Recently a young professional basketball player, agreed to play for a specific team. He “verbally agreed” and “they shook on it.” In other words, he gave his word. He later signed a contract with another team. When asked if he should have switched, a commentator, Jason Whitlock, thought it was okay, replying, “A handshake means nothing.” Wow. That statement has haunted me for days.
It seems clear the player needs people to give him better advice. Perhaps he should have gone to the first owner privately and asked to be released (Prov. 6:1-5). I don’t want to get into basketball dynamics, whether those meetings indicated current intentions or were seen as binding. Perhaps it is understood in the back rooms that both player and owner can change their minds. I’ve never been in those backrooms. Maybe the entire event was staged. I’m concerned with how it is played out in the media, the public story, how society is interpreting the event.
In the media, the story is that he gave his word, but he hadn’t signed a contract and so it doesn’t matter. I am struck by the comment, A handshake means nothing. Well, it was his word. The commentator is partly correct. For the player, his handshake means nothing. The player is young. I don’t really fault him. The larger issue shouldn’t be about whether this player is better suited for one team or another. We have lost sight of the forest for the trees. Where was the adult man, the father or father-figure, to teach this young man about honor? Is it just me? I am concerned the public message is that a person’s word doesn’t count; only signed papers count. The poor lad sold his honor; now his handshake means nothing. And at least some of society are looking on and nodding approval. What are we teaching the next generation?
Decide now, before a crisis moment, when you give your word, what it will mean. Sometimes it will hurt to keep your word. When the Psalmist describes a righteous man, he includes “keeps an oath even when it hurts” (15:4). When you “shake on it,” those around you should know that your word means something. Even if no one else cares if you keep your word, you should care.
What does your handshake mean?