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.

The NBA Finals — Kawhi vs. Golden State: Another David vs. Goliath?

NBA-Finals-Logo

The NBA Finals have arrived. Yes, we’re here; we’ve arrived at the mountaintop of basketball once again. And for 2019, in one corner we have a first timer in the Toronto Raptors. And in the other corner we have the veteran champions, the Golden State Warriors. No more of that cry from the back seat, “are we there yet?” stuff – we’re here. And now that we’ve arrived, let’s analyze the matchup. Have the Warriors arrived at the top of the NBA history food chain, or will Kawhi arrive at his intended destination: a championship ring?

And there are further questions — First: is it now Golden State vs. Kawhi or Golden State vs. History? If’s it’s Kawhi vs. Golden State, then we have another David vs. Goliath. And we all know how that turned out, at least the Biblical version. The next question is, are the Warriors vulnerable without their star, Kevin Durant, or do the defending champs have enough in them to make history?

First let’s talk about Kawhi. He’s arguably one of the best basketball power forward – swingmen of all time. He’s right up there with the great greats such as Shawn Kemp, Charles Barkley, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Webber, Chris Bosch, Kevin McHale, Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone, Anthony Davis, and of course KD -Kevin Durant. Some would add Tim Duncan and Dirk to the list but they are centers. Anyway, Kawhi has forged his way to the finals by sheer strength of will. He has carried Toronto on his back the entire season, and now the Raptors are a regenerated reptile riding their rising MVP as far as he will carry them.

Kawhi is Toronto, and all Toronto has is Kawhi. Period. End of discussion. Had Toronto not fired their coach and not made that trade at the end of last season with San Antonio and sent DeMar DeRozan packing, they would not be where they are today. So, does Toronto have a chance against the Warriors? Next question!

Now for the Warriors. Please note the main point: the Warriors are not playing Toronto; they are playing history. The Toronto Raptors are “just” the Eastern Conference Champions – nothing more. Yes they made if farther than my Sixers and Giannis and the Celtics. But that’s it. (wait, aren’t we supposed to be talking about the Warriors?) Like I was trying to say, if Golden State wins, they will have won a “Three Peat”– three championships in a row – the first team to accomplish this feat since the Kobe/Shaq Lakers in 2000 – 2002. AND they are headed to their fifth straight NBA Finals — the first team to do that since the dynastic Boston Celtics teams of the 1960s.

So let’s all watch and learn. If underdog Toronto wins, Kawhi will cement himself into NBA lore by becoming the only guy besides LeBron who could beat Golden State. On the other hand, the Warriors have come this far with multiple injuries and without their full roster and with nothing to lose but a place in antiquity.

It will be fun to watch.

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

The Destiny of A Dynasty

We are witnessing the wonder and the glory of the golden age of the NBA. Some would argue that the age of Wilt and Russell or the age of Dr. J and Larry Bird and Ervin “Magic” Johnson or the age of Michael Jordan and Isaiah Thomas and Tim Duncan and LeBron James were the wonder years of the NBA. Perhaps.

But I submit that the years of the current Golden State Warriors dynasty may well and arguably be the best years basketball has even known. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, a.k.a the “Splash Brothers,” and the rest of the Warriors have been destined to show us just how the game of basketball should be played. And Its played as a team.

As of this writing, the Golden State Warriors are up two games to none over the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals and chances are they are only a few games away from winning their fourth championship in five years. And it doesn’t look like there’s any team that can stop this run away train.

So let’s just sit back and watch this wonderful, colorful, incredible run that should lead to the crowning of the current reigning kings of basketball. Again.

Every Good Player Needs A Good Coach

steve kerr

Every good player needs a good coach. And every great player needs a great coach. And such is the story of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors won Game Six of the Western Conference Semi-Finals — IN HOUSTON, mind you — on the strength of their best, leading role players, namely Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But/and they needed help, and they got big help from their supporting cast:  Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston, plus the rest of the bench.

And therein lies the lesson: In Game 6 against Houston, Steve Kerr employed his bench superbly. Maybe he should have used them more earlier in the playoffs, but as they say, “better late than never.”

Steve Kerr is a great coach.  And he has to be to coach the band of brothers that he has on his roster. Greatness needs greatness to succeed.  And we’re seeing the secret of Golden State’s success in the chemistry between the players and the coach.

Here’s a case in point: Steph Curry received his second foul early in the first quarter of Game Six, and Kerr immediately took Steph out of the game, much to his chagrin. When Curry got back to the huddle, Kerr was blunt with the two-time MVP.

“He keeps it real with us,” Curry said of Kerr after the game. “There was a moment tonight where I had my second foul when I fouled James on the three, and I saw on the board that he had put Quinn in. Obviously, I had a reaction to that. I walk into the huddle and he keeps it real.” 

“He’s like, ‘How can I trust you to not get your third when you know how big this game is right now and you put yourself in a situation — a predicament to get your second foul? So, I got to make a decision.’ Put Quinn in. Quinn was ready. Obviously, I didn’t like it, but we have a strong relationship where he knows I’m not going to lose confidence in that moment, and whenever I get back on the floor, hopefully good things will happen.” https://sports.yahoo.com/steve-kerr-had-blunt-message-223457898.html 

Steve Kerr knows which buttons to push and he knows when to yell and when to whisper. He knows his players. He knows their strengths and weaknesses and their bents and their dents, and he knows how to get the best out of them.  Sounds a lot like Psalm 139, right?

Psalm 139 speaks of how well God knows us. He knows our ins and our outs and our ups and our downs. And He wants to see to it that we are victorious in every situation. That’s why we must believe and rely on our Heavenly Head Coach. He knows us, and He wants to see us be the best we can be.

Here’s how Mike Cruz from ClutchPoints reported on the Warriors Game Six win:

“Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala were the stars of the Golden State Warriors’ series-clinching victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night. But as much as they led the defending champs to their Game 6 win sans leading scorer Kevin Durant, the Warriors banked on their motto, “Strength in Numbers,” to propel them back to the Western Conference Finals.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he was proud of how each of the Warriors’ supporting cast made their mark in their Game 6 win and wondered why he didn’t deploy them earlier in their 2019 postseason, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

‘Houston puts the fear of God in you,” Kerr, halfway through a postgame Corona, told The Athletic. “So we played it very close to the vest the first five games, just allowing our best defenders to be out there the whole time, thinking we got to do this. Then look, we’re forced to play the bench and they’re fantastic. And I’m like: ‘Well, what the  . . . ? What was I thinking? I should’ve played them earlier.’ But I’m just proud of them.’

The Warriors’ bench has been its thinnest since the Steve Kerr era began in 2015. Kerr has played his stars nearly 40 minutes per game over this playoff run so far. But with Kevin Durant slated to miss the rest of the series against Houston, he had no choice but to dig deep into his rotation, going 11 deep in Game 6.

Needless to say, Golden State’s unsung heroes delivered in every way possible. Kevon Looney continued his impressive play with his hustle, rebounding, and improved ability to finish around the rim. Veteran guard Shaun Livingston, likewise, turned back the clock and gave them an offensive spark off the bench.

Andrew Bogut started in place of Durant and was part of their solid start to Game 6. Jordan Bell gave them a spark with his defense and athleticism, while backup guard Quinn Cook gave quality minutes with Curry struggling and saddled with foul trouble in the first half.

The Warriors could possibly get injured stars Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins back at some point during the Western Conference Finals. Kerr could definitely try to use his bench more moving forward to give his stars fresher legs as they get deeper into another championship run.”

For Those In Need of A “Breakthrough”

Breakthrough Poster

Does your prayer life need new life? Does your faith need a fix? Does your belief in the miraculous need some motivation? Then the film “Breakthrough” is for you. It’s especially for you. I believe in miracles, and this film just wrecked me. “Breakthrough” gave me reason to hope all over again. It’s a hard hitting, warm and fuzzy, cerebral yet practical primer on why we all should believe in God.

“Breakthrough” is the ultlimate upset win. It’s a classic comeback, and a total turnaround. John Smith, a 14 -year old star basketball player, is a typical teen. He doesn’t listen to his mom, he doesn’t do his homework, and he doesn’t think he’s living on thin ice. But he is. And yet God gives him a new lease on life with a second chance to make a difference.

In “Breaktkhorugh” it took the faith of a mother and the prayers of the saints to bring John back from the dead. It has intertwined layers of ethos and multiple levels of pathos, all mixed in to a solid, yet sordid story about life and love and how to live a victorious Christian life. Take it from me and do yourself a favor; read this blog and then go out and watch this film. It’s that good. It will do wonders for your soul.

Here’s the New York Times film review by Bilge Ebiri:

“In January 2015, 14-year-old John Smith fell through the frozen surface of a lake in St. Charles, Mo., and remained submerged for 15 minutes. He had no pulse when emergency workers pulled him from the freezing water, or for nearly 45 minutes after; it was reportedly only after audible prayers by his mother, Joyce, that his heart finally started up again. And over the next several days, as his community vigorously prayed for him, the young man made a full, seemingly impossible recovery.

Roxann Dawson’s faith-based film, “Breakthrough,” tells the story of John’s miraculous ordeal with an unassuming simplicity, focusing on the harrowing details of the case without an overreliance on proselytization. Though faith is ever-present — particularly through the devotion of Joyce (Chrissy Metz) and the town’s struggling young pastor (Topher Grace), who remain with John (Marcel Ruiz) every step of the way — the film also wisely dedicates plenty of screen time to the emergency workers and doctors struggling to bring the boy back to life. Here, religion is not in contention with medicine, but seems to work in tandem with it.

The filmmaking may at times be direct and inelegant, but “Breakthrough” isn’t without nuance. Dawson (a TV veteran directing her first feature film) doesn’t sidestep the thorny issue of selective miracles — after returning to school, John wrestles with the fact that he was spared from death while many others aren’t. “Breakthrough” is more suggestive than evangelical, and its willingness to let the mystery of the young man’s survival linger enhances the film’s power. You don’t have to believe in divine intervention to be moved by this story.”