Baptists Can Dunk: 5 Facts About Baylor Basketball’s Historic NCAA Championship Win

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A culture of joy is at the center of the 114-year-old program’s first national title.

In last night’s championship game, Baylor University beat Gonzaga University to become the first men’s team from a Baptist school to win the highest honor in college basketball.

Baptist fans—or bandwagon fans—chimed in on Twitter with churchy quips, saying the team played “like there’s a potluck after” and joking about a Baptist team being able to go to “the big dance.”

Baylor calls itself a Christian university “in the Baptist tradition,” and its win represents a historic mark not only for the school but for Protestant colleges competing in the sport.

As a staff member with Baylor’s Faith & Sports Institute, I’ve been cheering on the Bears with my colleagues; Tuesday morning we greeted each other with the lingering buzz of excitement overpowering the sleep deprivation from the late-night game. And as a historian, I also have a sense of how this year’s team fits in with the broader historical context of Christian engagement with basketball.

1. Basketball at Baylor goes back more than a century—but Catholic schools tend to win more championships.

Baylor began playing basketball in 1907, just 16 years after the sport originated at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. Though many Christian colleges took interest in the game invented by James Naismith, few have been able to rival Catholic schools with championship-level success.

Since the NCAA tournament began in 1939, Catholic schools have won 10 men’s titles. Compare that to Protestant schools—who can claim four only if Duke, originally founded as a Methodist school, is counted—and the battle for Christian men’s basketball supremacy …

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