in Columbus, Ohio, and a former Ohio State star, made headlines when he purchased a church for his father James just before his 50th birthday. “I love my mom and dad,” the Milwaukee Bucks guard said in a Christianity Today interview in 2006, “but this was more for the Kingdom of God.” Redd told the magazine that the ministry of his father and mother Haji through the nondenominational Philadelphia Deliverance Church of Christ had been growing despite the limitations of the storefronts and basements where they had been meeting. “We can do more with this church,” Redd said. “It’s been a blessing in so many ways.”

Although his father is a pastor and he may enter the ministry someday, Redd noted that “the one thing I had to learn was to develop my own relationship with Jesus Christ and not piggyback on Mom’ and Dad’s.”

In other news from the Olympics:

— Men’s volleyball: The U.S. men’s volleyball team won their first Olympic gold in 20 years with a hard-fought 20-25, 25-22, 25-21, 25-23 victory over Brazil Aug. 24, just days after the head coach’s father-in-law was stabbed to death in Beijing.

Todd and Barbara Bachman were attacked one day after the Games’ opening ceremony as they were touring the Drum Tower, one of Beijing’s popular landmarks. The Chinese man responsible for the attack then killed himself, and authorities concluded it was a random act of violence.

Reid Priddy, a member of the U.S. team, is the son of Ken Priddy who helps plant churches with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America. Ken Priddy shared some thoughts on the tragedy and victory with Baptist Press.

“Aside from the shock and the deep sadness that the team and their families were feeling for their coach and the family, there seemed to be almost a sense of guilt over continuing to play a game when matters of such deep significance were happening,” Priddy recounted. “But I think the team concluded that competing with great heart and intensity might be the best way of honoring their coach and the Bachman family….

“This will always be a bittersweet moment for all of us. We will remember the moments of thrill and excitement but will also remember the tragedy that struck the Bachman family, pointing out yet again how badly we need our Savior and Lord,” Priddy told BP.

Reid Priddy shared his testimony with Athletes in Action, noting that God has given athletes special talents to be used for His glory.

“Faith and life with God is a daily process, and God communicates with me throughout the process,” Priddy said. “Teamwork, integrity, work ethic and discipline all play out in the game of volleyball and also happen to be character-building. So God has used the sport of volleyball to teach me how to be a better man.”

Ken Priddy said there was no formal ministry to the volleyball team as they stayed in the Olympic Village after the stabbings, but he knows lots of people were praying for the team and sending e-mails of concern and support.

— Women’s 4×400 meter relay: The U.S. women’s 4×400 meter relay team won gold by surpassing Russia and Jamaica in a tight race Aug. 23. Allyson Felix, who had to settle for silver in the 200 meter days earlier, ran the fastest lap of any of the 32 women in the final, a 48.55-second split that put the United States in front, the Associated Press said. At 3 minutes, 18.54 seconds, it was the fastest women’s 4×400 since 1993.

Felix was named one of Time magazine’s “100 Olympic Athletes to Watch” in July. She wrote on her website prior to the Beijing Games, “I’m currently a work in progress and like anyone else I face struggles every day” and noted her intent to be “more Christ-like each and every day.” After the 4×400 win, Felix told The Baltimore Sun she was heartbroken over her loss in the 200 meter.

“I was still grieving my 200,” Felix said. “To be able to have a second chance, to be able to come together with these girls was great.”

Her father, Paul Felix, is an ordained minister and a New Testament professor at The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, Calif.

— Women’s basketball: The U.S. women’s basketball team won gold Aug. 23 by defeating Australia 92-65. Russia took bronze. Tamika Catchings, who has been articulate about her faith playing a key role in her development as an athlete at the top of her game, was one of the Americans who came off the bench to outscore the Australians 59-11.

Catchings scored six points on 3-of-4 shooting, adding five rebounds and two assists in about 24 minutes of play. She finished seventh among all women’s basketball players in steals during the Beijing Olympics.

“This is the best women’s team ever thus far,” two-time Olympian Catchings told the Chicago Tribune. “Every single year, we get better and better. We came together the last month and a half. I’m just hoping I can make the next one to keep the string going.”

— Men’s marathon: Ryan Hall, a U.S. runner in the men’s marathon, placed 10th Aug. 24 with a time of 2:12:33. Runners from Kenya, Morocco and Ethiopia placed first, second and third, and nearly a quarter of the runners did not finish.

“I’m happy with the effort. I gave 100 percent of what I had today,” Hall, 25, said after his fourth career marathon. “I did the best I could. Sometimes everything clicks and it goes great. And sometimes it doesn’t. So you just take what you get on the day and do the best you can.”

Before the competition, Hall told Baptist Press, “I didn’t even like to run prior to the Lord’s calling. That all changed one weekend when my dad and I headed out the door for a 15-mile run around the lake. From that day on I knew that God put me on a mission to run, equipping me with all the tools and people for the tough road that would lie ahead.”

— Synchronized swimming: The U.S. synchronized swimming team finished fifth in the free routine finals Aug. 23 with 95.5 total points. Russia, Spain and China advanced to the winners’ stand.

Brooke Abel, a member of the U.S. team, told Baptist Press her faith in God provided strength during her training for the Olympics.

“Through this journey of being on the national team and this experience, I’ve really grown in Christ in the last two years,” she said. “I feel like my faith has gotten a lot stronger. I don’t know how someone could do it without knowing God and having a relationship with Jesus. I rely so much on Him every single day.”

— Baseball: The U.S. team won the bronze medal, beating Japan 8-4 en route to a 6-3 record. The Aug. 23 game was the second meeting between the U.S. and Japan in Beijing, with the Americans also winning a 4-2 game on Aug. 20. The 9-0 Korean team won the gold medal with a 3-2 victory over Cuba, which won the gold in 2004 in Athens. The Koreans beat the U.S. 8-7 on Aug. 13. “It may be bronze,” U.S. outfielder Matt LaPorta said after the medal ceremony, “but it feels like gold.” LaPorta was featured in an Aug. 19 Baptist Press article. Baseball will not be an Olympic sport in 2012 in London; the International Olympic Committee may reinstate it for 2016.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach and BP editor Art Toalston.

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