Sixers vs. Celtics: Just Like Old Times

Here we go! The Sixers and the Celtics are getting ready to go at it in the playoffs one more time. And it will be just like old times, right? For those that can remember, Dr. J. played against Larry Bird all season long and almost every year in the playoffs. They went toe to toe, duking it out, sometimes literally, each leading their team, each vying for Eastern Conference supremacy. It was great theater and better basketball.

And here we go again. Now we have Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid versus a new band of Bostonians including Al Horford, Terry Rozier and rookie sensational Jason Tatum. It should be an instant classic series. All of Philly and all of Boston are sitting on the edge of their seats already in gleeful anticipation — and the opening tip off hasn’t even come yet.

And that’s the anticipation that Christians have living in these toxic and turbulent times. We don’t fear what’s going to happen next. We anticipate the lively hope we actually already have, and now enjoy the promise of the soon coming of Christ. The gloom and doom of yesterday and today will fade in God’s tomorrow as Christ will usher in a truly golden age of bountiful blessings for all who trust and believe in Him.

We have the promise now, and will inherit a retirement package second to none. The theologians call it “the already and not yet.”

And that’s the lesson that this new, highly anticipated Philly/Boston NBA Basketball Playoff series teaches us. Anticipation and expectation are spiritual things. And they belong in church and in sports too.

With Jesus, God Hit A Home Run

Home Run Derby Logo

The Urban Dictionary says that hitting a home run is synonymous with going all the way with your girl, colloquially speaking. Biblically, marriage is the place for the union of a man and a woman. Home runs can be hit all day within the sanctity of the union of a husband and wife. That’s in God’s playbook. Because this coming together of a man a woman is so wondrous and so wonderful, the Bible calls it “a great mystery.”

Sports and heavy theology may be too much for folks to fathom here in a sports blog, but I’m going to give it a whirl anyway.  In Ephesians, Paul says that Jesus is the husband and His bride is the church. And every believer is a part of the church, so we all,  collectively, are married to Jesus. Heavy stuff, huh? So that’s why I’m not going to argue with the Urban Dictionary on their definition of a home run. Got me?

Home runs are the “touchdowns” of baseball and they are the primary, principle and preeminent way that you score on the diamond. Yes you can hit a double or a sacrifice fly and bat a run in (the statisticians call this an RBI), but nothing quite compares to hitting a home run when the game is on the line. To be sure, home runs stand at the pinnacle of America’s game.

Spiritually speaking, God hit a home run with Jesus.  Believe it or not, believe in Him or not, Jesus is a historical figure that changed history. Mankind was behind and had no way to catch up. God, in his infinite wisdom, called on and sent in Jesus to save the day.

And Jesus came in and hit it out the park. His virgin birth and His claim to be the Son of God were just the beginning and were the start of something big. He then performed miracles; Jesus opened blind eyes, healed the sick, cured lame men and women, cast out demons, and even raised the dead.  And if that wasn’t enough, he died on the cross for our sins and then rose again on the third day. If that’s not home run material, I don’t know what is.

So if you need someone to step up to the plate and hit a home run and win the game for you, call on Jesus.  Call Him in to pinch hit when you’re down and almost out. I guarantee that He will hit a grand slam homerun for you.  

Word To The Wise: Don’t Bet Against Brady

Brady SI Cover

Could we see this Sports Illustrated cover again this year? Don’t bet against it.

Some say that sports and life are polar opposites. In fact, sports and life are actually opposite sides of the same coin.  In both sports and life, there are some things that you thought would never happen and yet happen they do. In sports and in life, there are the improbable, implausible, almost impossible occurrences and incidents that no one, and I mean no one, could even dream up in a thousand years and yet “Voila!” – they appear and emerge and transpire right in front of our very eyes.

Such is the case with Tom Brady. He is headed for yet another AFC Championship Game, against his rival Peyton Manning, and perhaps the only thing that stands between him and another Super Bowl ring is a favorable coin flip or two.

Yes, Peyton Manning is the sentimental favorite. No, the New England Patriots aren’t as feared nor as favored as they used to be. Yes, Manning is playing at home in front of friendly fans. No, Brady isn’t superman or super human, but yet and still . . .

Brady has been protected by a stunning 37 different offensive line combinations this season. That’s unheard of. They have a patchwork lineup and a lot of unnamed and unheralded players, except for Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski, considered to be the best tight end in the game. And here’s another one for the books: Brady is the only member of the Patriots roster left from the 2005 Super Bowl Team. If there’s one constant in the Patriots puzzle, it’s Brady.

Sports science stipulates cohesion and consistency and comrade on any and every team. And yet, with all of the shuffling and shifting, the one constant with the Brady Bunch is, you guessed it, Brady. The Patriot Way is the Brady Way. Brady has won more than most. So it’s difficult, nay pert near impossible, to bet against Brady. So don’t do it. Don’t bet against Brady. Just don’t do it. You’ll thank me later.

Brady, the University of Michigan stud, was drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round (THE SIXTH ROUND!) of the 2000 NFL draft. In Brady’s 13 full seasons as a starter (he missed nearly all of 2008 with a torn ACL), the Patriots have earned six trips to the Super Bowl, winning four. Brady has won three Super Bowl MVP awards, two league MVP awards (2007, 2010), has been selected to eleven Pro Bowls, and has led the Patriots to more division titles than any other quarterback in NFL history, with thirteen. Brady is fifth on the all-time list for career passing yards and third for career touchdown passes. His career postseason record is 22–8; his playoff win total is the most in NFL history. Unbelievable.

Some players aren’t pegged or don’t seem to have the potential to pan out and prosper. Yet someway somehow, they seemingly, consistently and continuously find a way to win. We might not like them but we sure do respect them. They give us patterns and paradigms to follow. Whatever happens, and in spite of who comes and despite who goes, there stand players like Tom Brady, like a stone wall. He’s endured derision and disdain from everyone from Roger Goodell to me in this blog. But like the Bible says, Brady is steadfast and unmovable. So, like him or lump him, just don’t bet against him.

So, like it or not, Brady gives us our Bible lesson for today:

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV

Odell Beckham Jr: OBJr = OMG!

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Odell Beckham Jr., the New York Giants’ sassy and sensational young receiver, is a knucklehead. Or maybe he’s a knucklehead in the making. Or maybe he’s already a full-fledged, full-blown, full throttle blockhead who doesn’t know his butt from his belly bottom. I’m talking dumb and dumber, personified.

Beckham in two seasons has become one of pro football’s most popular and celebrated players and the focal point of the Giants’ offense. His spectacular one-handed catches and entertaining end zone dances after touchdowns have made him a marquee name in sports and a frequent pitchman for commercial products across multiple media platforms. Beckham also graced the cover of Madden N.F.L. 2016, the best-selling sports video game.

But he’s also a knucklehead. A knucklehead is a person of questionable intelligence. The point is, figuratively speaking, that the size of their brain is being compared to the size of a human knuckle. The term is similar to pinhead, or someone of limited intelligence and with a mean nature or someone who prefers using their knuckles or fists, to using their head.

Odell Beckham Jr., or OBJR., was penalized three times for unsportsmanlike conduct during a game-long battle with Panthers cornerback Josh Norman AND THEN after the game he was suspended by the NFL for one game because he repeatedly tangled with Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman.

The suspension was for multiple acts as Beckham was whistled for three personal fouls (and it could have been more) for unnecessary roughness. But the most glaring incident came in the third quarter, when Beckham, running at full speed, slammed his helmet into the side of Norman’s. In college they call that “targeting” and it warrants an immediate ejection from the game, whether it was unintentional or not.

In announcing the suspension, the league referred to the vicious collision as a flagrant hit against a defenseless player, “in which Beckham left his feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent.” Unbelievable.

In an era where safety comes first and flagrant fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness are examined under a microscope, players do well to play within the rules and within themselves and not let their emotions get the best of them, especially when it comes to inflicting injury on another player. But OBJR doesn’t see it that way.  

After the game, Beckham defended himself.

“We are out there playing football,” he said. “We are competing. You are a competitor. I’m a competitor. We are always going to go at it.”

Wow. “Go at it” he says. Slamming your head into another player is called targeting or spearing, and once they called it head hunting. Can somebody say “Knucklehead!?”

Not surprisingly, this is not the first time OBJR has been fined for this type of behavior. In fact, this is the FOURTH, count it, fourth time Beckham has been suspended or fined in his short career for violent acts or temper tantrums. In 2014, he was fined $10,000 for kicking Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree in a brawl-filled game in St. Louis. The same month, he was fined $11,025 for taking off his helmet and throwing it to the turf during a prolonged protest of a late tackle out of bounds. Early this season, Beckham was fined $8,681 for throwing a punch at Buffalo Bills safety Duke Williams.

So what can we learn? Or, more pointedly, what should Mr. Beckham learn?  He is 23 years old; old enough to know better and yet young enough not to know what he doesn’t know.  And he doesn’t know how to behave like a professional. He’s substituted macho chauvinism for proper professionalism and is behaving badly like so many of his other young and unbridled stud athletes these days. Jahlil Okafor, take note (https://godandsports.net/2015/12/02/jahlil-okafors-rookie-mistakes/). 

So let’s just hope and pray that his pride is humbled before his haughty, high mindedness costs him more than fines and one game suspensions.

Playing With A Chip On Your Shoulder

SI Bryce Harper Guess who’s in first place in the National League East? The Washington Nationals. That’s right, the Washington Nationals. The team with the curly double “u” for a logo. The last time we checked in with these same Nats they were tied for last place and looking bad doing it. (https://godandsports.net/2015/04/27/sports-in-washington-dc-up-and-down-and-all-around/) Right now they’re red hot; they’re clearly the hottest team in baseball, having won eight of their last ten, and they have the hottest player in baseball, Bryce Harper, who’s hitting home runs just for something to do. So what about this Bryce Harper dude? He’s been billed as “Baseball’s LeBron.” He’s been on the cover of  Sports Illustrated TWICE. He’s just 22 years old, he’s getting it done at the plate and in the field, and he’s the toast of the league and the talk of the town. He’s brash and brazen, chucky and cheeky, sassy and brassy, and he’s just what the Dr. ordered in order to get these Nats to where they want to go. And he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder. SI Bryce Harper2 The Washington Nationals have built themselves into a bona fide, legitimate veritable and unquestionable contender. And it’s because they’re playing with a chip on their shoulder — and it’s working. Since moving from Montreal 10 years ago, the Nats have had to prove that they belong. For ten years, the Nats have been trying to prove that they’re not a step-child, black sheep, wannabe, not quite ready for prime time team (https://godandsports.net/2014/10/08/not-quite-ready-for-prime-time/).

Someone who has a chip on their shoulder is angry all the time. They feel that they have been wronged by the world, so they are always ready for a fight or a feud or a scuffle or a tussle. They are easily offended because they feel that they have been treated unfairly by others, or perhaps they feel inferior. The Nats fit this bill to a tee. Bryce+Harper+New+York+Mets+v+Washington+Nationals+elEfXksh7sDl Playing with a chip on your shoulder can also mean that a person has a grievance about something. Something bad has happened and they believe it was someone else’s fault. This kind of person is constantly angry about it so that it affects their behavior. In their mind, a person who is “chippy” is showing how tough they are. Sounds like Bryce Harper and the Nats to me.

The phrase dates back to 1830 when two churlish Long Island boys were determined to fight. A chip was placed on the shoulder of one, and he demanded the other to knock it off at his peril. In this case a chip was a small piece of wood. Ever since, a young boy who is angry about something and determined to fight would place a small chip of wood on his shoulder and challenge another person to knock it off. When the chip was knocked off, it meant the opponent was ready and the fight would begin.

The Nats have something to prove. And so do you. You are fairer than they say you are, you are finer than they sense you are, and you are fiercer than they suppose you are. So go ahead. Prove it. Put the chip on your shoulder. Play “Mad Enough To Win” (https://godandsports.net/?s=Mad+enough+to+win) and make sure you “determine to disappoint the devil” (https://godandsports.net/2013/10/03/determined-to-dissapoint-the-devil/)

The phrase “Playing with a chip on your shoulder” has a negative connotation, but it need not be entirely negative. When your friends forsake you and your enemies underestimate you, there’s nothing wrong with playing with attitude and arrogance, with aggressiveness and assertiveness, and with determination and this declaration: that nothing and no one, and I mean NO ONE can or will beat or best you or strip you or stress you. Why? Because you are more than a conqueror. God always causes you to triumph in Christ. God’s strength is made perfect in your weakness. And your victory lies in your faith. 

So always remember and never forget that you were designed and you have been destined to win.

A.B.D. — Anybody But Duke?

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I went to the University of Maryland so I have to hate Duke. I mean, I HAVE to. Even though Maryland abandoned the ACC for the Big Ten Conference, I still have to hate Duke. Right?

But Why? Why do I have to hate a team that is so great? Why do I deem to dislike and despise and deride and disparage a team that is good ALL of the time, and seems to be great most of a great deal of the time? Just because my team isn’t as good, or can’t beat them, or got beat down by them? Sounds good to me.

Nope. That can’t be right. Seriously, sometimes we don’t even know why we do certain deeds or think certain ways or say certain words.

So why DO people hate certain teams? Why do people yell at the Yankees and the cuss at the Cowboys and loathe the LA Lakers, and detest “le team du jour” . . . DUKE! I mean, they just won another — their fifth — national Men’s Basketball Championship. They came back from nine points down late in the game, and won going away. They have Coach K, the all-time winningest coach coaching today. They have Tyus Jones and they attract the best talent from near and far, and, of course, they’re Duke.

tyus-jones

Why do people hate certain winners and love other losers? Why do we root for the ugly team and rile on the pretty team? And why do we hate Duke? So much?

We must be wired wrong, because Duke just did it again. Duke just beat the team that beat undefeated Kentucky. Duke just showed that you can win with four freshmen in the lineup. Duke just proved that all kids today aren’t all that bad. Duke just did it.

And here’s the tie in:

Why do people doubt and question and suspect and disbelieve God? Because He seems unreachable and unapproachable and unfathomable and undiscernible? Because we don’t like the way things are and somebody’s got to take the blame? Because we don’t have what we want and somebody else finds what we fancy and we are jealous and envious and desirous of what the Dukes of the world have that we don’t? Like hating Duke, these are no reasons to hate and hold out on God.

Duke just proved that you can succeed when you have haters and doubters and cynics and skeptics and everything else in between. So have hope. Don’t sweat it. Don’t hate. Don’t be jealous. Be thankful for what you have and grateful for what you don’t have; and that’s the burdens and the bundles and the baggage that so many other’s do have.

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Duke did it. And nobody I know picked Duke. And there might not be anybody that’s picking you. But don’t let that stop you. Duke did it. And you can too.

Give It All You’ve Got

2012+London+Paralympics+Day+8+Athletics+JKAZ5DWzhpjl

Most of all of us don’t give it all we’ve got. Most of any of us don’t give all of the effort and all of the energy we can or should.  Most of the time we don’t win, because we don’t play to win, and playing to win requires giving 100%, a.k.a., giving it all we’ve got.  Most often, we only give “what we can,” and we only give “when we can.” We don’t give like we know we can or like we know should. We rarely give like we’re supposed to.

Giving is Biblical and Scriptural. It’s sacred, but it’s not sanctimonious. Giving is spiritual.  God gave us His Son, and Jesus, God’s Son gave us His life.  That’s the secret. That’s the lesson. Giving your ALL and giving IT your all and giving it all you’ve got is the only way to win in life.  And giving in sports is and should be no less.

Giving it all we’ve got commands commitment – commitment to a common cause and commitment to particular person. Our commitment should and must to be to something AND someone.  Both are required for a good and genuine, honest and heartfelt bond.

One of the faults and failures of our modern, secular society is that we lack commitment. Employees change jobs and Christians change churches for something to do. The days and the age and the era of the 30 year employee and the 30 year church member are vanishing before our very eyes.  Kids today wonder how their elder statesmen “made it” for 25 and 30 and 35 years or more at one job or one church.  The answer? They didn’t quit when the going got tough but instead stuck it out and gave it all they had.

Hannah Cockroft continues to give her all.  She’s a paraplegic who defied the odds. She holds the Paralympic and world records for both the 100 metres T34 and 200 metres T34. Competing for Great Britain at the 2012 Summer Paralympics, she won two gold medals.  She doesn’t have two legs like of us, but she’s absolutely giving it all she’s got.

I blogged about Hannah in “Winner’s Find a Way, Loser’s Find An Excuse” last year this time. Check out the December 12, 2013 blog post. http://www.godandsports.net/2013/12/12/winners-find-a-way-losers-find-an-excuse     Hannah is a para-Olympic wheelchair racer. On her website she says, “Follow me on my road to Rio and beyond over the next few pages.  You can laugh with me, cry with me and win with me, as I strive to become the best that I can be. And remember, you have to keep working to keep winning.” http://www.hannahcockroft.co.uk/ Amen to that.

And so this Christmas Season, let’s give it all we’ve got. We’ve harbored hurts and nursed grudges and fostered fixations for far too long.  Instead, let’s give more and forgive more and love more and hug more, and forget and forsake all of the things that are holding us back and pinning us down and preventing us from giving it all we’ve got.