The NBA, aka “Not For Boys” Playoffs: 2017 Edition

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The NBA now means “No Boys Allowed.”  It’s time for the NBA playoffs and it’s time to put up or shut up. It’s time for the strong to prove the doubters wrong, and for the winners not to quit and for quitters not to win.

If you want to play with the big boys you can’t be a little lad.  Come strong or go home. The NBA is a man’s game.  And this year, in this man’s game, the No. 1 seed Boston Celtics lost the first two games of their series to the upstart Chicago Bulls, AT HOME. And in case you missed the score sheet, Da Bulls are the 8th seed, and they barely made the playoffs. But please keep in mind that the leader of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, lost his sister just prior to Game 1, so his heart and his head weren’t necessarily in the same place.

 Chicago beat Boston with a patch-work quilt, taped together, spliced and diced team full of old heads and young thugs. It’s not the 90’s Bulls team anymore; so no more Michael Jordan, no more Scottie Pippen, and most recently, no more Derrick Rose. But this just in: Boston came back and beat Chicago IN Chicago; Games 3 and 4 went to the visitors so now we have a tied series; and now it’s a best of three affair.  And since Rajon Rondo is hurt, it looks like it’s over for D Wade (and his Bulls), who made a go of it in Chi-Town. Wade’s new team isn’t quite ready for playoff prime time, at least not beyond shocking Boston in Boston.

Sports are like life and life is like sports. And the regular season and the playoffs are just like life.  The regular season requires playing with consistency and playing well consistently. And that is necessary and good. But the playoffs is another level.  Yes, the regular season of our lives requires us to be constantly consistent. But that’s not enough if you want to be a champion. Champions win in the playoffs, and the playoffs require everything the regular season demands, and some.

The playoffs demand grit and guts and moxie and chutzpah and determination and fortitude.  The playoffs are the high points of our lives. And the high peaks and lofty goals we strive to reach mandate that we give a little more and take a lot less in order to reach the top. 

If Boston beats Chicago in this first round series, Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics will have passed a significant test on their way to the summit. They may not make it to the finals or the championship this year, but at least they will have proven to us, and to themselves, that they are deserving to be a No. 1 Seed in this “no boys allowed” game.

 As for the rest of the 2017 Playoffs, my money’s still on the Warriors, because Durant deserves a dynasty of rings, or at least just one.

Aaron Hernandez: Triumph and Tragedy

Aaron HernandezTalk about a modern day, made for reality TV soap opera. This just in: another athlete has given us yet another harrowing, heartbreaking homily on the hazards of mixing giftedness with recklessness. The dramatic, meteoric rise of the footfall career of Aaron Hernandez met an equally speedy fall and sudden end.

In actuality, the life and death of Aaron Hernandez was a sad, sobering, shocking yarn full of knots and kinks leading to a tattered and torn, threadbare end. The life of this famous yet infamous professional football player was both sewn tightly and frayed badly, full of high drama and sordid saga that finally all unraveled in a lonely Massachusetts jail cell.

Aaron Josef Hernandez, the 27 year old, 6’-1’’, 245 pound, once and future rising New England Patriots star tight end took his own life this past week. It’s as sad a tale that has ever been told. His is a rags to riches back to rags story that seems like it didn’t have to be. It’s so sad and seemingly so senseless.

Hernandez worked his way up to the top of the sports world. He was NFL divinity; he played in a Super Bowl and played on the best team in the league and was an All Pro selection. But he also simultaneously wormed his way down to the bottom of the general population of humanity; Hernandez was convicted of murder and was serving a life sentence at the time of his death.

Hernandez grew up on the “other side of the tracks” and rose to prominence seemingly overnight. Hernandez attended Bristol Central High School and played as a wide receiver until becoming a tight end, and also played defensive end. As a senior, he was Connecticut’s Gatorade Football Player of the Year.

And his star kept rising.

Hernandez caught passes from Tim Tebow when he played college football at the University of Florida. He was a member of the 2008 BCS National Championship team and was voted a first-team All-American. He was widely recognized as a key contributor to that team’s national championship success. Hernandez then became the first Gator to win the John Mackey Award, given annually to the NCAA’s best tight end.

And his star kept rising.

Hernandez was drafted by the NFL’s New England Patriots as the 15th pick in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft even though he was dogged by allegations of failed drug tests. Still, with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady throwing to him, Hernandez shined for New England. He played on the 2011 Super Bowl team that lost to the New York Giants 21-17. On August 27, 2012, the Patriots signed Hernandez to a five-year, $40 million contract extension, running through 2018. The $12.5 million signing bonus was the largest ever given to an NFL tight end.

But it all began to unravel when he was released by the Patriots in June 2013 immediately after his arrest for the murder of Odin Lloyd. We may never know the whole story, but what was once a bright triumph turned into a dark tragedy.

Sports are like life and life is like sports. There are wins and losses and victories and defeats and ups and downs and twists and turns all the way from start to finish. Aaron Hernandez is just another example of how a good run can all come crashing down with a bad decision here and a misstep there. In all, Hernandez spent more time in prison than on the field with the Patriots. In spite of the tragedy, in life and in death, Hernandez taught us that we don’t have to have a dead end.

Reports say that Hernandez etched John 3:16 on his forehead before taking his life. John 3:16, the hallmark scripture of our faith, coupled with the Easter message, proves that God loves us and is concerned about us. Jesus conquered death so that we don’t have to use death as an out or an option. We may fall but we don’t have to fail or give in or give up if we put our trust in Him.

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/aaron-hernandez-ex-nfl-star-kills-prison-cell-article-1.3073294

Who Should Be The MVP?

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Westbrook? Harden? Leonard? Curry? Or even LeBron?  Who has carried and cajoled and compelled their team better that all others?  And who has made them better? Who has been the on the floor and the off the hardwood commander and chief and captain and quasi coach?  In other words, who’s been the bossier boss?

The clear favorite seems to be Westbrook, even though Harden and others have somewhat to say about the final vote. No, Oklahoma City will not go far in the 2017 playoffs, but they would be nowhere without the heroics of Russell Westbrook this season. Period. Paragraph.

Do total team wins count towards or count against a player?  I mean, if I’m a great player but my squad is a middle of the road team, does that hurt me or help me? Does it matter how many wins my team gets, as long as it’s more with me than without me?  If I made my team better and they would have been much worse without me, shouldn’t that be worth something?

The Oklahoma City Thunder certainly had every reason to tank and topple this season, with Durant leaving, and especially with the WAY he left. But no; somehow, someway, Westbrook summoned strength and led his team to a winning season and they got into the playoffs. And not only that, but Westbrook broke the single season record for triple doubles, topping Oscar Robertson’s record which has stood for decades.

The Bible is full of MVPs. From Abraham to Amos, and from Zechariah to the daughters of Zelophehad, heroes and heroines of the faith all made their situations better because of their faith and their fortitude. They scored heavenly points, grabbed spiritual rebounds and dished out divine assists in route to leading their respective teams to victory.

So what about you? Is your “team” better with you, or without you? Do you make any given situation you’re in better or worse? Is your job, your group, or your club healthier, happier, enhanced and improved with your talent and your flair and your flavor? If so, you’re an MVP too.

Why Didn’t You Watch The 2017 Masters? (It’s A Golf Tournament)

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I watch the Masters every year. Well, at least some of it, every year; it’s a tradition for me. So many lessons can be drawn from the game of golf in general, and from the Masters Golf Tournament in specific, that time would fail to detail them all here, but here are a few tidbits.

First, golf is like life and life is like golf. In this tournament and many others like it, you play the same 18 holes each day four days in a row. It sounds monotonous because it is. Life is a combination of proper, principled, daily practices; taken apart or put together they all can be just as monotonous too, but it’s the consistency of living well day in and day out that wins the day.

Second, in golf, the lowest score wins; i.e., you try to make the fewest mistakes and make the most aggressive moves without landing in the rough or plunking into the water. I can certainly relate to that.

Third, in life, you try to live with consistency and accuracy. There are times to drive long and hard, and there are other times to walk lightly and speak softly. Try as I may, when I play golf I try to hit that little white ball really hard and send it very far. But then other times I need not try so hard or to go so far. The tee shot requires you to drive the ball a long way. Conversely, the closer you get to the green and the cup, you need to slow your roll and putt that same little white ball very softly and very slowly into the hole.

I love golf and I love the Masters even more. I can’t play worth I lick, but when I get out on the green and actually drive the ball in the direction I intended it to go, I’m like a kid in a candy shop.

Charlie Hoffman and Sergio Garcia were at the top of the leader board and led the tournament and both looked as if they had the victory in the bag. But not so fast; Hoffman found the water on Saturday afternoon and sunk out of sight. Garcia led at the end of the day yesterday, but today he bogeyed on 10 AND 11 and fell out of a tie for first.

In golf it’s you vs. the field. The field is the competition around you and the grassy greens beneath you that stand between you and the victor’s cup. You have no backup to call in; you can’t call time out or take a break; and you can’t take plays off and it not come back to bite you in the butt. It’s all on you, and all eyes are on you. It’s takes mental toughness and physical acumen and a boatload of gumption and determination too.

Yes you have the roar of the crowd when life is a banquet and you birdie, but you also get the silent treatment when you bumble and bogey. That’s why I love golf. You have to learn how to navigate the ups and the downs, the ins and the outs, the highs and the lows, and the sometimes messy, and other times merry stuff in between.

This year’s Masters Golf Tournament was so thrilling, so riveting, and so captivating that I even got my wife to watch. How’s that for a happy marriage!?

And what about the happy outcome:

Sergio Garcia did it! After trying and striving for years, Sergio won in a playoff against his longtime friend Justin Rose. It was one of the best Masters finishes ever, going into OT; yes, it took extra innings for Sergio, the fan favorite this year, to win his first major at his 74th attempt. The joyful and gleeful golfer became the third Spaniard to win the Masters on what would have been his idol, Seve Ballesteros’, 60th birthday.

Gargia Wins Masters

Congrats Sergio!

Patrick Ewing Returns Home, Because Home Is Where The Heart Is

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I’m happy for Patrick Ewing. I am. And I’m hopeful for Georgetown and the entire Hoya Nation. I really, really am. And I really hope this works. He’s going home, where he spent four wonderful, magical, fun-filled years playing for John Thompson, Jr. where together they built the Georgetown Men’s Basketball into a national powerhouse using the Big East Conference as a stage.

I’m happy for Patrick because, in this life, you have to pull for someone other than yourself. You have to be selfless and not selfish and cheer and scream and shout and hail for someone outside of your personal space to succeed. So. for the next year or so, I’m going to root and rally and whoop and holler for G’Town to win, except when they play Maryland, of course.

So here’s what the Gene Wang of the Washington Post had to say about Georgetown’s favorite son coming home:

“Ewing’s hire underscores Georgetown’s relationship with the Thompson. Ewing was Thompson Jr.’s first major recruit, and they won the 1984 national championship and made three Final Four appearances in four seasons.

Ewing and Thompson

‘My four years at Georgetown were the best of my life,’ Ewing said in a statement. ‘Georgetown is my home, and it is a great honor for me to return to my alma mater and serve as the next head coach.’

Ewing graduated from Georgetown in 1985 after being named consensus first-team all-American for three straight years, beginning when he was a sophomore. He is second at Georgetown in career points and first in career rebounds, blocks and games played. Ewing is one of four players in school history with 2,000 career points.

The New York Knicks selected Ewing with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft. He went on to win NBA rookie of the year and was an 11-time All-Star during a career spanning 17 seasons. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

Ewing has no previous head coaching experience but did serve lengthy stints as an assistant with the Houston Rockets under former coach Jeff Van Gundy and the Orlando Magic under Coach Stan Van Gundy. Ewing joined Hornets Coach Steve Clifford’s staff in 2013.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/sports/wp/2017/04/03/georgetown-university-hires-star-alumnus-patrick-ewing-to-replace-john-thompson-iii-as-mens-basketball-coach/?utm_term=.72224541506c#comments

Winning Cures Everything

Everyone loves a winner.  Because winning cures everything. It cures frustration and fury and disappointment and depression and everything else in between.  Winning ways will win you admiration and approval and applause and affection, not to mention esteem and honor.  It’s an axiomatic truth; winning cures what ails us, and we have a lot of maladies that we need healing from.

When you’re winning, you’re conquering and overcoming and triumphing over your foes and your fears. And  your fiercest foes may not be as dangerous as your deepest fears or your weariest woes.

This year, the North Carolina Tar Heels showed us how to win ugly. And even though it wasn’t pretty, it was beautiful.  North Carolina avenged a last second, buzzer beater, gut wrenching loss to Villanova in last year’s final. And if that wasn’t a horrible way to lose, I don’t know what is.

This year, while Gonzaga may have been the sentimental favorite, it would have been awful and even cruel and unusual punishment for North Carolina to lose in the finals for a second year in a row.  So the basketball gods asked the God of the universe for permission to let this one go Carolina’s way. 

We all want God to right our wrongs and cure our ills and forgive our iniquities heal our diseases. Especially this time of year during early Spring, the time of the singing of the birds, when hope springs eternal.  We all need a second chance, or more specifically, another chance, at life. After we slip up and trip up and mess  up, we all need another shot at redemption. This is what we all hope and dream and strive for; atonement, renewal and restoration.  

So don’t give up and don’t give in. Even when you lose a tough one, believe that you can bounce back and win the big one.

Little Davids Are Still Slaying Giant Goliaths

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In the 2017 Women’s Final Four on Friday Night, another David defeated another Goliath: Morgan William and Mississippi State ended UCONN’s amazing 111 game win streak. Morgan William made a clutch shot at the buzzer and defeated the giant juggernaut UConn after 111-games without a loss. The Bulldogs will now go on to play South Carolina in the NCAA championship game today, Sunday April 2nd.

One of the craziest things about this upset — aside from breaking UConn’s crazy win streak — is that Mississippi State actually faced Connecticut last year in the Final Four, but that time the Bulldogs lost in a blowout, 98-38. They were able to dramatically redeem themselves this year. And Morgan’s shot will go down in history.

It must be noted that Morgan William led the way as Mississippi State beat Baylor in the Elite Eight, but got emotional after in dedicating her performance to her late father.

The Mississippi Bulldogs were ostensibly underdogs entering their Elite Eight matchup against the Baylor Bears on Sunday night. As the Bears were the No. 1 seed in the region, Mississippi State was the No. 2 with a spot in the Final Four on the line. What oddsmakers and the committee seeding the 2017 NCAA Women’s Tournament didn’t factor in was Morgan William being an absolute clutch monster.

Standing at only 5-foot-5, the junior guard came out and had the game of her life. After taking the No. 1 seed in their region to overtime behind her efforts, William sealed the deal by carrying the Bulldogs the rest of the way to punch a ticket to the Final Four.

William’s incredible night saw her finish with 41 points, seven assists, three rebounds, one steal and one block as she simply dominated. What’s more, she also helped this Mississippi State program reach new heights.

However, the junior guard then got very emotional after the win alongside her coach. While being interviewed about her big win, William teared up as she started to say that Saturday was the three-year anniversary of her father passing away, dedicating the win to him though her coach had to finish the thought for his emotional star.

 Whenever you see a young college player have a game such as this, you know it’s going to be something they never forget. However, it adds something much more special when the circumstances are such as William’s. With the memory of her father helping fuel the best game of her collegiate career, this is a special moment for William that she’ll never forget, but also one that fans should remember and admire for a long while as well. https://fansided.com/2017/03/26/morgan-william-dedicates-win-late-father-elite-eight-video/

So the lesson to be learned from little Morgan is this: Goliaths are still lurking and threatening and barking and bullying. But have no fear; Davids are still standing and defeating and prevailing and conquering too.