In Basketball, “TD” Stands for Timmy Duncan

tim-duncan-5-championships

I know it’s time to blog about baseball and the boys of summer and the Olympic Trials and Tom Brady losing his latest appeal regarding “Deflate Gate,” but we must pause because due applause is fitting and proper for one of the all-time great basketball players of our time: Tim Duncan.

Timmy Duncan was solid and steady, sturdy and stable, dependable and reliable, night in and night out. He just came to play and got the job done. Game after game and season after season and championship after championship, Tim scored points and grabbed rebounds and blocked shots. He wasn’t flashy nor was he flamboyant. And thank God for that.

The New York Times reported that “Duncan’s retirement was as quiet as Kobe Bryant’s was colorful and protracted. The Spurs released a statement highlighting his achievements, but without a quotation from the player.” It speaks volumes to how unassuming and unpretentious this humble and yet heroic player was. And what a lesson for all the sports world to follow.

Thanks for 19 great seasons, Timmy. You were one of the best. And boy will we miss seeing you together with these guys. 

 tim-duncan-manu-ginobili-tony-parker-kawhi-leonard-nba-playoffs

Here’s the full New York Times article:

By VICTOR MATHER

“After 19 years and five championships with the San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan announced Monday morning that he would retire at age 40.

Duncan was an elite player on an excellent Spurs team for his entire career. The Spurs made the playoffs every year in his tenure, never with a winning percentage lower than .610, and won five titles, with Duncan the finals’ most valuable player in three of them. He also won the league M.V.P. Award twice.

A relative latecomer to basketball growing up in the Virgin Islands, the 6-foot-11 Duncan was initially a swimmer. He was the No. 1 pick in the N.B.A. draft after four years at Wake Forest. (The Spurs had the top pick as a result of a rare down season largely caused by an injury to David Robinson.) The player selected just after Duncan, Keith Van Horn, has been out of the league for a decade.

Duncan initially starred in a “twin towers” lineup with Robinson, winning two titles. After Robinson’s retirement in 2004, Duncan carried on as the team’s star, winning three more N.B.A. crowns, most recently in 2013-14 over the Miami Heat in LeBron James’s last year there.

Duncan’s low-key nature often kept him out of the spotlight, but the sheer force of his accomplishments pushes him onto just about every list of the greats.

Duncan ranks fifth in career blocked shots (3,020), sixth in rebounds (15,091), seventh in games played (1,392) and 14th in points (26,496).

Duncan’s playing time had gradually been reduced in recent years, and he had ceded his starring role on the Spurs to Kawhi Leonard. Though he started 60 of the 61 games he played this season, he hit career lows in just about every category. But he was an All-Star as recently as 2015.

Duncan’s retirement was as quiet as Kobe Bryant’s was colorful and protracted. The Spurs released a statement highlighting his achievements, but without a quotation from the player.”

tim-duncan-nba-san-antonio-spurs-denver-nuggets-850x560

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/12/sports/basketball/spurs-tim-duncan-retires-after-19-nba-seasons.html?_r=0

 

Champs and Chumps

kevin-durant-stephen-curry-getty-ftr

The Golden State Warriors are champions. They are the defending NBA champs and they are returning to the NBA Finals after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 in a decisive Game 7. The win capped off one of the most stunning comebacks in NBA history.

The Warriors found themselves on the brink of elimination days ago when they trailed the Thunder 3-1 in the series. In Games 3 and 4, the Thunder blew out the Warriors, raising eyebrows as to how the Thunder had elevated their game and how the Warriors had seemingly melted.

However, the Warriors responded with a big Game 5 win at home, then stole a game in Oklahoma City with a wild, fourth-quarter comeback in Game 6, then sealed it in Game 7 at home again. And so the defending champs are going back to the finals to defend their title.

A Champ is a champion. And a champion is a victor and a vanquisher and a prizefighter and a prizewinner. On the other hand, a chump is a lowly, lackluster, poor, pathetic character that lacks the wherewithal to become a champion. In fact, the Urban Dictionary defines chump this way: “A pathetic character who is often reminded of his (guys are labeled as chumps far more than girls) shortcomings by superiors.” Ouch.

So, while champ is an apt definition for the Wizard-like Warriors, who just wiggled and wormed their way out of a whale of hole, chump may be too heavy handed and harsh a header for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Yes Durant and Westbrook had a 3-1 lead in the series going into Game 5 — AT HOME. Yes, Durant and Westbrook laughed at the prospect of losing to the Warriors after taking that commanding 3-1 lead in games. And YES, the Thunder should have won. But wouldh’ve, shouldh’ve, couldh’ve just doesn’t cut it, does it?

kevin-durant-stephen-curry

And so, while we all want to be champs, sometimes we feel, and are treated like chumps, because we didn’t measure up to someone else’s standard. Durant is still a great player. Durant is still an NBA MVP. And Durant still is in search of his first NBA Championship. And in some minds, after blowing that big lead, he’s not a champ, he’s a chump. And that’s too bad. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post may have said it best:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/dan-steinberg

“To the extent anything matters, this is why it matters: because something about this current sporting moment seems to push us toward immediate group scorn for losing teams, as much as (or even more than) any appreciation for winning teams. We have Crying Jordaned all our sports, gathering ’round the sad losers to point at them and make faces. It’s not that the losing team wasn’t as good; it’s that the losing team had some basic internal flaw, some nasty genetic mutation that’s anathema to winning.

Jordan Spieth choked. Dustin Johnson choked. Cam Newton choked. The Vikings choked. Peyton Manning won, but that just meant that someone else was now a bigger choker. The Capitals were destined to choke. Heck, even the Warriors nearly collapsed. And that’s all just from one writer (whom I like!) in the past two years.

But if the Warriors nearly collapsed, and the Thunder choked, that set up a pretty binary option in Game 7: Choke vs. Collapse. Which is a pretty miserable way to watch sports. Are we really watching sports just to see failure?

Well, you could just say one excellent team wound up with fewer points, but the group that scored more points was a really, really good team doing some unprecedented things and putting itself in an elite historical category. And also that both teams played hard.

Sure, probably. It just seems silly to ruin what was an entertaining and unpredictable seven-game journey by mocking a team that did better than expected but that ultimately proved not quite as good as the team that just won a record number of games in the regular season. Sometimes a team that is better will come from behind and win, and it doesn’t mean the inferior team gagged.

Every loss isn’t a choke. Every loss isn’t a collapse. The Warriors are great, and they were favored to win, and they did. It can be that simple, even if it doesn’t make for a great Photoshop.”

How Sonya Curry Raised The MVP

stephen-curry-mom-sonya-076434083

Steph Curry’s mom has a message that is magnetic and mesmerizing. She’s a basketball wife and a basketball mom that wears the mantle well. She carries herself with grace and graciousness and poise and panache and spirit and style.

Sonya Curry is the mother of the reigning NBA MVP and she herself is an MVP of a mom that is both charming and endearing and enchanting and enthralling. From a distance, she appears tough and tender and sensitive and straightforward. And she’s as pleasant as she is powerful.

I believe that a mom’s love is directly responsible for the success her children, and Sonya Curry get’s all of the kudos we can muster for the success of her sons, especially Steph Curry. So here’s to all the moms in general and all of the sports mom’s in specific. And here’s to Sonya Curry; the video of how she raised the MVP says it all.

And here’s to my mom, Lerotha Audrey Ritter Hunter, the best mom I could’ve ever had. I love you mom, and I miss you dearly.

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=15483607&sf25887156=1

 

Tribute To Kobe Bryant: A Liked and Loathed Treasured Trove

kobe_lg

Kobe has more than his fair share of fans and foes. More than many or any other player, Kobe has a long list of likers and lumpers and lauders and defrauders. He’s won big and he’s lost bad, and yet he’s still as enduring a player as there ever was in all of sports. He’s won five NBA championships, two early and three later; first the three -peat from 2000 to 2002 and then the back to back in 2009 and 2010, with two distinctly different teams. The first three came with Shaq and the later two with Paul Gasol. And now he’s riding off into the sunset.

Kobe entered the NBA directly from high school, and he has played for the Lakers his entire career. He came in young and he’s going out old (for an athlete) and in between his bush and his bald head, he’s weathered many a storm and has tethered plenty of lukewarm admiration from us all.  

2000-6-19-shaq-kobe

Kobe’s done it all. In addition to 5 Larry O’Brien Trophies, he’s an 18-time All-Star, and he has won the All-Star MVP Award four times (2002, 2007, 2009, and 2011), tying him for the most All Star MVP Awards in NBA history. He’s a 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, and 12-time member of the All-Defensive team. He has led the league in scoring twice, and he ranks third on both the league’s all-time regular season scoring and all-time postseason scoring lists. And at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, he won gold medals as a member of the U.S. national team.

But the current Kobe isn’t the Kobe that we once knew. By his own admission, the retiring 20-year veteran is “old as hell,” he said, laughing. Kobe continued to be among the top players in the league through 2013, when the 34-year-old Bryant suffered a torn Achilles tendon. His body, now an old 37, has aggressively waved the white flag, making this the only time that any part of Kobe has given up. Therefore, what you’ll see on Sunday is a museum piece, and a somewhat fragile one.

All-Star moments are rarely crystallized and preserved in our memory banks, mainly because the game itself is a simple exhibition. You’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Some are exceptions: Magic Johnson in 1992 after his HIV announcement being the most pronounced.

Kobe’s first All-Star Game might be No. 2 on the unforgettable list. It was the Passing the Torch game, meaningful for that and other reasons. Kobe was just 19, the youngest All-Star ever. The setting was New York and the arena was the Garden. It was 1998 and Jordan was making his final appearance as a Bull (though no one knew for sure at the time). With Jordan on the East (coached by Larry Bird no less) and Kobe on the West, the square-off was just too irresistible to ignore, and the pair fed everyone’s appetite by trading baskets.

In a sense, that scene will be repeated Sunday because Kobe will have so many torches in his hands, he might burn his fingers. There is Steph Curry and LeBron James, Paul George and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and others who were raised on basketball by Kobe.

kobe-bryant_mb_600

Like him or lump him, you can’t ignore him and his long legacy of winning, even if it came with plenty of cheese and a lot of “wine.” It seems as if Kobe’s complained about just about everything along the way. Most infamously, he complained about Shaq. But he made a comeback. And that’s what really matters. He’s endured teams and teammates and highs and lows and ups and downs and ins and outs. And for the rest of us, he’s shown how one can take a likin’ and keep on tickin’.

There Is No “I” In Team

SHAQ-2000
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
Acts 2:1, KJV

Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal has a doctorate in education.  Go figure.  But he is best known as a huge former basketball all-star, and is mostly known for his size and stamina, standing 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m) tall and weighing 325 pounds (147 kg).  Better known by his nickname “Shaq,” he was one of the heaviest and heftiest players ever to play in the NBA.

Throughout his 19-year career, O’Neal used his size and strength to overpower opponents for points and rebounds.  He won four NBA Championships; three consecutive with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and one with Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in 2006. But for all of his hulk and bulk, Shaq could not win on his own. He knew the power of the team.

Shaq played on great teams, but great teams don’t just happen.  And scrumptious meals don’t cook themselves.  Just like custom cakes, winsome wins and triumphant triumphs are cooked and baked and good food is simmered and sautéed with only the best and finest of ingredients.

As big as he is, Shaq must know a little bit about good home cookin’, right? But how many know that good cooking doesn’t just happen?  And neither does winning.  All the right amounts and just the right components are required for success.

Shaq eloquently speaks about the ingredient of “team.”  Much has been made of his falling out with Kobe, and rightly so.  The team could not hold together when Shaq and Kobe were falling apart. And so Shaq went looking for another team, and he found another great team and another great teammate in Miami, where the blending of elements once again produced a championship team.

The ingredient of team is often overlooked and mostly undervalued.  Yes team is the sum of all the parts, but it is also the particular part that makes up the total sum.  You often hear commentators and coaches speak of teams as family or fraternity, and as a fierce fellowship of friends.  On the other hand, teams are not a fractured, frenzied fraction of foreigners who just so happen to be on the court or the field at the same time.  Unless a team is a bond of brothers, winning probably won’t happen, and winning really doesn’t matter.

Rarely is the component of a tried and true, great and genuine team stressed or even pressed.  It’s as if “teamwork” can just come along for the ride. Au contraire: teamwork must be driving the bus.  It seems that since teamwork is so vitally important, the necessity of a team working together must be mandated and made mandatory at the beginning of every season.

My loving wife is a great cook, along the lines of my mom and mother-in-law.  I, on the other hand, can barely boil water or toast bread. Well, maybe I’m not that bad, but you know what I mean. Likewise, some athletes don’t have a clue or give a hoot when it comes to playing on a championship team, or participating in a championship season. I, on the other hand, might not be a great cook, but I know what a good team looks like and I sure as heck know what a bad team looks like. And I think I know what it takes to build a team, and a winning team at that.

The spiritual tie is easy to make but hard to maintain. Together we stand; divided we fall. This truth applies across the board. Winning teams take chemistry and alchemy, symmetry and synergy and a whole lot of “the right place at the right time” kind of stuff.  So be a great teammate. Be a total team player. Put the team first, put others second, and put yourself last. And you will most certainly reap a ripe reward.