Last Chance U and Glimpses of Grace

Give me a TV show with college basketball, Los Angeles, and stories about second chances, and I’m game. Last Chance U (basketball edition) on Netflix are all those things and more. If you haven’t caught Last Chance U (football edition), not a bad idea to catch this one, too.

Last Chance U follows the gritty basketball coach John Mosley and his ragtag crew of ballers around East Los Angeles Community College. East LA is a predominately Hispanic area of the city and hosts one of the largest community colleges in the country. Some thirty-five thousand students come through the school every year hoping to achieve an Associates Degree, and then move on to four-year schools, or gain vocational skills for work in the marketplace.

The ballers of ELACC are on the same trajectory with a slight twist. These basketball players come from all over the country to get good enough grades to earn their degrees. But they also have other desires: a deep playoff run for getting noticed by a Division I college basketball program, and perhaps even play in the pros after college. East Los Angeles Community College is not a final destination for these young men, but serves as a catalyst for a fresh start.

Most of these young ballers are not going to ELACC because John Mosley can promise them a scholarship to UCLA, or a long pro career. Many of these basketball players come from all over the country because they have no other options. They’ve made poor choices and only Mosley will offer atonement. One player was released from prison days before his tryouts for the team. Another was cut from Penn State University because he stopped going to class. One player was a highly recruited Division I player out of high school, but coasted academically, and his grade point average was not good enough for a scholarship.

The title of the show is appropriate. The only chance, maybe the last chance for these ballers in making something of their lives on and off the court, is through the pardon of John Mosley and the community of ELACC.

Mosley was a former player at the school and understood life lived with a brittle foundation. He grew up in South Central, had a promising college basketball career, but knew coaching was his path. He wanted to affect the next generation of ballers. Mosley was a well liked and competent coach working up through the California scene and could’ve landed at any big school in California. But he chose a community college without a winning record in twenty years, subpar facilities and support, a stipend not enough to live on, and only the mere guts, determination, and faith to see ELACC become a special place in the community college basketball world. And in eight years it has become all those things, and more.

But something runs underneath the surface of the story. The thing that draws me to watch into the wee hours of the morning. Grace. The outside world sees a bunch of kids that have squandered opportunities, but John Mosley runs on grace. He sees kids that deserve a second chance, maybe a third, and fourth. He doesn’t judge them for their past sins, but expects them to repent and work hard in the future. Mosley understands he can’t promise them success after community college, but he can offer them a shot. A shot at not only being successful basketball players, but successful and healthy humans.

Mosley shows what grace in practice is all about. He’s a man of faith and it oozes from his pores. Our culture talks a big game of grace but most of its lip service. You get a second chance, maybe a third, but no more. Jesus speaks of forgiving not seven times, but seventy times, and into infinity. Mosley understands that everything in life is a risk. These kids might not respond to his acts of love and grace. They might choose their former ways of life. But grace requires doing the risky thing, and the generous, and loving thing. Choosing to forgive when everyone else says you’re crazy.

I’m intrigued and drawn to shows and stories like LCU because of guys like John Mosley. A man who could’ve coached at a prestigious college with million dollar programs, and kids who are vetted scholarship athletes.

Instead, Mosley takes the form of a servant and gives up all the glitz and glamor of coaching fame and serves the least of these. Sounds a lot like Someone I know.

We need more stories like this one. In a world fractured and bent on doing everything to stay away from the people we deem unworthy and unlovable, you find guys like John Mosley moving into the mess. In a world built and bent away from grace and a society that thrives on watching people burn to the ground. John Mosley runs into the flames to save as many as he can.

John Mosley and the ELACC basketball program are the embodiment of grace in practice. May we all strive for the same.

-RJP

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