Rafael Nadal v. Daniil Medvedev: Survival Of the Fittest

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Rafael Nadal just won his 19th Grand Slam singles title as he was recently crowned the 2019 US Open Tennis Tournament champion. But it wasn’t easy. Nadal won because he outlasted his opponent. That’s it.  Nadal didn’t necessarily play better or serve better or volley better. He just lasted longer. And that’s the life lesson; sometimes you don’t win big by blowing out your opponent. Sometimes you just figure out a way to stay on your feet for five hours and will your way to a win. It takes guts and grit and resolve and a unanimous resolution to win the match we saw Rafael win on Sunday night. And it was one for the ages.

There were so many lessons and so many story lines and so many memories made that time would fail to capture them all in in one blog. But there’s one story line that I love. It’s about the heart of a champion. Here’s how a Washington Post writer described Nadal’s marathon match with Daniil Medvedev:

“In one of those occasional and stupendous sporting events that winds up flattering the runner-up every ounce as much as the winner, Rafael Nadal spent Sunday evening withstanding a championship match donnybrook rich in unbelievable volleys and awe inspiring, gasping points. A U.S. Open final that was an almost peerless, instant classic was built to such heights that the far-fetched story within it seemed to outweigh even the long-term significance it caused.

Daniil Medvedev, the 6-foot-6, 23-year-old Russian who looks as if he has never encountered a fat gram, spent the 4 hours 50 minutes of Nadal’s 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 win showing that his beanpole frame houses a humongous heart.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/09/08/us-open-mens-final-rafael-nadal-seeks-th-grand-slam-title/?noredirect=on

And so there you have it. Every time we outlast an opposition, we wonder how we made it over. The how is in the heart. And you don’t just need heart; you need a humongous heart, just like the tender, leathery heart of love that our Lord displayed for us on Calvary. The victory of the Cross wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Rafael Nadal would say the same about his momentous US Open Championship win.  And when we are still standing after the enemy has thrown his best at us, we too can say the same.

Wear Heaven’s Helmet!

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I’m not going to complain about my helmet.  It keeps me from injury, it is issued by the “League” of Heaven, the Holy Trinity – a.k.a., the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and I really can’t do any better. So why is Antonio Brown aggrieved that he can’t wear his own, personal, ten year old helmet?

According to ESPN, “Brown prefers to wear his older helmet, believed to be a 10-year-old Schutt Air Advantage model, which is no longer made by the company and, thus, no longer certified by the National Operating Committee for Standards and Athletic Equipment. He has tried the new certified helmet out and believes it protrudes out and interferes with his vision as he tries to catch the football.” Really?

We need to wear our “League” issued and “League” approved helmets. The Bible speaks of the “Helmet of Salvation.” Without salvation, we are doomed to death and destruction, because sin is real and hell is hot. We need to be saved from our sins and delivered from our debauchery. Without deliverance from bondage and the dismissal of all charges against us, we are all doomed to a devil’s hell. And our only Savior is Jesus. We can’t invent our own “personal” helmets of salvation. That won’t work with the “League.”

The reference to a helmet is an apropos analogy for what we need to protect our heads and our minds from getting rattled and shaken and banged up and beat down. The Greek word for helmet means to “encircle the head.” In other words,  in this spiritual battle we wage everyday, we must employ the weapons of our warfare. And the helmet is the armor we must use to protect our heads, the seat of our intellect and intelligence, at all cost. If our minds are not right, usually we are not right. So we must protect our heads with the equipment God gave us; salvation.

Without the helmet of salvation, we would get our bells rung. This is a football term which refers to when a player undergoes such a huge blow to his head that he can hear a ringing noise between his ears. In life, we suffer anxiety and stress and strain and trauma when we don’t rely on God for everything. Salvation is not just a ticket to Heaven; it’s a permit for abundant life right here and right now. Salvation is our assurance that a healthy and wholesome life can be lived here on earth.

Your life need not be a living hell; it only is because you haven’t put on the helmet of salvation. Don’t take God’s provision for granted. Don’t take your salvation for granted. Put on the helmet of salvation today, and keep it on.

It will save your life.

The Toronto Raptors: Oh Canada!

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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

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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?

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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

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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.