Music & the Spoken Word: Things ‘bigger than basketball’

Editor’s note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This is an encore performance of “Music & the Spoken Word” with a new “Spoken Word” selected and recorded while the choir is practicing social distancing. This will be given Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021.

When Gideon George arrived at New Mexico Junior College, the newest member of the Thunderbirds’ basketball team, he found things to be quite different from his home in Minna, Nigeria. He had an air-conditioned dorm with indoor plumbing, for example. The basketball courts were not made of cracked concrete or hard-crusted dirt. And in Nigeria, you didn’t typically see a pair of almost-new basketball shoes in the trash.

So, when Gideon walked past a garbage can in his college dorm and saw some perfectly good shoes, he asked, “Can I have these?” But he wasn’t asking for himself. Instead, his mind was on the people he knew in Minna whose shoes — if they had any — were old pieces of rubber tires crudely stitched or glued together by hand. (See “The Amazing Journey and Mission of BYU’s Gideon George,” by David Hale, Feb. 26, 2021, espn.com.)

Brigham Young Cougars forward Gideon George (5) celebrates a basket in Provo on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.
Brigham Young Cougars forward Gideon George (5) celebrates a basket in Provo on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

He may also have remembered the day, years ago back in Nigeria, when he was approached by a local basketball coach who offered a pair of donated shoes if Gideon would join his team.

With all that in mind, Gideon started collecting secondhand shoes, first from his teammates and then from other athletes on campus. Eventually the school’s athletic department joined the effort, offering free tickets to basketball games for fans who donated shoes. As his collection grew, Gideon contacted a nonprofit organization to help him ship the shoes to Nigeria. They agreed, expecting maybe a dozen or so pairs. Two hundred arrived. Another 150 followed. And that was just the beginning.

Playing basketball in the United States has been a blessing for Gideon. But just as important to him is seeing pictures of smiling boys and girls in Nigeria who receive the shoes he has sent. “That’s where I get my joy,” he says.

Sometimes we think joy comes from personal comfort or personal achievement. But Gideon George reminds us that more often, it comes from bringing a smile to someone’s face. It doesn’t matter if that person lives across the world or across the street. Our efforts might seem small, but among all the big things we do in life, lifting and blessing someone else might actually be the biggest. One of Gideon George’s teammates put it best when he said, “[Gideon] does things that are bigger than basketball.” (See Gideon George’s Path from Nigeria to BYU Crossed Two Continents, Stepping through Two Worlds,” by Gordon Monson, Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 27, 2021, sltrib.com).

Tuning in …

The “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL Radio 1160AM/102.7FM, ksl.com, BYUtv, BYUradio, Dish and DirectTV, SiriusXM Radio (Ch. 143), the tabernaclechoir.org, youtube.com/TheTabernacleChoiratTempleSquare and Amazon Alexa (must enable skill). The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on many of these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at musicandthespokenword.com/viewers-listeners/airing-schedules.

See the Church News’ archive of ‘Spoken Word’ messages