The Miracle Of Momentum

This past weekend I sat down and watched a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game for the first time this season. And I’m a Philly guy, so I’m all about rooting for the home team. But boy oh boy did I pick the wrong time to watch a bad game.

When I turned on the TV, the Phils had a 4-1 lead, and I said, OK!  Then they extended the lead to a 6 -1 margin, and this was against one of baseball’s worst teams, the Florida Marlins. A five run margin should be enough to win a game, right? Wrong.

A five run margin wasn’t enough. Why? Because the Marlins understood the moxy and miracle of momentum. They got one hit, then another hit, and then two runs and then a few more runs, and the next thing you knew, they were winning 9-6, and that’s how the game ended. The Marlins stole the momentum and won the game.  Just like that. The Phil’s can hit but they sure can’t pitch. They just can’t stop the other guys from hitting, and scoring. In other words, the pitching staff, or more specifically, the relievers, failed them, and this wasn’t the first time this has happened this season. It appears that the Phils relievers aren’t worth their salt.

For all those out there who don’t understand momentum, this one is for you. And for those of us who do respect and hold the muscle of momentum in high regard, let this be a reminder. You don’t want to give away what you’ve worked hard for and rightfully earned, or even what you have been given. 

Momentum in sports is everything. When you’re on a roll, you don’t want to do anything to mess it up or muck it up. If you do make a mistake here or there you recover quickly, and get back to rolling. Trying to sit on a lead and playing “prevent” defense (whatever that is) is always a bad idea. Listen; when you have a good lead, even a little lead, but especially a big lead, you want to do everything in your power to protect it and even pad it, because to lose a lead is next to disastrous, and to lose a big lead is tantamount to preposterous. 

In baseball, a “save” is when a relief pitcher comes in late in the game, say the seventh inning or so, and pitches one or two innings. The reliever’s only job is to keep the other team from getting hits and getting on base and, God forbid, scoring runs. Throwing strikes is good, and getting strikeouts is even better. The worst thing a relief pitcher can do is to give up hits and allow base runners and permit the other team to take the lead and win the game AFTER his team has given him the ball with the lead.

The word save is a theological term. In baseball, the relief pitcher could be considered a “savior,” of sorts. A savior is “a person who rescues others from evil, danger, or destruction. The Old Testament viewed God Himself as the Savior, and because God is the source of salvation, He sent human deliverers to rescue His people, Israel. This word was also used to describe the judges of Israel, those “saviors” or “deliverers” who rescued God’s people from oppression by their enemies.” (Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary)

A relief pitcher wins the game. In other words, a relief pitcher is a savior who brings salvation. Our Lord is our relief. He will never lose a save. Never. He came to seek and to save all who were lost.  And he can come into your “game,” a.k.a. into your life, and save you too.

Amen.

Kawhi Leonard: 2019 NBA Champion & Finals MVP

Kawhi wins NBA Championship with Toronto

His hands are raised Heavenward, his eyes looking upward, his heart and soul certainly looking onward, all the while celebrating the moment inward,  Kawhi can now say “mission accomplished!”  How spiritual is that? Kawhi is the example of how we should be; our hands lifted up and our mouths filled with praise, celebrating the Victory.

Kawhi came to Toronto for one reason and one reason only — to win an NBA Title.  Done.    

Kawhi crushed and killed every living opponent that came a calling by playing lights out night in and night out. At times he played like a rabid wild animal, demanding the ball from friends and commanding the attention of his enemies. Most times he played consistently excellent and masterfully brilliant, dicing and slicing his way to nightly double doubles from game to game and from series to series as he led his new team to the NBA’s promised land.

The Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors, 114-110, in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, the last Game at Oracle Arena, sealing the first title in franchise history and claiming Canada’s first championship in a major American sports league since the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series.

Kawhi Leonard, who posted 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, was named Finals MVP for the second time in his career, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players to win that award while representing multiple teams. The all-star forward, who sealed the title with three free throws in a surreal closing second, previously won in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs, who traded him to the Raptors last summer

Now, Kawhi can demand whatever he wants from whomever he wants. And now he’s got his newly stocked resume to back up every commanded penny. From his four bounce buzzer beater against the Sixers to win Game 7 of that series to overcoming and overpowering and overtaking Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals to outperforming and overwhelmingly whupping the defending champs, Kawhi and the Raptors earned every bit of this championship. Every bit.

On the other hand, we must mention and acknowledge the wounded Warriors. The hobbled and humbled defending champions fought like cornered canines but in the end it wasn’t enough.  In the end, anything and everything the Warriors did or even tried to do wasn’t enough. Even the injured Klay Thompson running back out of the tunnel onto the playing floor to shoot his two free throws wasn’t enough.  The weary and well-worn Warriors were well on their way to defeat long before Klay went down,  for the SECOND time. Physically dent and emotionally spent, the W’s were tired and they were beat long before the final buzzer sounded. Curry was not himself and the team was reduced to a shell of their former championship form. But fight they did.

Here’s how ESPN Senior Writer Ramona Shelburne put it:

“This season has been a war of attrition and attention for the Warriors. At times, the team seemed to be dragging itself along — too talented and proud to surrender, but too tired and injured to mount the kind of fight it has become known for.  Five straight years of breathing the same air with the same group of human beings can wear on the most gentle soul. Five years of doing that under the spotlight that accompanies being the best team in the NBA is when pipes start bursting.”

But surely we digress. This is Kawhi’s time. This is Kawhi’s moment. So Congrats to the Raptors who ripped Kawhi from San Antonio. Congrats to first year Coach Nick Nurse who came from out of nowhere to do what previous and banished head coach Dwane Casey couldn’t do. Speaking of Coach Nick Nurse, what about him? He’s got a feel good, upsets, comebacks and turnarounds story all of his own as well.

“Coach Nick Nurse’s team Toronto defeated Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Golden State in these playoffs. That means Nurse got his team past ones coached by Steve Clifford, Brett Brown, Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr. That foursome is about the toughest draw a first-year coach in the league could get in his maiden postseason voyage.

‘He’s one of the hardest-working coaches I’ve seen,” Raptors assistant Jamaal Magloire said during Toronto’s victory celebration after the title-clinching win. “When it comes to this team’s success, he deserves every bit of it.” Nurse played at Northern Iowa, started his coaching career there as an assistant and wound up becoming a head coach at Grand View when he was 23. He coached in Belgium and Britain. He won a pair of British Basketball League titles as a coach, in Birmingham in 1996 and London in ‘00, then got a couple of titles in what is now called the G League.

The second G League crown got Nurse noticed. He was at Rio Grande Valley, guided them to a title in 2013 and that’s when the Raptors called and wanted to talk to him about offense. They ended up hiring him as an assistant.” And the rest is history.

Finally, congratulations to this Raptors team that made it work. Kawhi’s teammates, from Pascal Siakam in Game 1 and certainly to Kyle Lowry Game 6 — with Serge Ibaka and Fred VanFleet and Marc Gasol mixed in between — they all pitched in. And whenever they would and wherever they could, each did their part, and it amounted to a total team win.

So always remember, it’s “Team, team, team;” that’s what it always takes to pull off a quantum victory  like this.


Oh Cananda!

Kawhi!

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Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors are on the verge of winning the NBA’s biggest prize. After absolutely torching the defending champs in Game 4 — AT ORACLE, mind you — the Raptors are almost rapturous as they stand on the verge of winning their first NBA Championship. Who saw this one coming? It is an upset of epic proportions, as the Warriors were supposed to rip the Raptors in Six Games. Instead, it looks like it will end the other way around. And all of Canada is singing “Oh Canada” and dancing in every Jurassic park north of the order.

This steady and stoic superstar rarely smiles or shows any emotion. Yet this 2019 Finals Championship series has been all about the man who has become the NBA’s most dominant and dominating player — Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has been putting up outrageous numbers during the postseason, dispatching the Bucks in six games after falling behind 0-2, just after sending home the Philadelphia 76ers, after falling behind Philly 2-1, with a Game 7, buzzer-beating, series-winning shot. Now in the NBA Finals, Leonard and the Raptors are one win away from dethroning the defending-champion Golden State Warriors.

Looming over Leonard’s play and the Raptors’ success is the fact that he may most likely decide not to re-sign with the team after the season. It has long been speculated that Leonard wishes to play in his home state of California; with his contract expiring at the end of the playoffs, his future will be entirely in his hands. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, Leonard and the Raptors are trying to get their hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Kawhi Leonard has proved and proven that he is a force to be reckoned with. He’s averaging 31 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Not too shabby. He’s leading his team night in and night out, with no excuses for a mistake here or there and no regrets, especially for leaving San Antonio. Yes Kawhi left a good team and a great coach in Gregg Popovich for Toronto. Yes Kawhi has been very good for most of his career. And yes Toronto has also been pretty good for the past few years. But for Kawhi, Toronto was an unknown commodity in uncharted territory, for he was getting a new, first year coach and new teammates — and nothing was for sure.

But all of that seems like ancient history now, as Kawhi has led his new team to the summit of the season and the apex of the basketball world. Kawhi has the third highest scoring average in these payoffs, behind Kevin Durant and James Harden. And now he’s takin it to the reigning champs.

Yes there have been players to leave a team they’ve been with for years for another team. Dr. J did it. Moses Malone did it. Kevin Garnett did it. And Kevin Durant did it. All of these players did it to do one thing: win a championship with their new team. But how ironic is it that Durant is injured and not playing against Kawhi now?

And Kawhi has help. Over the course of the Finals, supporting actors the likes of Pascal Siakim and Marc Gasol and Dennis Green and Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka have filled in admirably and taken turns in helping carry the load as Leonard has led the way. Last night, Serge Ibaka scored 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench for the composed and confident Raptors. That means Ibaka shot 75% from the floor. These red hot Raptors are shooting lights out when they need to and turning back every Warrior threat at raucous Oracle — where home fans were stunned and silenced when the final buzzer sounded.

Not even the presence of Hall of Famer Al Attles, the Warriors’ former general manager, coach and player, could help the Warriors. Attles attended Game 4 and it was the first game in approximately eight months for the 82-year-old Attles, who has had health issues.

As for the reigning champs, they will have to dig deep and stretch wide and strain to reach higher than they’ve reached in order to pull this one out of the hat. The return of KD – Kevin Durant could help, but then again, after missing nine straight games, a herculean effort is what it’s going to take to overtake the red hot Raptors.

The key is that the Raptors believe. They believe in their coach, themselves and their leader. They are confident, they’ve played confidently, and they are in no way, shape or form being overly optimistic or arrogantly simplistic. Yes they are up 3-1, but they still have to win one more. It’s just one more game, but it’s still a full game. As Lowry said, “We aint done nothing yet.” And he’s right because it aint over till the fat lady sings.

But if Leonard leads like he’s led them so far, it’s over. It is absolutely over. And we’ll be crowning and congratulating a new champion come Monday night.

The lessons learned here are these: be humble, because Leonard is as self-effacing as they come. Be heady, as Leonard is one of the smartest, hardest working players in the league. And be happy for those who happen to be having a season of success. Remember, “Rejoice with them that rejoice.” You’ll want others to rejoice in your success too.

The Toronto Raptors: Oh Canada!

Raptors Logo. 2

Ok. So the Raptors ripped the reigning NBA royals a new one. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear you all the way over here. 

Yes the Raptors won Game One. No, the Warriors did not look like the Warriors. Yes, it was the first NBA Finals game outside of the good ‘ole USofA.  No, Durant did not play. And yes, the fans were pumped and primed and the energy in the building was crazy. And no, the Warriors did not match the Raptors’ intensity. So there; a Game One win for the home team.

But just who were those guys in the home whites? Kawhi turned in a pedestrian performance as he ONLY scored 23 points. But the rest of the Raptors? Who were they? And where did that come from?  I mean a guy named Pascal Siakam scored 32 Points!  Thirty-Two points! On 14 for 17 shooting! Seriously?  That guy shot 82.3% from the floor?!  Are you serious? In other words, that guy, that guy who has a 10 point career scoring average, took 17 shots and missed three.  That only happens once in a never. Is this a dream or what?

Ok — let me try this explanation another way, as I try to lower my blood pressure – breath, breath . . . . Pascal Siakam just played in his first NBA Finals game.  His FIRST. Siakam is averaging 18 points per game in the playoffs and he averaged a very respectable 16.7 for the season.  But his unexpected 32 points in Game One was the most points in an NBA Finals debut since Kevin Durant had 36 for Oklahoma City in 2012, and it made Siakam the first player to score 30 or more on at least 80 percent shooting in a finals game since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 2004.

Those two players, Durant and Shaq, were top-two draft picks, as were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan, the other players since 1970 with 30 points in an NBA Finals Game 1 within their first three pro seasons.

So, do you believe in miracles?  This guy from Cameroon, who was going to be a priest, turned to basketball and now turns in the performance of his life when his team needed it most. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. As I watched Game One in disbelief, I realized that it appears that we may, just may, have an upset in the making?

While I’m pulling hard for “my” Warriors, it appears that the team from up North has all of the farm animals lined up to make a dress for the ball.  The newest entry on the long list of sports Cinderella’s thinks she can dance her way into the prince’s heart, and the pumpkin is ready and waiting outside. That’s the pumpkin that just got turned into a riding carriage. We’ll see.

Here’s how Jackie MacMullan from ESPN saw it:

“TORONTO — When you are champions, you stick with what got you here. For the Golden State Warriors, the formula in these 2019 playoffs had been fairly transparent: identify the best player on the opposing team — see James Harden and Damian Lillard — and harangue him into a night of frustration and disappointment.

Thus, the blueprint against the Toronto Raptors was to reduce Kawhi Leonard’s basketball life to misery, or at the very least considerable discomfort. Blitz him, double him, triple him if necessary, force him to give up the ball and dare the others to beat you.

It was a sound strategy on paper — except the “others” were not only expecting it, they were aiming to exploit it. So, it was a collection of “complementary” Raptors who vaulted Toronto to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals 118-109 in a raucous Scotiabank Arena, delivering a roundhouse right to a team that so often has seemed invincible.

On a night when Leonard, who had been the most transcendent player in the playoffs, was a mere mortal, players such as Pascal Siakam happily filled the void. Siakam, the 24-year old forward who once was on a path to the priesthood — until a visit, on a lark, to a summer basketball camp in his native Cameroon detoured him on an improbable basketball journey — scored 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting. It was a prolific performance that would have been unthinkable two short years ago, when he was a raw, unpolished player who couldn’t shoot.

At all.

‘I was joking with him the other day,” teammate Fred VanVleet told ESPN. ‘We used to shoot together in my rookie year, and me and the guy rebounding used to duck sometimes because his shots would come off the rim so hard.

‘He had some bad misses. But what you are seeing now is the result of a lot of hard work. You can just see his confidence soaring.”

And the confidence of the Raptors is soaring as well. Not only do they think they can win, they believe they will win. And that’s how we should be: full of faith, void of fear and brimming with confidence that the Lord of Hosts, the King of Glory. shall fight for us. Regardless of the opposition, notwithstanding the competition, we must trust and believe that we are victors, not victims. We must cling to the Old Rugged Cross and to the truth that we are more than conquerors through Him that loves us.

As for the Warriors, they have their work cut out for them, with or without Durant.

Bart Starr: Honoring the Sports Veteran On A Memorable Memorial Day

Bart Starr
Bart Starr: 1934 – 2019

How sad and yet how fitting is it that Bart Starr, the sports veteran many never knew, but we all knew of, passed away on Memorial Day. His fame stretched far and his fans spread wide. And his fans, both in and outside of Green Bay, loved him.

“They loved him because as a quarterback he led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships. They loved him because he represented everything that was special about the team in the NFL’s smallest market. And they even loved him after his nine-year tenure as the team’s head coach that resulted in only one playoff appearance. And most of all, they loved him because he embodied the competitive spirit that was his coach, Vince Lombardi, during the glory years of the 1960s.”

Here’s a very nice tribute to the legend from Sports Illustrated:

“Legendary Packers quarterback Bart Starr is among the most celebrated quarterbacks in NFL history. He won Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II in his 16-year career under center in Green Bay. However, Starr’s tenure as the Packers’ head coach was less celebrated with a 52–76–3 record over nine seasons.

Starr took the criticism of his coaching in stride, according to a letter obtained by The MMQB’s Andrew Brandt on Tuesday following Starr’s death at the age of 85. The Green Bay legend penned a response to Dan Clumper of Eau Claire, Wisc. in 1976 and even thanked Clumper for his notes on the state of the franchise.

‘We are sorry to lose you as a fan of course, but what is sadder is the example you are setting for your own sons,’ Starr wrote. ‘I hope, while you are re-directing their young minds in the future, you will include tolerance so that when you occasionally err or unintentionally disappoint them, they will not lose their faith in you. May your sons always excel and enjoy the numerous rewards of athletic competition.'” https://www.si.com/nfl/2019/05/28/bart-starr-letter-green-bay-packers-coach-disgruntled-fan

Rest in peace, Bart Starr.

Smokin’ Bert Cooper: A Hometown Hero Goes Home

bert-cooper
Bertram “Smokin’ Bert” Cooper: 1966 – 2019

I attended a funeral today. Actually we call them “homegoings.” This homegoing was for the brother of a dear friend. His name was Bertram Cooper, nicknamed “Smokin’ Bert.” He was only 53. He was born and raised outside of Philly in Sharon Hill, and he is the pride and joy of the Darby Borough. His life and legacy and faith and fearlessness in the ring are another of those underdog stories that we all love to hear and tell.

Here’s a tad of his tale:

“In very sad and somewhat shocking news, it has been reported how former heavyweight contender Bert Cooper has passed away from pancreatic cancer. Bert was just 53 years old. The rough, tough and often extremely exciting warrior who was once trained by the legendary Joe Frazier (who gave Bert his “Smokin’” nickname) fought so many top names during his up and down career.

Initially a cruiserweight, Cooper soon moved up to heavyweight, and on his best night he could rumble with the best of the best. The knock on Cooper was his lack of discipline. Throughout his long pro career – September 1984 to September of 2012, with numerous layoffs included – no-one knew whether or not Bert would enter the ring in top fighting shape. A lover of partying, this leading to his indulgence in drugs and alcohol – Bert once famously said before his losing fight with a come-backing George Foreman how he had “probably slept two or three hours in the last two or three days.”

But when he was ready to fight hard, Cooper was a force to be reckoned with. Fans still talk about the way Cooper, who was given just six days’ notice (and fighters today, some of them anyway, were moaning that six weeks was not enough time to get ready to fight Anthony Joshua for the world title), became the first man to drop Evander Holyfield. Cooper was eventually stopped but what a war he gave Holyfield.”

“Smoking” Bert Cooper (38-25-0, KO’s 31), 2-time World Heavyweight Title challanger (1991 & 1992), former NABF Cruiserweight Champion (1986-1989) & NABF Heavyweight Champion (1990-1990), former WBF Heavyweight Title holder (1997), former USA Pennsylvania State heavyweight champion (2002).

Victories over the likes of: Orlin Norris, Joe Hipp, Henry Tillman, Willie deWit etc.

Lost to champs & top contenders like: George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, Michael Moorer, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, Mike Weaver, Corrie Sanders, Chris Byrd, Carl Williams, Luis Ortiz, Larry Donald, Fres Oquendo, Joe Mesi, Chauncy Welliver.

Cooper was at one point CLOSE to being a re-incarated Joe Frazier. He surely had his athletics and power, but not the hunger or discipline like Frazier had that made him to a great champ. And when Cooper started with drugs, that was a heart-breaking break-point for old champ Joe who threw Cooper out of his gym in disgust and disappointment for his former protégé.” https://www.boxing247.com/boxing-news/r-i-p-smokin-bert-cooper-1966-2019/117824

Did Kawhi Leonard Beat the 76ers?

kawhi-leonard

Some will say that Kawhi Leonard beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in Toronto. Yes, Kawhi had 41 points. Yes Kawhi hit the fadeaway, game winner from the right corner falling out of bounds with no time left on the clock. And yes Kawhi was the best player on the court, hands down. But the 76ers shot themselves in the foot time and again.

Note to file: that game winning shot wasn’t a swish; in other words, it didn’t hit all net. What had happened was quite to the contrary. Kawhi shot the ball high enough to get the it over Joel Embiid who was lunging at him, then the ball hit the right side of the rim, bounced up, bounced high off the right side of the rim again, then bounced twice off of the left side of the rim, THEN it fell through the net. It felt like it bounced around the rim for what seemed like an eternity, but the ball eventually bounced in, not out. Game, set, match – Toronto. But that miracle is not what beat the Sixers. The Sixers beat themselves.

First, the Sixers came out jittery, fidgety and frazzled and played that way most of the game. But at times the Sixers had the lead, and at one point they went on a 17-0 run and took what looked like a commanding seven point lead. AND Jimmy “Buckets” tied the game at 90 with 4.2 second left! (Note to file: keep Jimmy Butler and ban Brett Brown from anything that has to do with the 76ers organization from now, henceforth, and even forevermore). In other words, all of Philly is not down with Coach Brown. He’s got ta’ go.

While the Sixers had their chances, their play and their coach failed them down the stretch. Embiid and Simmons, their best players, coughed up the ball time and again, committing turnover after turnover in the final minutes. They even committed TWO – count ‘em — TWO shot clock violations with the game on the line. Oh well.

The moral of the story is this: don’t beat yourself. Unforced errors, careless mistakes and the lack of effort all combine to confound and contradict all of the positives you may have going your way, no matter how hard you try.

Let’s all learn the lesson. Don’t beat yourself.