Playing With Fire

Simmons on SLIM Cover
Is Ben Simmons Playing With Fire?

The Philadelphia 76ers are playing with fire. Principally, their all-stars, center Joel Embiid and guard Ben Simmons, are too good to be giving too little to the game. So said the beloved and behemoth NBA analysts on TNT, Shaquille O’Neal and former Philly great Charles Barkley. Both of these NBA icons played with fire. And Barkley and Shaq called both of these Philly young bucks out on their lax and lackadaisical performances in recent games on national TV this week.

First, let’s unpack the definition. On the one hand, playing with fire is not a complementary term. The Urban Dictionary says that “Playing with Fire” is “used primarily to advise someone against a course of action that may result in an unpleasing outcome either for themselves or others around them.” In other words, Simmons and Embiid have the potential to be great, but as they play with the fire of forlorn fecundity, they risk their reputations and the prospect of professional prosperity.

On the other hand, all of the Philly basketball greats played with fire. Dr. J, Moses Malone, Allen Iverson and Wilt Chamberlain all played with fire. That’s the second meaning of the term. When you play with a fire in your soul, it consumes you to the point where you want nothing else but to win, by any means necessary. Playing with fire is a necessity, not a nicety. And the Philadelphia faithful expect nothing less than this fire that should burn every game, night in and night out.

Playing with an inner fire is contagious. It’s infectious. It can be transmitted to others in a good way. When a star player is on fire, it’s because he (or she) is playing with fire. Fire consumes and purifies. Fire illuminates and invigorates. Fire is a feeling of great warmth and intensity. When great players want to motivate their teammates, they often say, “Get Fired Up!”

And that’s today’s lesson folks. Saint’s and friends, if we are to be victorious and triumphant, we must play, and live, with fire. Fire in the form of fervent prayer and passionate praise will propel us and project us and eventually will promote us to the next level. Living with fire means that we will not accept anything other than spiritual success, because failure is not an option.

At one point, the prophet Jeremiah felt like throwing in the towel. He was a step away from quitting. But Jeremiah knew that even to think of quitting was playing with fire. Jeremiah knew that to even contemplate giving up was a course of action that would result in an unpleasing outcome for himself and for others around him. Instead of giving up, Jeremiah remembered that God’s Word was like fire shut up in his bones.

So let’s make a decision. Let’s not play around, like listless lackeys do. Let’s play with a fierce fire that will consume and engage us fully and destroy every opponent completely.

Let’s PLAY with fire!

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.

A Philadelphia 76ers Sports Prophecy: Philly Philly!

They said it couldn’t be done. They said it wouldn’t be done. But done it was. Here we have an example of negative prophecy, or false prophecy, if you will. What the sports “prophets” said wouldn’t come to pass did in fact come to pass. The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles, our beloved back up QB.

And now this. Philly’s professional basketball team, our beloved 76ers, have made the playoffs and have won — get this– 12 straight games. That’s a three week winning streak, the longest in memory. Allen Iverson led the Sixers to a ten game winning streak to start the season back in 2000 on the way to a NBA Finals matchup with the Lakers. And Dr. J and Moses Malone certainly had a few winning streaks of their own during the 1983 Championship season when we beat the Lakers. And that’s just off the top of my head.

And now this. Now the new, next-gen Sixers are following the pattern and winning games and hearts the world over. First of all, they have great players and they make up a great team. And those two main ingredients don’t always go hand in hand.

And so here’s the prophecy: the Sixers will win the NBA Title. They will. It’s just a matter of time. How do I know? Here’s how C.H. Spurgeon put it:

Courage, you that prayerfully work and toil for Christ with success of the very smallest kind, it shall not be so always; better times are before you.

Success of the very smallest kind. Wow. Sound familiar? Sometimes that’s how life feels. So you’ve got to believe that things will turn around and in fact are turning around. Determine to disappoint the devil and expect to experience victory in every area every day.

Some say that prophecy and sports don’t go together, but I beg to differ. Joe Namath predicted that the Jets would win the Super Bowl in ’69. And they did, even though they were the underdog of underdogs. That’s just the most famous sports prophecy that I can remember. Certainly there are many others.

Better times are ahead. The Sixers have endured the hard times. They certainly had some bad times. Now it’s time for the good times. And it will happen.

Just have faith and believe.

Predict Your Future

Embiid and Simmons

Here’s a sports prophesy that I hope comes true: The Philadelphia Seventy Sixers will win it all, in 3 years or so, give or take.  There. I said it.

Sports prognosticators predict wins and losses and victories and defeats. But this is not a prediction, per se. I have a prophecy,  that I hope comes true. It’s a  Type 1Prophecy, meaning it’s a prediction made based on human intuition and analysis of facts. It’s not from God, even though I hope heaven is in on this one.

There are true prophets and false prophets. And no true prophet wants to be confused with a false prophet.  And the problem with prophecy is that in order to be valid and legitimate it has to come true. So, based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m going to prophesy.  It’s a sports prophecy. So here goes: the Sixers will win the NBA Championship within 4 years.  (Did I say 3 before?) There I said it, and here’s why:

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons seem destined to be at dynamic duo set out to destroy defenses across the NBA for quite some time.  So why not shoot for the top?

In LA, Embiid scored 32 points against the Clippers and then, just two short nights later,  Embiid put up monster, if not historic numbers: he scored 46, that’s Forty Six points, had 15 rebounds and 7 assists and 7 blocks against the Lakers at Staples Center. Not too shabby for a second year big man that can hit threes with ease.   And Simmons was one rebound short of ANOTHER triple double.  And thus Simmons and Embiid have saved the Sixers.

Simmons is a Saviour; or, as some would say, he’s a savior of sorts. He was the No. 1 Pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and he’s going to a team and a city that is in desperate need of saving. And so far, Simmons is averaging 17.8, points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. Not bad for a rookie.  And the 76ers other all-star candidate, Joel Embiid, is averaging 23 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.

The Greek work for Saviour is Soter, meaning deliverer. To deliver from danger and death is the purpose of intent and the supreme significance of Biblical salvation. To deliver means to rescue and to defend, both morally and physically, as opposed to being lost and destroyed. And to deliver and save is the herculean task of a Saviour. To save is to revive and retrieve and resurrect to life and health and wholeness.

For Philly, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are just what “The Dr.” ordered., becaseu the City of Brotherly Love is in dreadful need of some real relief and release.  And you may be too. So predict your future. And call out for salvation, because you need to participate in your own resurrection.

The last time the Sizers had the No. 1 pick was 20 years ago. Simmons was the No. 1 pick in 2016 and Markelle Fulz, who has barely played, was the No. 1 pick this year. A generation ago, as it is hoped now, the No. 1 pick became a Saviour of sorts, and went on to become Philly’s favorite son: Allen Iverson. “AI” didn’t win an NBA championship, but he was named the NBA Rookie of the Year for the 1996–97 season. Iverson was also the NBA MVP for the 2000-2001 season, and just this year he was voted into the NBA Hall of Fame.

So While I hope Embiid and Simmons deliver, I don’t have to hope about Heaven. There is a heaven and there is a hell, just like the Bible says.  Isreal became a nation, just like the prophets predicted, and we are living in perilous times, just as the Apostle Paul, a New Testament prophet fortold.

 As for my predictive prophecy about the Sixers wining it att, the city and the fans feel and sense that their redemption draweth nigh. With Ebiid’s 46 point performance against LA the other night, the wait for a good team is over. Now we just have to wait Embiid and Simmons to become a great team, and deliver a championship.  Just like Moses arriving in Egypt to deliver the children of Israel from the clutches of Pharaoh, Jesus came and delivered all who believe in Him from the power of sin and shame.

As a Philly fan, I long for another glorious season of winning and ruling and dominating in ANY sport, so why not start with roundball? (or football  for that matter– GO EAGLES! Fly Eagles fly, on to victory . . .  I just had to get that in.)

Anyway, to the Philly faithful, sports salvation is here. And for everyone else, if you want to be saved, salvation is yours for the asking.

Why I’m Pulling For Kevin Durant

Los Angeles Clippers v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Five
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK –  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder sits on the court as Russell Westbrook makes three free throws.
Kevin Wayne Durant is sitting and waiting. He’s waiting for his turn to come. He’s waiting for his turn to come in the NBA Championship Line.

Durant is a bona fied, certified, veritable, charitable, tried and true super star. He’s won an NBA MVP award and is a perennial All Star. And stand out studs like Durant are easy to like and love and laud. And so, as much as I’ve become a Warriors fan, I wouldn’t mind it if this year, Durant won the whole dang gum thing. That’s right. Kevin deserves and merits and warrants an NBA Championship ring on his finger — at least one.

So, this year, in order to find the Holy Grail of the NBA, the Larry O’Brien Trophy, Durant will have to best Steph Curry in the West. And then, if that happens, he’ll have to fleece King James in the East, presuming of course that LeBron and the Cavs’s beat the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, and that shouldn’t be that hard to do.

I’m a sports fan. So while I’d love to see Steph and the Warriors win another title, this one a back-to-backer, I’m torn. On the other hand, I’d love to see Durant win one. But Curry and James are standing in his way, and Durant is saying “Don’t forget about me! What about me?”

Over the years, in a single season, multiple stars have contended for NBA titles. And since there’s only one trophy to go around per year, some stars have never won a ring. The list is notable: “Sir Charles” Barkley; Karl “The Mailman” Malone and his sidekick John Stockton; Chris Mullin; Chris Webber; Steve Nash; George “Iceman” Gervin; Artis Gilmore; Reggie Miller; Patrick Ewing; Allen Iverson; and to my surprise, Elgin Baylor, who went to 8 NBA Finals, never to win one while active on a Lakers team.

I’d just hate to see Kevin Durant join this club.

Back in my day, and that would be the ‘80s, great players and great teams went back and forth from year to year trading championships like baseball cards. Magic would win and then Boston would win and then Dr. J and the Sixers took it one year, and then it was back to Magic and Bird going back and forth. Later, the Pistons jumped in and won two back-to-back titles before Michael took over. Then the Houston Rockets won two in between the Bulls two separate three-peats.

More recently, King James got two in a row in Miami after losing to Dallas before they won and then losing to the San Antonio Spurs after they won. Timmy Duncan has won a total of five titles, as did Kobe. And of course, Michael won 6 titles, with two of the aforementioned three-peats, in what seems like forever, but really wasn’t all that long ago.

So where does that leave my may Kevin Durant? He’s cool and he’s clean and he’s a cold blooded killer when it comes to scoring points and winning games. He’s been to the finals once, but lost to LeBron and the Heat in 2012. No it’s no shame not to win it all, because many of the aforementioned players without a Championship Trophy to call their own are forever legendary and sedentary in NBA lore.

But it seems that a ring seals the deal. Just look at Curry. Now he’s a household name, but if he hadn’t won the NBA Title last year, things in his life would certainly be a whole lot different for him. So while I’d love to see Curry win one again, I’d be more enthralled if Kevin can beat the best and pass the test to reach the top of the NBA.

So that’s why I’m going to push and pull and scream and shout for Kevin to get over the hump. He just seems to be kind and commendable, yet fierce and admirable, and it would be lamentable if he plays out his career and does not get to the NBA’s top. And if it’s not this year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who knows when the planets will be aligned and the force will be behind him again?

Moses Malone: A Man Among Men

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Moses Malone had the right name. He was a mover and a shaker. Literally. He moved lesser men out-of-the-way to get his points and rebounds just like the Biblical Moses moved Pharaoh and the Egyptians out-of-the-way to get his people out of the muck and mire of making bricks without being given straw. Both men moved Heaven and earth to lead their people out of bondage. And for sports fans, losing is bondage.

Just like his namesake, Malone was a front-runner and forerunner and a groundbreaker and an earth shaker. And he certainly was a great basketball player. The first to jump from high school to the pros, Moses did it so that Kobe and LeBron and Kevin Garnett and countless others could follow.

Moses was a man among men. He was an All-Star and a League MVP and a Hall of Famer to boot. He averaged a double-double in points and rebounds his entire career. Moses played on a few great teams, and played a lot of great games. And of course Moses led the Sixers to the Promised Land of an NBA Title in 1983. He single-handedly handed Julius “Dr. J” Erving his one and only Championship Ring —  and for that, all of Philly is eternally grateful.

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Moses did his job and did it well. He brought his lunch pail to work every day and didn’t ask for any favors or cut any corners. He scored in the paint and rebounded on the block without fail. When you needed a bucket and needed one “bad,” you went to Moses. The phrase “Malone Alone” became a catchall, as Moses would get points and grab rebounds just for something to do. Because that was what he was meant to do.

So, so long Moses. It is too ironic that you pass away on the heels of the passing of our other beloved Sixers’ Center, “Chocolate Thunder,” Darryl Dawkins. Both of you will forever live in the hearts and homes of the Philly Faithful, everywhere.

Darryl Dawkins, The Devastating Dunker Dude

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If you’re from Philly, or love Philly sports in general and the Philadelphia 76ers in particular, you will pause today to remember one the icons of sports, the slam dunker extraordinaire, Darryl Dawkins. This is what ESPN had to say about “Double D:”

From http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/13526002/darryl-dawkins-dies-age-58

“Darryl Dawkins was once summoned in the Philadelphia 76ers‘ locker room to meet a celebrity who wanted to meet the man known for dunking with backboard-breaking force.

The guest was Grammy Award winner Stevie Wonder. The entertainer is blind, yet even he could tell there was something unique about Dawkins’ game. ‘A guy who never saw me,’ a beaming Dawkins said in a 2011 interview, ‘gave me the name ‘Chocolate Thunder.’

The name stuck, and the rim-wrecking, glass-shattering dunks remain unforgettable — as will the giant of a man who changed the game with them. Darryl named is dunks,

Dawkins died Thursday at a hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, according to the Lehigh County coroner’s office. He was 58, and his family released a statement saying the cause of death was a heart attack.

‘Darryl touched the hearts and spirits of so many with his big smile and personality, ferocious dunks, but more than anything, his huge, loving heart,” his family said.

Dawkins spent parts of 14 seasons in the NBA with Philadelphia, New Jersey, Utah and Detroit. He averaged 12.0 points and 6.1 rebounds in 726 regular-season games. His 57.2 field goal percentage is seventh best in NBA history.

‘The NBA family is heartbroken by the sudden and tragic passing of Darryl Dawkins,’ NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. ‘We will always remember Darryl for his incredible talent, his infectious enthusiasm and his boundless generosity. He played the game with passion, integrity and joy, never forgetting how great an influence he had on his legions of fans, young and old.’

Dawkins was selected No. 5 in the 1975 NBA draft by the 76ers. He was the first high school player to be taken in the first round of the draft.”

Darryl was one of a kind, and way before his time. He was brash and brazen, rough and rugged, and he did more for the game than we give him credit for.

So long, Chocolate Thunder.