God And No Sports

No baseball. No basketball. No hockey. No NCAA tournament. No college games of any kind. No high school competition anywhere. No sports. No sports at all.

But while we don’t have sports, we do have God and our faith in Him.

There are some things we just can’t do without.  Food, water, shelter, smartphones, Netflix, toilet paper — you know, all the basics. But with the onset of the horrid and heinous, worldwide COVID-19, Corona Virus Pandemic, we’ve learned that we’ve been obsessed with sports, and we took the presence of sports for granted — both at the same time. Sports is part and parcel of our daily lives. But what we thought we just had to have, we’re now forced to make do without. 

Sports provide community, unity, and the opportunity for social interaction on multiple levels. Sports and athletics, in their purest form, teach so many valuable life lessons. Most importantly, for the masses who participate in them, sports provide an acquired immunity from individual dysfunction and societal unrest.

At the micro level, exercising and keeping fit are now known necessities. Individual workouts and team sports are societal norms and are accepted as par for the course. And at the macro level, when a team wins a championship, the entire community comes together to celebrate. Two cases in point near and dear to my heart are Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs winning Super Bowl LIV and backup quarterback Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles winning Super Bowl LII.  These victories galvanized thousands if not millions around a sporting event, and the thrill of victory.

But there is a dark downside to sports. And this season, or this non-season of no sports, has borne this out like never before.

It’s been a hard lesson to learn. For one, I’ve learned how sports dependent I really was, and how sports dependent America sorely is. And we are all learning how emotionally unhealthy and psychologically unbalanced this dependency has made us. The stay at home order has revealed how unstable we have become with and without sports. Sports were our fix and our fancy, but without all those games we’re all going through a long and painful withdrawal.  

The next point is, for those who worship the true and living God, we believe that He is God and God alone, and beside Him there is none other. And with this supreme sovereignty and supremacy comes this warning of woe from the Lord: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

When you add it all up, the sum and conclusion is this: whether the sports world in general or Christians in specific want to admit it or not, sports have become a god. Actually, sports are more like an idol, something which is adored blindly and excessively. And throughout the Bible, God repeatedly reproved His people for worshiping idols. And now, for this generation, God is saying that this addiction to sports must stop. And it must stop now.

The 2020 Olympics have been moved to 2021.  Wimbledon has been canceled. Major League Baseball is wrestling with when (and if) to start the 2020 season. The National Basketball Association is deliberating over when or if to resume the current season. And the National Football League, the heavyweight and haymaker of U.S. sports, is grappling with the very real possibility that the 2020 season may be briefly shortened or severely curtained.  

The almighty dollar should not be the reason for resuming professional sports, but it seems that money is always the bottom line. Certainly everything associated with the games we watch contribute billions if not untold trillions of dollars to our economy worldwide. We know how the virus is adversely affecting life in general and the global bottom line. Thousands of lives have been lost. And at this writing, many more are still being infected. But at what point do we resume mass gatherings when we don’t have an antidote for this deadly disease?

My takeaway from the virus holding us at bay is this: I love God, and I must love Him and maintain my faith in more than I love and depend on sports. That’s it.  Sports cannot be a god or an idol or an infatuation over and above the Lord God Himself. It can’t, but I fear that sports has competed with my Lord and contented for my faith far and away more that it should.

For me, and dare I say for America, sports had become the walk off homer and the buzzer beater and the winning ace of our affection.  On many days and in many ways, sports succeeded in intercepting my thoughts and illegally holding my time and flagrantly fouling my spirit my when my heart belongs to heaven.

Only God in Heaven can do for us what we try to get sports to do, and that is to thrill and to chill and to fill our hearts with Him. Only God – God and God alone — can fill the void in us that needs to be filled. This virus has revealed our emptiness, and the only cure for our need to be filled is time with Him.

Stop The Madness! — 2020 Edition

“So he changed his behavior before them; he pretended to be mad when in their presence. He scratched marks on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle run down his beard.”

1 Samuel 21:13

It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s senseless and nonsensical, ludicrous and illogical that a top 10 team like the University of Maryland Terrapins would suddenly play their worst basketball of the season at a crucial and critical time when everything matters the most.

The Terps are now 23-7.  They’ve lost three of their last four games, and they looked bad doing it every time.  They lost to Ohio State 79 -72 on Sunday, February 23rd. Then they barely beat Minnesota 74 -73 on a buzzer, beater prayer of a shot by Darryl Morsell after being down by 16 at the half. And if that wasn’t enough, Maryland hosted the ESPN show “Game Day” – GAME DAY!  — for the first time in decades at the Xfinity Center in College Part on Saturday, February 29th and STILL  lost 78 – 66 to Michigan State.

Most recently, as in Tuesday night in Piscataway, NJ, the Terps played Rutgers University. This was, or should have been, a “gimmie’ game, i.e., a win with little or no or not so much effort expended against a lesser opponent.  Rutgers is unranked and has not beaten Maryland in years. But it is the month of March, and here’s where the madness begins.

With the Big Ten regular season championship on the line, and the Big Ten Tournament looming, the Terps fell behind early, continuing another troubling trend, and trailed by as many as 11 points just past the midpoint of the first half. But by halftime, Maryland trailed by only six points, 35-29. The Terps could have stayed in the game with a few solid possessions. Instead, Smith missed a shot on the team’s first possession of the second half, and Cowan couldn’t hit an open three-pointer on the next. Maryland let Rutgers’s lead swell to 13 points less than three minutes into the half and never truly threatened again.

It’s March, and it’s time for madness. As part of the Wednesday morning melancholy mop up, the Washington Post posted this headline: “Maryland Is Left Searching For Answers After Another Dud Against Rutgers.”  Head coach Mark Turgeon said this about his team’s maddening performance: “It’s really frustrating that we did not match Rutgers’s intensity. I think it’s just the weight of everything. There’s been great weight on us all year. … But we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to go get it.”

And that’s just it. Feeling sorry for yourself never works. So, get over your last loss, and get back up and get back going. Because repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result, is just  . . . March Madness.

A Victory for Vanessa Bryant

 

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Vanessa Bryant Eulogizing her husband Kobe Bryant at the Memorial Service, Staples Center, Los Angeles, Monday, February 24, 2020

Vanessa Bryant, the wife of the late, great NBA Superstar Kobe Bryant, just won a great victory, and triumphed gloriously in the face a clear and crushing loss. Vanessa Bryant, someway and somehow, summoned strength to stand and state her love for her loving husband and her little lady.  It was a moving, emotive message of triumph amidst unspeakable tragedy. God bless her!  She stood flat footed, and through tears and talking back to herself — “Ok, you can do it” — she motivated the mass of mourners when she herself just wanted to weep and wail and question and query God about why this all happened, and what she’s supposed to do now.

Vanessa Bryant is by all standards a trooper and a champion.  Her husband won five NBA Championships, but her performance at her husband’s memorial service at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 was a testament to her greatness and her superior solemnity far beyond what her husband achieved on the basketball court. Vanessa’s strength and courage under fire was phenomenal, and was also absolutely supernatural. Why?  Because only Heaven and all things holy could help her handle the stress and the strain of the moment with power and poise.  

Vanessa Bryant would have made Kobe proud. She honored her husband and daughter with grit and grace and dignity and distinction. She spoke and stood when she did not want to, but she had to. And it was amazing. What was so amazing was that we all knew that this was an impossible position to be in, and yet in the midst of understandable and allowable grief, she pressed through her own misery and misfortune and sorrow and sadness in order to help the rest of us, hopefully and eventually, overcome ours.

That’s why Heaven had to help. Because she had to do it. And in so doing she carried the burden of her bereavement, even if for a moment, above and beyond the heavy pall of defeat that tried to weigh her down and wipe her out.

 God bless you, Vanessa Bryant.    

Brett Brown Is Goin’ Down

Eastern Conference Semifinals - Toronto Raptors v Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers Head Coach Brett Brown is wearing a frown, because his team is going down. Winning in the playoffs may be the least of his concerns, as his team can’t seem to figure out how to win with the roster they’ve got in the regular season.

Brett Brown has got ta’ go. Period. That’s NBA speak for this dude is running the Philadelphia 76ers into the ground. Philly has two of the best young talents in the game in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and yet these same Sixers are stinking up the house. And who is to blame? Leadership, a.k.a., the head coach.

Brett Brown has overstayed his welcome in Philly. Period. He can’t seem to motivate or stimulate or activate this team’s talent so that they can win on the road and against rival teams that are now ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. And that’s the coach’s job, right? To lead his team to victories and to plead for his stars to give their all and to read the emotions and psyche of all of his players so that he gets the most out of them. But none of that is happening.

Brett Brown is not getting the job done. Period. Some say that the combination of Embiid and Simmons and Horford is a failed experiment. But I contend that it’s the coach’s job to merge the mix and not make a mess. The Sixers are playing carelessly and like they just don’t care. And that’s sad, because Philly fans and all true sports fans the world over, want a winner. And more importantly, they want to see effort and energy and a consistent work ethic. None of those are even remotely evident in Philly when it comes to the 76ers. Not even.

Oh well. I said it here first. Before you even think of trading Simmons or somebody else, consider benching Brett Brown. He’s the one that should be sent packing. Years ago, I told my two sons this: either lead, follow, or get out of the way. Since the Sixer’s head coach is not leading, there is only one other viable option.

The Philadelphia Inquirer may have said it best:

“Since their 121-109 win over the Bucks on Christmas, the Sixers are 8-10 overall and 1-6 against the Pacers, Heat, Raptors and Celtics. For the season, they are 1-2 against the Pacers, 1-3 against the Heat, and 1-2 against the Raptors.

So, yes, things are well past the point of dire, and you get the sense that the locker room feels it, too. You can see it in the Sixers’ body language on the court, and you can hear it in the words they speak off it. After a blowout loss to the Celtics in Boston in Saturday night, somebody asked Tobias Harris when it would be time for the Sixers to get concerned about their place in the standings.

‘About 10 games ago,’ the forward said.

And the most disconcerting loss of the season had yet to come. It would arrive two days later, on a Monday night in Miami, against a team whose home crowd still seemed to be sleeping off its Super Bowl hangover. By the end of a 137-106 loss, the solution to fixing the Sixers seemed startlingly clear: Go back in time and don’t change them in the first place.” https://www.inquirer.com/sixers/sixers-trade-targets-nba-deadline-al-horford-josh-richardson-ben-simmons-20200204.html

Unfortunately, Jimmy Butler aint’ coming through that door. That ship has sailed. The moral of the story is this: the Sixers need to man up and play with heart and spirit and figure out a way to win with the team they’ve got now. Otherwise, somebody’s gotta go.

Andy Reid Wins The Big One! Kansas City Wins Super Bowl LIV, 31 -20

Mahomes Super Bowl Champins
Patrick Mahomes wins Super Bowl LIV and is named MVP

Patrick Mahomes was named Super Bowl MVP, the youngest player in NFL history to be named MVP of a Super Bowl. This comes the year after he was the youngest player in NFL history to earn the leagues overall MVP. But the real story is Andy Reid, becasue Andy Reid is worth cheering for.

Andy Reid is worth cheering for because he was given another chance. Another chance to coach a championship caliber team; another chance to play in the Super Bowl, and another chance to win the big one. And Andy and his maverick, miracle man QB, Patrick Mahomes, came up big in this one. And that’s why I’m so happy for Andy and the Kansas City Chiefs.

For the first time in 50 years, the Kansas City Chiefs have won the Super Bowl! Andy Reid has finally won one for himself, his team, and his new city, Kansas City (his “old” city being Philly, of course). The Chiefs came from behind in all three playoff games, and they were ten down to San Francisco late in the big game. Final score: Kansas City 31, San Francisco 20.

Andy Reid and the Chiefs are worth cheering for because they scored an absurd 117 points in the playoffs. Seriously? One hundred seventeen points! No way. Yes way! Patrick Mahommes deservedly won the MVP Award because he’s the best QB in football. Period.

All of Philly (or most) still like Andy Reid. He did good in Philly. He did. He had multiple winning seasons and he went to multiple NFC Championship games. He just couldn’t get the Eagles (pronounced Iggles) over the incline as the team could never get over the hump. Andy ran out of gas and needed a change. And that’s what happens to many of us. Sometimes you just run out of gas and need a change.

So hats off to Andy Reid. The winningest head coach never to win a Super Bowl, before today. It just goes to show ya; good things do indeed come to those who wait for Heaven to help and for those who walk through life without giving up.

But those who wait for God’s grace

will experience divine strength.

They will rise up on soaring wings and fly like eagles,

run their race without growing weary,

and walk through life without giving up.

Isaiah 40:31, The Passion Version

Kobe Bryant: Too Soon To Die, Too Late To Say Goodbye  

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Kobe Bryant and His Daughter, Gianna Maria Onore, 13, were both Killed in a Helicopter Crash on Sunday,January 26, 2020.

Not many people demand attention. Kobe Bryant did.  And now he’s gone. Today, President Trump tweeted about Kobe’s death … saying, “Reports are that basketball great Kobe Bryant and three others have been killed in a helicopter crash in California. That is terrible news! “

 Yes it is.

Kobe Bryant’s untimely death hurts just as much if not more than Whitney’s in February of 2012 or Michael’s in June of 2009. Of all the unexpected and sudden, unforeseen deaths in recent memory, this one really hurts.

Tragic accidents are brutal.  Tragic accidents are unforgiving. And tragic accidents like Kobe’s are humanly impossible to deal with. They rip your guts out, punch you in the throat, put you in a choke hold and then stand over you and demand that you sing your favorite song at the top of your lungs with a smile on your face.  After a loss like this, there is no earthly way to recover or salvage our sense of sensibility other than to look to heaven for repose.

Kobe was LA, and Kobe was the Lakers. He was admired and loved or just respected or downright hated by everybody. Everybody had an opinion about him, because his life on and off of the court demanded attention.

Kobe was one of the great, greats, not only in the NBA, but in sports history. He is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and will go down as one the NBA’s most revered scorers and defenders. Kobe’s resume is full of an embarrassment of riches. He made 18 All-Star teams during his 20 year career with the Lakers. He was a first-round pick in the 1996 draft, winning 5 NBA championships, 2 NBA Finals MVPs and he was the league MVP in 2008. He was on 15 All-NBA Teams, 12 All-Defensive Teams and led the league in scoring for two seasons. He ranks fourth in the NBA for all-time regular season scoring and all-time postseason scoring. Kobe also repped USA in a number of Olympic appearances.

Within the storied Lakers franchise, he is listed with a long list of the greatest that ever played the game. The Lakers have won so many games and so many championships. From Jerry West to Wilt Chamberlain, to Kareem Abdul-Jabar to Earvin “ Magic” Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal and now LeBron “King” James. Over the years, the Lakers organization learned how to do one thing, and that is make it to the NBA Finals, and then win championships. And Kobe was a champion who won and lived like one.

And so we weep with them that weep and mourn with them that mourn and pray for Kobe’s wife Vanessa and the entire Bryant family. 

Unfortunately, this sad story got even sadder when it was learned that Kobe’s daughter Gianna Maria Onore — aka GiGi — was also on board the helicopter and died in the crash … She was only 13. We’re told they were on their way to the Mamba Academy for a basketball practice when the crash occurred. The Academy is in nearby Thousand Oaks.

Kobe is survived by his wife Vanessa. Together, they had four daughters — Gianna, Natalia and Bianca and their newborn Capri. Kobe and Vanessa got married in 2001 after meeting in 1999.  He was only 41,  and he played 20 of those years with one team, one basketball family, the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe is also “survived” by many Lakers who already miss his presence on court, and now will miss him in their lives.

In Kobe’s 41 years, he was much more than a legendary basketball player. He was a husband, father, friend and mentor to so many who still play in the “Association,” aka, the NBA. His iconic impact on the sport and his indelible imprint on the lives of athletes worldwide may never be fully known.

Kobe Bryant; too soon to die, too late to say goodbye.

 Farewell, Kobe.