Drink, Pray, Watch Basketball

Published: January 23, 2011

(edit- Once in a blue moon the prayer is done by a Rabbi. Not sure how I missed that over the years.)

Before each and every Hornets game for as long as the team has been in existence, a Christian invocation  is done at half court before the national anthem, in which everyone is asked to rise. George Shinn, a devout Christian, began having this done long ago in Charlotte and then brought the practice to New Orleans. For many years he remained the only NBA owner in the league to do such a thing. Now that he’s gone and the league controls the team, the question should be asked- Is the league owned team in clear support of one religion over any other?

From what I can tell, the NBA is not religiously affiliated in any way. I’m sure that like the US population, a majority of those working for and with the league are Christian, but it’s pretty clear that not everyone is. For example, David Stern is probably not a Christian. That’s just a little hunch I have.

I can’t help but think that if the religious prayers spoken before games were Muslim or Hindu that somebody would have said something about it already, but here we are dozens of games into the NBA’s first team ownership and they have yet to address this very unique aspect of the team’s home court experience. The point of this short post is just to point out that it’s still going on. There aren’t prayers to Allah, Ganesha, or Zeus. There is never an atheist that goes up and tells everyone to be good for goodness sake. It’s almost all Christian all the time, even though it’s pretty clear that the fans in New Orleans are so much more than that.

Let’s try to keep conversation civil and on point.


  1. Michael McNamara

    January 23, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Very brave of you Joe to bring this subject up and I applaud your courage to bring up an injustice that most will just brush off. It is hard for someone to imagine how alienated things like this can cause some people to feel. This subject comes up often in schools- where my fiancee works day in and day out- and I am tired of hearing the ignorant argument that goes something like this:

    “Well if you don’t like it or don’t believe in it, just ignore it- it ain’t doin’ you no harm.” (Can you tell I live in the South?)

    Subconsciously, however, this creates Norms. Being Christian is normal and being something else is not. That spreads and divides groups where they don’t need to be divided. Anyway, I can go on about this for hours but I will stop here and see what others have to say.

    • otherMark

      January 23, 2011 at 6:40 pm

      Good and valid point. It never bothered me all that much, but I can certainly see how it could alienate people. I just posted that the invocations are inoffensive and non-denominational, but I am reconsidering my view. Just because they manage not to explicitly say the word “jesus” doesn’t mean that it’s all-inclusive. Simply the fact that it’s always christian ministers can be viewed as exclusionary. (I may be wrong about this, but I don’t think they’ve ever had a rabbi perform the invocation.)

      • otherMark

        January 23, 2011 at 6:42 pm

        Oops. I just learned that I AM wrong about the rabbis. Still, it hasn’t happened at any of the dozens and dozens of games I’ve attended in the last 4 years.

  2. TopherPrice

    January 23, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Joe you are mistaken, they have had quite a few Rabbis do the invocation. It doesn’t change the fact that I can not think of any other religions being the leader of the invocation, but the point that it is exclusive to Christian invocations is wrong.

    Now for me, it is a matter of majority rules. I don’t think any significant bruhaha would be raised by christian groups if a Muslim or Buddhist invocation was done occasionally, but this is the south. It is a team in a city where the football team is named the Saints in reference of the Catholic nature of the city. Trying to start mess over an invocation is the kind of thing that pissed off people in this state. I think the NBA knows that, and is just letting the group that has been in charge of the team run the team the way they see fit until a new owner takes over and does what he will over the issue.

    If the NBA had chosen to ban the invocation the second they took over, it would have been a headline. A massive headline. The NBA would have drawn a line in the sand against religion. Unfortunately, there would not have been a civil debate and it would have further hurt the NBA product in NOLA. If it vanishes before the beginning of next season there will be far fewer people who notice it is no longer happening, than if it was removed after it was part of the daily routine for half a season.

    • 42

      January 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm

      Topher, you beat me to this.

      They have had rabbi’s, etc., and various types of Christians (Catholics, Protestants). New Orleans has a very small orthodox jewish population, with many of the local jews being somewhat adapted: eating seafood, doing christmas, etc.

      I must say, however, that whenever we get a non-Christians in, the invocation is pretty much just a well-wishing and not really religious in a non-Christian way.

      Each and every out-of-town person I bring in finds it offensive.

      Regardless of their opinions, I wish it would end. There are times and places for things, and each and every game isn’t one of them. A Christmas prayer at Christmas, a rabbi speaking during the high holy days, and a little ramamdan thing when it kicks off . . . great.

      • TopherPrice

        January 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm

        I personally don’t find it offensive, but why would I as I am Catholic. My personal take, is they should announce a 20 seconds of silence. This allows those who wish to have some time before the game to bring their spirituality into their game experience. Those who don’t, can look for funny looking people while being tolerant of others desires to be spiritual while not having to feel like they are being forced into a spirituality with which they do not identify.

        My main point is that it is sound business sense to not get involved in a potential napalm moment. If people stay quiet about their displeasure and the next owner removes the practice before next season, the NBA avoided the potential black eye. If people create an issue of it now that the NBA owns the team, by not making a move and having announced that Hugh Weber runs the day to day the league can point to him and he will point at it being George Shinn’s practice and they just didn’t change it yet.

        There would just be a HUGE backlash if they removed it now, and by NBA edict. Radical Christian organizations would latch onto that story and make it a way bigger deal than it really is to the vast majority of fans. You would not get equal time from those who were apathetic or offended by the situation. The enraged extremists are always louder than the moderate in nature. It just seems like risk management to me for an organization, the NBA, that did not create the situation.

    • Joe Gerrity

      January 23, 2011 at 7:07 pm

      Great points, Topher. Now that you mention it, I do recall seeing a Rabbi a while back.

      • TopherPrice

        January 23, 2011 at 7:19 pm

        Last time I remember one was before the Lakers game. Not that it really changes the majority of your blogs point.

    • Schmide234

      January 23, 2011 at 7:11 pm

      i agree with ur points except the majority rules one. Our nation is built around acceptance and tolerance and that is hard to achieve when majority rules. The smaller groups who arent in the majority are, as McNamara said, alienated. I personally am not a devote Christian. I have a hard time believing in things without solid proof but that is a different conversation for a different time. The point is that i play in a church league for fun and before each game there is a prayer. This is of course completely expected in a Christian church league, but i do feel alienated none the less because while everyone is sharing this great prayer i do not participate. This is fine and im used to it and i do this so i can play, but at the same time it does create alienation especially at such a public event.

      I feel that the best way to do something like this is have a moment of silence. completely inoffensive and very respectful to all. problem solved.

      • TopherPrice

        January 23, 2011 at 7:16 pm

        My point about majority rules, just has to do with the frequency of and nature of the leaders of the invocation. As the majority of New Orleans citizens are Christian of some denomination or Jewish, that is why you only see those two groups being represented. Not that I think it is right.

      • RobertM320

        January 23, 2011 at 9:07 pm

        If our nation is built around tolerance and acceptance, then why SHOULD the “smaller groups” be alienated? I’m Christian, but if I went to a basketball game in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia and they had one of their Muslim preachers give an invocation, I wouldn’t feel alienated. The majority of the people in attendance would probably be Muslim.
        “Tolerance and acceptance” means allowing the “smaller groups” to practice their faith without harassment. It doesn’t mean apologizing for being in the majority.
        There are Canadian and other foreign players in the league, but yet we don’t play every player’s national anthem. Should they be upset at that? Whether anyone wants to accept it or not, the Founding Fathers believed in a Supreme Being. But yet we’ve reached the point that we can’t even openly acknowledge that because of the fear we may be infringing on the “rights” of someone who may not believe.

  3. otherMark

    January 23, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    I am so glad you wrote this, I was wondering the exact same thing at last night’s game. My theory is that despite his dark powers, Stern can’t actually be everywhere monitoring the minutiae of his league. I expect that this particular detail of the day-to-day operation of his Hornets will eventually trickle up to him, and it will cease.

    I never really minded it, though I am not religious, because the invocation was usually pretty non-specific and inoffensive. It certainly couldn’t hurt anything to have 15,000 people simultaneously hoping that no one gets hurt. That being said, I’ll be glad to see it go.

  4. stormsurge

    January 23, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    The pastors who do it pay for the opportunity. Its a revenue source on a team that needs revenue.

    Personally, it irritates me. What irritates me more is the singers who maul the national anthem. At least the kids try to do it right.

    • LSUhornet17

      January 23, 2011 at 7:51 pm

      “The pastors who do it pay for the opportunity.”

      Where did you get that information? That doesn’t sound right at all, and if it is true it explains why there are only Christians and a small Jewish presence (because that is who lives here).

      • m-W

        January 23, 2011 at 9:55 pm

        I’ve heard the same thing from a source inside the Hornets organization. If so, they may have a bunch of invocations lined up, paid for, and maybe even be contractually obligated to let them give those invocations. But, maybe the team just lets them end quietly once the paid for ones are played out.

      • stormsurge

        January 24, 2011 at 5:42 am

        mW is my source actually.

  5. Dave

    January 23, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Like others have said, I appreciate you bringing up this issue. However, I don’t agree that the NBA has taken a religious stance by keeping this practice in place. There have been invocations given by rabbis. I have also notice that most prayers are to “God”. Rarely (if ever), are prayers made to “Jesus”.

    On a personal note, I enjoy the invocations and hope they keep them.

  6. Ray

    January 23, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I enjoy the prayer because i’m Catholic. On the other hand, if the invocation were done by a Muslim leader, for instance, I wouldn’t care. I enjoy interaction between people who have different beliefs than me. I’d take the words from his mouth and make them Christian in my ears. No harm, no foul. Besides, isn’t the point that we all need to take better care of each other? Lord knows New Orleans could use a little higher power. But as far as the comments about “this being the South” and so forth, that’s a generalization that doesn’t hold a lot of weight anymore. Certainly we all saw the backlash about the Mosque near the 9/11 site. It wasn’t rednecks up in arms.

  7. LSUhornet17

    January 23, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I think I heard somewhere that OKC does an invocation as well.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with it, and I wouldn’t have a problem if they started inviting other religions to do it as well (for the record, there have been 2 rabbis this year, all the rest some sort of Christian), but it certainly seems to annoy some people. If a considerable amount of people really do find it offensive, then they should just do away with it. No point in ruffling feathers. Despite the fact that the majority of the fans there will be Catholic/Christian, I really don’t see many people having a problem with dropping the invocation.

    • 42

      January 23, 2011 at 9:09 pm

      I’ve been to one and don’t remember one.

      • LSUhornet17

        January 24, 2011 at 1:07 pm

        It was during the time that Melo was out during his sister’s death. Someone noted (possibly on Twitter) that the pastor in OKC included Melo’s family in the opening prayer when they played Denver. Now I have no clue who said this, but it seems like it would be a weird thing to make up.

  8. ticktock6

    January 23, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    They have had a rabbi, and it must have been the same one last year and this year, because both years I remember remarking that, ironically, his was the best one!

    I have been against this for years. Mainly because it is not super inclusive, which I believe you should be when you are trying to sell more tickets. And also because it has a mom and pop sort of feel, and I’d rather see the team run as coolly professional. Furthermore for practical reasons, the intros and national anthem make the pregame long enough. I don’t even bother leaving my house anymore until ten of 7 because I know the game doesn’t actually start.

    • 42

      January 23, 2011 at 9:20 pm

      Agreed. I like the guy.

    • LSUhornet17

      January 24, 2011 at 1:09 pm

      They had another rabbi (I guess it could be the same guy actually) in one of the games y’all missed.

  9. NOEngineer

    January 23, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    I’m a non-believer, but I don’t feel uncomfortable watching other people pay respect to God. This freedom-loving country was founded by Christians, and we have money and many other fine traditions that refer to Christianity. I also don’t object to celebrating the life of the Reverend Martin Luther King, who shares neither my race or religious beliefs. I don’t object to Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Mardi Gras, Halloween, or any other celebration of traditions or beliefs I don’t share.

    Feeling uncomfortable is not the end of the world. The Constitution guarantees that the government won’t sponsor a religion. It doesn’t guarantee freedom from experiencing religion in others, or that companies and groups won’t practice their religion in a way that makes you uncomfortable. People always have the option of buying a bag of popcorn, taking a nap, or otherwise ignoring the invocation.

  10. Will Bennett

    January 23, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    how bout that ankle breaker last night…

    • otherMark

      January 24, 2011 at 8:27 am

      Hey! Keep it civil! This kind of reactionary language is why it’s so hard to have a reasonable discussion about…crossovers…Tony Parker’s brittle joints…this team is playing so great…what were we talking about?

  11. JCS

    January 23, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    It doesn’t bother me, but I live out of state and never been to a game. Furthermore, I work for a Christian org and go to church twice a week.
    Nevertheless, I don’t think religion should be fused within professional sport marketing, unless it was a part of the teams image from the start. For example, if you admire the prince of darkness, then there’s a 29 year old team in New Jersey that’s just for you, the Devils.

  12. Joe P

    January 23, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Does anyone on here have the ear of the invocation bookers? I have Catholic leanings, so I’m not too fond of all the Protestant prayer, but I’m down with bringing a spiritual element to pretty much anything not funded with taxes. We should try to get some Buddist folks from the big Vietnamese community, and some Muslims, and some of those Hare Krishnas from Esplanade Ave, and enjoy the diversity. I bet there are a few Muslims at every game. I’d find it to be pretty inspiring to hear from more non-protestant religious people.

    • 42

      January 23, 2011 at 9:56 pm

      Many of the Vietnamese here are Catholic. Mary, Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church, and others.

      Good food and shop. Great bread at the Nha Ha Dong Phuong Bakery. Sao Mai won the Beat Poboy at the Poboy Festival a couple years ago, and they use Dong Phuong bread, actually.

      Check it out.

      • otherMark

        January 24, 2011 at 8:33 am

        There is a really cool Buddhist monastery on the west bank, though. I went there to collect assassin bugs one time (screening for Chagas disease) and ended up staying there till 2 in the morning drinking excellent jasmine tea with the abbot, or head monk, or whatever he’s called. It was a very neat experience.

  13. slick watts

    January 23, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Should we have the Italian national anthem played so Marco doesn’t feel left out?

  14. m-W

    January 23, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    Religion is an intensely personal belief, which brings out strong emotions in people. If someone wanted to offer a prayer to the Church of Satan, I get the feeling that people would flip out. Why? Because that faith is not just not theirs, but it goes contrary to their personal beliefs. Although Christians usually fail to get this, there are people of other faiths, or no faith at all, that find Christianity offensive. I understand that there are many Christians at Hornets games, probably even the majority, but why alienate any fans? Are we trying to convert people? Regardless, why would anyone put something so divisive before a basketball game, where in the sport itself nothing matters, no politics, no religion, no sex, only coaching and skill?

    Otherwise why not let anyone pay to say anything? Will it be Rush Limbaugh proselytizing? Bill Maher? Someone that will be as applauded as hated? And why only religion, politics, and culture, why not open the door to all commercialism? 7-Up spokesmen, Zatarain’s press agents, whoever wants to talk about their product? And if so, what does that say about the opportunity first given to religion? That’s it’s all about money?

    Religion is very important to many people. So let’s keep it in the places it remains important. Like Church. Like Synagogues. Mosques. Whatever. Let’s let basketball remain basketball.

    • TopherPrice

      January 23, 2011 at 11:00 pm

      Funny you say that about selling time to anyone. The Hornets do that already. You can pay to be the pregame, halftime, and postgame entertainment. Why else do you thinking we were subject to the entertainment stylings of 30 middle-aged women doing Zumba during halftime about a month ago.

      I had no idea that cash for time thing extended to the invocation as well, now I am completely against it, but they are definitely a “for profit venture” almost any other time as well so I am not surprised.

      • 42

        January 23, 2011 at 11:23 pm

        Anyone want to pay for me to do one of the above?

      • OkiJeff

        January 24, 2011 at 12:43 am

        Can you surrond yourself with 29 21 year old hotties? If so, I will watch you do Zumba. lol

      • 42

        January 24, 2011 at 7:13 am

        You mean you’re not surrounded?

        I thought everybody was . . .

  15. Oc

    January 24, 2011 at 3:36 am

    As someone from a Christian background who personally has no real views on religion, is there a god/ isnt there, which religion would the god be type questions I may have but dnt care too much about. I think it’s wrong, I know Christianity is the main religion but it can alienate non christian, fans, employees, players etc. (we need our fans for attendance remember) but it’s jus not the right place, pray in your own time to your own god. Every1 is entitled to a view n it shouldn’t be forced on ppl.

  16. MD43

    January 24, 2011 at 6:53 am

    One thing that really hit me when I was in the US (in particular the South) was just how infused religion is with everything. I guess I have a different perspective on this as an atheist (and no, I am not one of those atheists who think the sun shines through their arse, they piss me off just as much as they do to you) coming from Australia, a country where the vast majority of people couldn’t give a rats about organised religion whether they believe in god or not.

    But really how is Christianity or any other religion relevant to a basketball club? It’s an issue with your country as a whole. The US is supposed to be a secular country, but having ‘In God we Trust’ on notes, prayers in public schools, prayers before sporting events etc as well as the fact that atheists are probably the most disliked minority group over there hardly seems secular and would be more at home in a country ruled by a theocratic dictatorship then a Western democracy. I understand the importance of religion to people, particularly when the vast majority in the area follow one particular religion, but mass prayer of a deity belongs in the relevant place of worship or a private residence and not in a sports arena hosting a non-religious event.

    • m_W

      January 24, 2011 at 9:39 am

      Here’s the irony: all of the “religious” affiliations with government in America are allowed because of their secular aspects. Now, the Arena, despite being owned by the state, is leased to the Hornets, a private organization, who can do whatever they want with it. But to MD43’s point, when you hear a court allow a public property to have a menorah, reference the ten commandments, or give funding to Christian schools, it is always on the basis of its non-secular value, often its “historical” influence on America.

      For this reason, there are often several religious groups, who contrary to the ones clamoring for religion to be infused with every facet of public life, ask that it be kept out of the public sphere, so as not to dilute it. That is, to believers, religion is something special, holy, and relevant today, and should not be just a minor component of past influence.

      As for things like “In God We Trust,” and Congress opening with a prayer, they are unequivocally unconstitutional, but there are cases that decided to uphold them. To me, these are no more than this generation’s Dred Scott case, wrongly decided cases that will in time be repudiated, regardless of how prevalent organized religion is. But that’s just the law. People, obviously, have their own opinions on the subject.

      • 42

        January 24, 2011 at 10:04 am

        I can’t speak about it professionally, since I’m a different flavor of nerd, but I think you are exactly right.

  17. James Online

    January 24, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Attending my first Hornets’ games earlier this month, I was shocked that there would be a religious invocation before the game. I interpreted it as cultural: “well, I”m in the South, and down here they are very traditional and conservative.”

    It’s not a matter of creating space for all denominations to have their chance to lead the prayer, or even for atheists to speak out. A public prayer almost always seems out of place. I can see a moment of silence for personal, nonreligious reflection at various times–the death of a member of the team’s organization, for instance, or victims of a natural or man-made disaster. But routinely imposing a religious ritual on paying (and in my case, unsuspecting and unwanting) fans seems discriminatory and in really bad taste.

    If this started as George Shinn imposing his religious views on fans, then shame on him.

    If you think about it, playing the national anthem before a sporting event is also very odd and unnecessary. But that’s a tradition that is shared around the league, and in every sport. It’s slightly less offensive to be cajoled into ritual of blind patriotism than to be forced to “communicate” with an invisible man behind a curtain. He’s probably too busy giving deadly diseases to children and dreaming up new Katrina’s to listen anyway.

  18. Diane

    January 24, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Yep – they say an opening prayer before The Thunder game. It started when The Hornets were here. It doesn’t bother me since I’m involved in the church and the prayers are pretty generic – I agree – lets pray for the safety of our players and good will among everybody. Its the way it is in Oklahoma and as far as I know everyone just respects it.

    • m_W

      January 24, 2011 at 12:04 pm

      Thanks for the confirmation of OKC’s practices, Diane. Here’s one more point for consideration, everyone: if we were talking about college basketball, particularly a public school, like LSU, or UNO, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that an opening prayer would violate the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of Religion”), indeed there are a plethora of cases on high school football games squarely on point.

      If such a public school had prayer is viewed as religious coercion, excessive entanglement with religion, a message sent to a minority that they are outsiders, or an establishment of a “normative” religious belief (all language used by U.S. Supreme Court cases), why, just because the Hornets are a private organization, would they want to do something so blatantly falling within this category, when they don’t need to go there at all? Basketball should be inclusive, not decisive; sport is about bringing together people of all sorts to witness elite competition, to see others striving for physical perfection: not an opportunity for ecumenical proselytizing to a captive audience.

      • 42

        January 24, 2011 at 12:57 pm

        I attended one school that is a repeat offender. They have tried many things.

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