A Victory for Vanessa Bryant

 

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Vanessa Bryant Eulogizing her husband Kobe Bryant at the Memorial Service, Staples Center, Los Angeles, Monday, February 24, 2020

Vanessa Bryant, the wife of the late, great NBA Superstar Kobe Bryant, just won a great victory, and triumphed gloriously in the face a clear and crushing loss. Vanessa Bryant, someway and somehow, summoned strength to stand and state her love for her loving husband and her little lady.  It was a moving, emotive message of triumph amidst unspeakable tragedy. God bless her!  She stood flat footed, and through tears and talking back to herself — “Ok, you can do it” — she motivated the mass of mourners when she herself just wanted to weep and wail and question and query God about why this all happened, and what she’s supposed to do now.

Vanessa Bryant is by all standards a trooper and a champion.  Her husband won five NBA Championships, but her performance at her husband’s memorial service at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 was a testament to her greatness and her superior solemnity far beyond what her husband achieved on the basketball court. Vanessa’s strength and courage under fire was phenomenal, and was also absolutely supernatural. Why?  Because only Heaven and all things holy could help her handle the stress and the strain of the moment with power and poise.  

Vanessa Bryant would have made Kobe proud. She honored her husband and daughter with grit and grace and dignity and distinction. She spoke and stood when she did not want to, but she had to. And it was amazing. What was so amazing was that we all knew that this was an impossible position to be in, and yet in the midst of understandable and allowable grief, she pressed through her own misery and misfortune and sorrow and sadness in order to help the rest of us, hopefully and eventually, overcome ours.

That’s why Heaven had to help. Because she had to do it. And in so doing she carried the burden of her bereavement, even if for a moment, above and beyond the heavy pall of defeat that tried to weigh her down and wipe her out.

 God bless you, Vanessa Bryant.    

Is Serena Williams The Best Women’s Tennis Player Ever?

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Who are the best athletes ever?

In some sports, there is an ongoing, if not raging debate about who is the G.O.A.T., a.k.a., the greatest of all time. But not in women’s tennis. In women’s tennis there isn’t even the slightest hint of discussion about the best to play the game, ever.

In Basketball, the debate rages on between LeBron and Michael. And for football quarterbacks, it’s Brady vs. Montana, with honorable mentions to Bradshaw, Marino and Favre, Steve Young and John Elway and Peyton Manning, and of course, Roger Staubach.

Hockey is easy: Gretzy the Great will forever hold that title. Baseball is a little harder to pin down, but certainly it’s got to be the Babe or some other Yankee. In other sports, such as women’s gymnastics, Nadia Comaneci’s name comes immediately to mind as she is certainly is at the top of the list. In men’s swimming, Michael Phelps has dominated of late.

Since it’s the season for Wimbledon, we focus on tennis. In men’s tennis, Federer just lost in the quarterfinals for the first time ever (that was a fluke, right?), but he’s still got to be at the top of the list along with Nadal and Sampras and my man Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl and McEnroe and Andre Agassi and even Jimmy Connors.

But when it comes to women’s tennis, there is absolutely no debate. None. We all loved watching Chrissy Everett, and respected Martina Navratilova, and Monica Seles and Steffi Graff. But when it comes to tennis, there is only one queen. Serena. Not even her sister Venus gets an honorable mention. Serena reigns supreme.

Serena is one win away from wining her eighth major championship, at Wimbledon alone. Here’s how ESPN put it:

“Even after more than a year away from the tour, even after a health scare while having a baby a little more than 10 months ago, Williams is still capable of dominance.

A relatively routine 6-2, 6-4 semifinal victory over 13th-seeded Julia Goerges of Germany on Thursday put Williams into her 10th final at the All England Club and moved her closer to a 24th Grand Slam title, which would equal Margaret Court’s record.

‘It’s crazy. I don’t even know how to feel, you know, because literally, I didn’t expect to do this well in my fourth tournament back,’ Williams said. ‘I just feel like when I don’t have anything to lose, I just can play so free, and that’s kind of what I’m doing.’

After hitting five aces with a serve that reached 119 mph, delivering 16 winners to only seven unforced errors, and covering the court so well with speed and effort against Goerges, Williams will face another German, 11th-seeded Angelique Kerber, on Saturday. http://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/24076249/wimbledon-2018-serena-williams-angelique-kerber-reach-final

That was the play-by-play. Now here’s the commentary: the great ones in every sport inspire us to do our best, to be at our best, and to stay at our best. Because we love to watch the best, and only the best. We like excellence in everything, especially sports. And that’s what sports do for us. Great players give us excellence, and the best ones do that (mostly) all of the time.

Spiritually, God requires excellence as well. Since we can’t be at our best all of the time on our own, He now asks — not demands, but asks — that allow Him to help us be at our best, live at our best, and stay at our best, all of the time. Naturally, that’s what Serena is doing on the court. Naturally and spiritually, that’s God wants to help us do every day in every way.

The NBA, aka “Not For Boys” Playoffs: 2017 Edition

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The NBA now means “No Boys Allowed.”  It’s time for the NBA playoffs and it’s time to put up or shut up. It’s time for the strong to prove the doubters wrong, and for the winners not to quit and for quitters not to win.

If you want to play with the big boys you can’t be a little lad.  Come strong or go home. The NBA is a man’s game.  And this year, in this man’s game, the No. 1 seed Boston Celtics lost the first two games of their series to the upstart Chicago Bulls, AT HOME. And in case you missed the score sheet, Da Bulls are the 8th seed, and they barely made the playoffs. But please keep in mind that the leader of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, lost his sister just prior to Game 1, so his heart and his head weren’t necessarily in the same place.

 Chicago beat Boston with a patch-work quilt, taped together, spliced and diced team full of old heads and young thugs. It’s not the 90’s Bulls team anymore; so no more Michael Jordan, no more Scottie Pippen, and most recently, no more Derrick Rose. But this just in: Boston came back and beat Chicago IN Chicago; Games 3 and 4 went to the visitors so now we have a tied series; and now it’s a best of three affair.  And since Rajon Rondo is hurt, it looks like it’s over for D Wade (and his Bulls), who made a go of it in Chi-Town. Wade’s new team isn’t quite ready for playoff prime time, at least not beyond shocking Boston in Boston.

Sports are like life and life is like sports. And the regular season and the playoffs are just like life.  The regular season requires playing with consistency and playing well consistently. And that is necessary and good. But the playoffs is another level.  Yes, the regular season of our lives requires us to be constantly consistent. But that’s not enough if you want to be a champion. Champions win in the playoffs, and the playoffs require everything the regular season demands, and some.

The playoffs demand grit and guts and moxie and chutzpah and determination and fortitude.  The playoffs are the high points of our lives. And the high peaks and lofty goals we strive to reach mandate that we give a little more and take a lot less in order to reach the top. 

If Boston beats Chicago in this first round series, Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics will have passed a significant test on their way to the summit. They may not make it to the finals or the championship this year, but at least they will have proven to us, and to themselves, that they are deserving to be a No. 1 Seed in this “no boys allowed” game.

 As for the rest of the 2017 Playoffs, my money’s still on the Warriors, because Durant deserves a dynasty of rings, or at least just one.

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?

It’s Unanimous! Curry Wins The 2016 NBA MVP Award

Steph Curry Looks Up

It’s unanimous! Steph Curry is the best player on the best team in the best conference. He’s simply the best. He’s better than all the rest. He’s worked hard and he’s played smart and he’s retained the right and he deserves the distinction of being decorated King Curry – again. Move over King James; another prince and lord has solidified his rule and reign over the basketball world.

Not Michael nor “Magic” nor Wilt Chamberlain nor Willis Reed nor Bill Russell nor Larry Bird nor Julius Erving nor Moses Malone nor Isaiah Thomas nor Kevin Durant nor King James himself – none of them won the NBA MVP award on a unanimous ballot. NONE of ‘EM! Yet here comes this fair skinned, slight of build, youngish and youthful, boyish and boy like blessing to the NBA, and he takes it by storm. He’s won an NBA title, back-to-back MVP Awards, and he’s only 28!

Curry is seen in the photo above, looking up and pointing up. What an example for all of us to follow. I believe this is one of the reasons why he’s as blessed and as beloved as he is. And to top it all off, to show you how humble and heartwarming he is, Curry spent most of his acceptance speech emotionally thanking his wife Ayesha. Here’s what he said at the MVP presser in Oakland:

None of this is possible without you. You’ve given me the opportunity to go out here and work as hard as I do, spend the hours I need to do at the gym, during practice, in games, on the road – all the while holding down the house and doing the little things that keep our family going.

Wow. What a class act.

And here’s what the sports and basketball and NBA pundits are saying about Curry:

“Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry was officially named the 2015-16 Most Valuable Player on Tuesday, and with that he earned another distinction: Curry is the first unanimous MVP winner in the award’s 61-year history, receiving all 131 first-place votes. 

The official announcement came on Tuesday, but the results have been all but locked for months. Curry’s shooting arm permanently etched this Warriors team into the annals of NBA history, as Curry led Golden State to the league’s best-ever regular season record (73-9) along with a host of other firsts and bests.

The stats are stunning. With a left-wing, step-back, defender-in-his-face three pointer in a March 7 game against the Orlando Magic, Curry nailed his 300th three of the season. That mark alone was considered unbelievable, as no other player had ever hit more than 269 in a year before 2015-2016. And the one other player who had reached that tally was Ray Allen — the man.”

“Stephen Curry celebrated early reports of his second consecutive MVP award by pouring in 40 points, including an NBA record 17 in overtime, to carry the Warriors to a dramatic comeback win over the Blazers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. The victory pushed Golden State to a 3-1 edge in the second-round series, while Curry’s individual play marked perhaps the most iconic performance of his career as he returned from a knee sprain in spectacular fashion.”

The spiritual and theological tie in is obviously clear. It’s also unanimous, and even more importantly so, that the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords is STILL Lord! That’s right, God is still on the throne, despite the chaos and the madness and the craziness of this world, the God of Heaven is still sits high and looks low. He still puts up and tears down. He still deserves our adoration and praise and worship.

So, if you believe that Steph Curry is unquestionably the king of the court, then how much more so should we honor and pay homage to the God that still answers by fire?

Why Was I Doing My Taxes Instead of Watching Kobe Score 60 Points In His Last Home Game?, a.k.a., The NBA Now Stands for “Not Bad Anymore”

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I don’t have a good answer. I don’t. But my taxes are done and I don’t owe. That’s what matters. But I missed the game. Kobe’s LAST GAME! Seriously!? So . . .

The NBA is BACK! The Warriors broke the Bulls record for wins in a season, Steph Curry broke his own record for 3 Pointers in a season, and Kobe went out with a bang.

First, the Golden State Warriors have indeed made the NBA fun again. They play with pizazz and shoot with sass and pass with panache. They’re the golden team from the Golden State that is sitting on a golden goose of a future if they can keep this pace up. They’ve beaten the NBA’s best, and so the only drama for the playoffs is to see if San Antonio can give them a run in a seven game series or if Cleveland can in fact reach the Finals for the relished rematch we all rave to see.

Steph Curry, the darling denizen of the NBA’s elite echelon, is only 28 years old. He’s got more than a few good years left on those legs, and he can carry his team like only Mike and Kobe could (with an honorable mention to LeBron and Bird and “Magic” and of course Wilt “The Stilt” and Bill Russell). That said, His team won 73 games. Do they have it in them to win another title? That is the ONLY question. But it’s a question worth tuning in for to find the answer.

And finally, Kobe. Yes Kobe. His sayonara send-off tour got more press than his play, but his play ruled the day on the last night of his consummate and accomplished career. Kobe knocked down 60 – that’s right 60 – points in his final act at Staples Center. What a way to go. And I didn’t see it. But we went over that already. Anyway, Kobe couldn’t miss, and Utah couldn’t stop him, so we had one of the most epic and epochal ends to an ecstatic and euphoric 20-year career.

Kobe scored 33,643 points over 20 seasons, the third most all-time. He was surpassed only by the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Hall of Famer Karl Malone. Mike came in at number four, and Wilt Chamberlain is No. 5 on the all-time points list. Not bad company. In fact, it’s rarified air indeed. AND, he scored the most points in his now legendary last game. In other words, Kobe scored more points in his last game than any other NBA player, EVER! By Far! And I missed the game! (As you can see, I’m still not over it yet). And so, like him or lump him, you cannot deny him his place in the annals of basketball lore.

So, the lesson is this: just when you think things are bad and bottoming out, here comes a Steph Curry to carry the League. Just when you think Kobe doesn’t care and the NBA is not relevant, you have records being ripped and story book endings being written. It just goes to show ya, the tango of sports and life are inseparable, not insufferable.

The Golden State Warriors: When Good Is Michael Jackson “BAD!”

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Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors just beat the best team (next to them ) in the NBA by being bigger and better and “badder” down the stretch. And in so doing, they broke their 33-game losing streak in San Antonio and the Spurs 2015-2016 home winning streak. Yes, just like when I came up, good is “BAD,” just like Michael Jackson said:

Because I’m bad, I’m bad – come on
You know I’m bad, I’m bad – you know it
You know I’m bad, I’m bad – you know it, you know.

Yes, good is “bad.” In sports and in life, it’s bad to be bad, and really good is not just good. Really good is a notch and a neck and a nose better than the rest. As another iconic, albeit sexist song from the ‘80s said, the Warriors are “a bad mama jama; just as fine as they can be.” And that’s what we all should strive to see. Not just to be good, but to be better than just good.

So here’s to the “Dubs:” the Warriors just tied Michael Jordan and the ’95-96 Chicago Bulls for the best record in the regular season. And on Wednesday night they can break the record in their regular-season finale against the Memphis Grizzlies and notch 73 wins against just 9 loses in a season. That’s just not being good; that’s being “bad to the bone.”