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.

A Young Lad Goes From Bad To Sad: The Markelle Fultz Story

Markelle-Fultz
Markelle Fultz’s Future in Philly is Fairly Debatable

It’s not just bad — now it’s turned so, so sad for this young lad. The Markelle Fultz story in Philly has quickly gone wrong in a hurry. It’s not just bad, it’s really, really sad. It really is. First let’s talk about the bad.

It seemed like a good thing that Markelle Fultz was the No. One overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The Philadelphia 76ers picked him because of his explosiveness, his ability to drive to the hoop, and most importantly, his ability to shoot the ball. But all that’s gone. Game over. This kid’s game is kaput, out the door and over and done with, or so it seems.

No one seems to be able to put their finger on it, but the thing we can point to is that this kid can’t shoot, he’s scared to drive, and his verve and his nerve have evaporated into thin air. AND, if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s lost his confidence. You can see it in his eyes.  Fultz has lost his sureness and his certainty and his assertiveness. In other words, Fultz has lost his faith.  And his loss of faith leads us to the sad part.

Markelle Fultz looked so good on paper as far as potential for the NBA was concerned.  He’s so young, but so gifted, that it doesn’t seem possible that he would be struggling like he is. In college Fultz was “a player who jumped off the page athletically and possessed creative scoring instincts and playmaking skills. Everyone everywhere held that Fultz would be the consensus among sports analysts to be the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft.”  But that was then, and this is now.

Now, “Markelle Fultz and the Philadelphia 76ers could be headed into an inevitable divorce after rumors circulated that the former No. 1 overall pick is no longer considered part of “The Process.” Fultz has been a huge disappointment since the 2018-19 NBA season started, and as of now, he remains on the sideline, dealing with shoulder and wrist injuries.” (Bleacher Report)

So what’s the lesson to be learned here? How can Fultz regain his faith and overcome his fears?  The same way you and I can: go back to what works.  Stop listening to the “experts” and the pundits and listen to the voice you hear from above that speaks to your inner man.

Fultz can get back and come back if he listens to what God says, and not what man says. And that’s what we need to do too.  God says that we are more than a conqueror through Him that loved us. God says that it’s not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit. God says that I’m the head and not the tail, above only and not beneath. God says that the enemy is under my feet, and that I’m healed by the wounds in his side. God says that one can chase a thousand, and two can put then thousand to flight.  God says that we are to fight the good fight of faith and lay hold on eternal life!

So let’s say what God says.

 I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.

 Philippians 4:13  KJV

 

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.

 2 Corinthians 3:4-6,  New Living Translation

Why We Loved The Rio Olympics: Another Jolt From Usain Bolt

usain_bolt_rio2016

Usain St. Leo Bolt has beaten the best and he’s ravished the rest. He’s conquered his counterparts at every turn. And this is only part of his allure.

Usain Bolt won the 100m dash. Then he won the 200m dash. And THEN he crowned these Olympics off and capped the Games of XXXI Olympiad with a crowning, royal diadem of a 4 x 100m dash performance for the ages. Just as we love to watch a deer run through the woods and watch a cheetah race across the plain, so we love to watch Usain bolt down the track.

So what is Bolt’s mystery ingredient? What is Bolt’s secret weapon? Wha does Usain have that the other sprinters lack? (Not counting his extraordinary height, or course.)  First and foremost, Usain Bolt is supremely confident.  Usain’s almost insane confidence is not just in himself, per se; his confidence  lies rooted and grounded in his uncanny ability to transcend the circumstances, whatever they may be, to achieve gold.

Bolt is a believer. He’s a man of faith. But he’s also a man full of fundamentals. He just doesn’t believe or hope or dream; he works hard. He trains hard. He practices long and he strives for perfection.  And he’s sustained this streak of dominance and eminence over time, so he’s no flash in the pan.

Bolt is a boyish “Bella.” His speed and his strength and his gold medals are only icing on the cake. It’s his charm and his charisma, and most of all, his confidence, that are the soul of this human machine, and this surefire assurance is what we love and admire about him the most.

Winning In Spite of Yourself

Sam Bradford Head Down

The Eagles are winning in spite of Sam Bradford. And Sam Bradford is winning in spite of himself. And that goes for you and me too. But first, let’s deal with the Eagles sorry excuse for a quarterback. 

By all accounts, the Philadelphia Eagles could be a great NFL Team and Sam Bradford should be and could be a great NFL quarterback. Not a good one, a GREAT one. And he would be a great QB if he stopped throwing to players on the wrong team. He doesn’t seem to get in gear until the third quarter, and the last time I checked, the game had 4, count ‘em, FOUR quarters; so getting a good start is not a bad thing. In fact, getting a first down in the first quarter would be a really good thing.

Confidence is contagious. And Bradford looks anything but confident, on or off the field. Maybe it’s me, but Bradford looks leery and loopy, distant and dubious, hazy and hesitant all at the same time. And that’s not a good thing. It’s like he’s playing in a fog (remember that Thanksgiving Day Game in Philly a few years back when the fog rolled in and you couldn’t see the field?) But surely I digress.

So, lest we bury Bradford (and many would like to), there are times when we all win in spite of ourselves. We don’t warrant a win but we do. We’re not worthy or worthwhile but someone else says we are. We couldn’t do it on our own, but we’re virtually virtuous and victorious anyway. Theologically, we call that grace. Because our confidence is only and wholly and solely in Him.

Sometimes we can’t get out of our own way, and yet somehow we make it across the goal line to score the winning touchdown. We take missteps and make mistakes and yet and still we win. We whiffle and waffle, play bad and play awful, and we still come out with a “W.” Thank God for grace.

Yes thank God for grace. Thank God for mercy and favor and leniency and clemency and every other reprieve we can find. And as for Bradford, let’s just hope he gets rid of that “deer caught in a pair of high-beams look” sooner than later.

Who Said Your Best Wasn’t Good Enough?

Kevin Leman

“And above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you at your own reckoning.”

Isaac Asimov

I haven’t read Kevin Leman’s book, but it sounds like it’s something I would like to check out.  And maybe you too.

Now when it comes to sports, strictly speaking, sometimes your best just isn’t good enough.  Sometimes your forth and one play comes up a tad short; sometimes your field goal attempt sails wide right; sometimes your shot rims out; and sometimes you get beat out after you gave it all you’ve got.  Sometimes you go in with everything only to come out with nothing.  And sometimes we go, to mix in a movie metaphor, a bridge too far.

Grumpy grouches and miserable menaces will always criticize and be critical; this type will always judge and be judgmental, be cruel and crass, brunt and brash, and you will never live up to their standard.  There are those that will always disapprove and disparage, complain and condemn, nit-pick and pick holes in your game and your life. These are the ones that will never be satisfied, and these are the ones you should never even try to satisfy. 

Good Enough

On the other hand, you are good enough for God!  That’s why God wants you to know that He is good enough for you. 

I grew up playing sports and was taught that your best is good enough.  This saying is true to a fault.  In sports it applies until you don’t win the big one. Don Shula, the legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins said this:

What I learned from that loss, and also another loss that I’m going to talk about later, was that when you’re there, it’s not good enough to be there, when you’re there, you better walk away with that ring.

And he’s right. We don’t play just to play. As the former Philadelphia Eagle great Hernan Edwards once said, “You play to win the game! Hello?!”  https://godandsports.net/?s=You+play+to+win+the+game&searchsubmit=Find+%C2%BB

Spiritually speaking, our best is measured against our worst. And more often than not, we are at our worst. The prophet said all of our righteousness is as filthy rags. So, since we will never measure up to God’s standard of holiness and righteousness, we must trust Him to do what we can’t. Our best will never be good enough for Heaven. That’s why God sent His Son and that’s why His Son gave His life.  God’s best is good enough, and we should accept and accede to what Heaven has to offer instead of trying to be good and clean and pure and perfect all on our own.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that we don’t TRY our best, or GIVE our best, or even DO our best. To not try, and give and do our best is heresy. It’s a cop out; it’s a duck and a dodge, and a shun and a shirk from being and doing the right thing.  It’s taking advantage of God’s grace, and to take advantage of God’s grace is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “Cheap Grace.” 

music-good-enough

So do your best, and let God do the rest. That’s what the Gospel is all about.