It's the End of the World as Toni Kukoč Knows It

I have decided to give the "Monday Question" feature on the blog a bit of a break and start a new Monday segment called "Random Explanations." Taking suggestions from readers, I will be offering explanations or answering questions on matters of faith, theology, pop culture, comics, sports, or (most likely) some bizarre combination of those topics. If you would like to ask a question you can ask me here or on Twitter.

"But wait," you might say, "it's Tuesday." Yeah, I had my final research of seminary due yesterday. So this is a special Tuesday premiere of the new Monday feature.

Our very first request for an explanation comes from my brother Taylor and it pretty well establishes our baseline for random: Explain the book of Revelation using members of the 1992 Dream Team.

Revelation is an absolute labyrinth of symbols with context embedded in a world very different from my own that nonetheless has nearly two millennia worth of people projecting all sorts of futurist predictions attached to it. In other words, any attempt on my part to provide a coherent explanation of Revelation would fall woefully short.

But can I match up figures in Revelation with members of perhaps the most legendary basketball team of all time? Absolutely. And as a bonus, this blog that I am writing off the top of my head will arguably be as faithful to the original text as the Left Behind series. So here's hoping you'll one day see Nicholas Cage starring as Larry Bird lording over a post-apocalyptic hoop-scape.

Here is the sad truth of any comparison between Revelation and the Dream Team: the Dream Team would absolutely represent the forces of evil. It's sad, I know. I had a Dream Team poster in my room as a kid. But biblical scholars see Revelation's antagonistic symbolism as being representative of the Roman Empire. And in the 1992 Olympics, the Dream Team was absolutely an Empire that decimated the poorer and less powerful. Croatia had roughly the same chance to defeat the Dream Team as the Christians had of overcoming the Roman Empire in the time in which Revelation was written.

Of course, our illustration breaks down pretty quickly because the Empire won the 1992 Men's Basketball Tournament yet loses in Revelation. But logical fallacies have never seemed to bother people making end of the world predictions, so let's keep going.

Let's start with the easiest figure to peg in all of this: The Beast. The Beast is the main antagonist in Revelation: a barbaric creature that persecutes the saints and demands all the world to worship him. He is Beelzebub's Big Kahuna. He is a seemingly unconquerable force. He is Michael Jordan

(Let me remind you that I am not actually saying that members of the Dream Team are forces of evil. This is just a thought exercise. So, Michael Jordan, if you come across this blog for some reason, I don't think you're Satan's minion. And I would also love tickets to a Charlotte Hornets game)

Jordan makes perfect sense because he was easily the most famous basketball player in the world. He was also considered the greatest basketball player in the world. His power was so great that he was able to keep future Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas off the team (an enemy of an Isaiah? Hmmm...).

Jordan also works perfectly as The Beast because of The Mark of the Beast that is implemented in Revelation. Some scholars believe that this is reference to Nero or possibly to a document indicating sacrifices to Caesar that was needed for trade. Regardless, in Revelation the mark was placed on all the people. Jordan doesn't have anything like this. Does he? Oh yes, he does. The Air Jordan Jumpman logo can be found all over the world and is still prominent within the NBA a decade after he retired. The Mark of the Jordan is alive and well.

There is a second beast that comes from the earth who is also referred to as The False Prophet within Revelation. The False Prophet mainly exists to endorse the authority of The Beast by performing signs. Basically he's The Beast's righthand man. So basically he's Scottie Pippen.

Then there are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Now I admit this doesn't work perfectly because the Four Horsemen are actually sent by the forces of good in Revelation and therefore wouldn't be on the side of evil. Typically, though, when people are killed, there is not a lot of discrimination over who does the killing from their perspective. A child killed by a drone strike is a child killed by a drone strike regardless of whether it was done by the "good guys" or "bad guys" (another topic for another time). I also should reiterate that the symbolism in Revelation is symbolic. God may not actually unleash the reality behind these symbols on earth. Back to the Four Horsemen:

  1. The White Horse/Conquest - This needs to be someone who is dominant in the paint but also a proficient scorer. Some early church fathers also thought the white horse represented righteousness and the successful spread of the gospel. In other words, this is The Admiral, David Robinson (11.8 points per game/5.3 rebounds per game/led Dream Team in blocks/professing Christian).
  2. The Red Horse/War - In the Dream Team's first Olympic game against Angola, Charles Barkley was whistled for an intentional foul for elbowing Herlander Coimbra. He would also frequently go out on the town without security (the Dream Team received death threats). When asked where his bodyguards were, Barkley put up his fists and said, "This is my security." Barkley gonna bark, folks. He also led the team with 16.3 points per game.
  3. The Black Horse/Famine - This guy has to be a defensive machine. One who will starve you of points when he's in the game. That guy? Patrick Ewing. 10 blocks and six steals during the tournament. I would also be willing to hear arguments for Karl Malone in this spot.
  4. The Pale Horse/Death - Death often catches us unaware. Did you know that Chris Mullin was third on the team in scoring? He averaged more than Jordan, Magic, Bird, Drexler, everybody except Barkley and Malone. Chris Mullin made international teams suffer in Barcelona. Who'd have thought?

Finally, as the guy pulling the strings, Coach Chuck Daly was The Devil. So, I think the Dream Team lines up quite nicely with the forces of destruction in Revelation. In the end, remember that the story of scripture resists empires that build off of suffering and human notions of power. God is almost always shown to be on the side of the poor and powerless. And again, Michael Jordan, if you do come upon this: Hornets tickets would be awesome. I also could do some mop up work as a small forward in a blowout.

Great question, Taylor. Come back here next Monday for some more Random Explanations.

Kyrie Eleison

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