Russell Westbrook, Hometown Hero

Westbrook Presser

Russell Westbrook is staying in OKC.  And in so doing he’s become the hero for the hometown, the same Midwest hometown that just lost KD, Kevin Durant, to the rival Golden State Warriors only one long month ago. So what does this say about Westbrook and his dedication and loyalty to his team and his town? It says a lot. It doesn’t hurt that they’re paying Westbrook a whole heapin’ helping of dough, but he could have gotten paid elsewhere, right?

Loyalty and devotion and dedication are almost dinosaurs in this modern age of me, myself and I.  “Lookout for #1” is the theme song for many adolescents (and many adults, too) that have no penchant or proclivity for staying put in a job or a relationship or an obligation over the long haul.  And that indictment is especially true of athletes. Team dedication for the duration and long term commitments and contributions for an extended stay are almost a thing of the past.

A strong sense of duty to a core group and a common cause is part of our DNA. We long to be a part of something and to make a difference somewhere and to be connected to someone. And the lack of stability and steadfastness and stick-to-itiveness is a symptom of our bruised and broken, fragmented and segmented society.

So what is the cure for what ails us? What is the prescription and the panacea for our herky, jerky, restless, and borderline reckless world? Statements about concern and allegiance and faithfulness should be earnest and true, and Russell Westbrook gave all of us all that and some as he announced his decision to stay in Oklahoma City for at least two more years.

Westbrook’s press conference speech has quickly become an instant classic. Asked why he agreed to the extension now rather than wait until next season, Westbrook was emphatic:

There’s no need to wait if you know where you want to be.

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How thoughtful. How insightful. How profound. And, to take it a step further, I submit this axiom: “If you know where you need to be, and it’s where you want to be, then you’ve really in a good place.” Westbrook went on to say more:

There’s nowhere else I would rather be than Oklahoma City,” Westbrook said at a news conference to announce the deal. “You guys have basically raised me. I’ve been here since I was 18, 19 years old. You guys did nothing but good things for me. Through the good and the bad, you guys supported me through it all, and I appreciate it. Definitely when I had the opportunity to be able to be loyal to you guys, that’s the No. 1 option. Loyalty is something that I stand by.”

Westbook The Hero

Spiritually speaking, our faith in God and our faithfulness to each other are  one in the same. Both together, they should endure and last a lifetime. So fealty and fidelity and honesty and sincerity are not things of the past. They are alive and well and we do well to emulate the example that we’re seeing in Russell Westbrook today.

Why Does Free Agency Cost So Much?

Oklahoma City Thunder v Golden State Warriors - Game Seven

Kevin Durant is now a Warrior. Duane Wade is now a Bull.  And Derek Rose is now a Knick. Paul Gasol is now in San Antonio. Al Horford left Atlanta for Boston and Dwight Howard is in Atlanta instead of Houston. Whew! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

News Flash: everything that’s supposed to be “free,” aint — including “Free Agency.”  Every team that lost a player is either hurting or scrambling. Some teams may have gotten better, but many teams certainly got worse, and all teams are spending money like its water. So this is a good thing?

The Oklahoma City Thunder will never be the same. And some say that OKC will never rise again.  Truth be told, some teams, especially OKC, will falter and flounder and stumble and fumble for years to come. Because you don’t win and you can’t win without playmaking players. Your either draft them or trade for them or get them via “Free Agency.”  But at what cost?

I get it that players have the right to move from team to team and get more money than ever before. I do. I absolutely do. But I’m also an old fashioned, fuddy-dud when it comes to keeping a team together.  Because winning is all about chemistry.

OKC could have or should have said to Durant, “We’re committed to you and to winning so we’re going to go out and get the best players to complement you and Westbrook to make sure we have the best chance of winning a championship.” Maybe then Durant would have stayed with the Thunder and he may well have won Oklahoma City an NBA Championship.  But he’s not, and he won’t. And the cost to Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma City Thunder is incalculable.

So what’s the lesson to be learned? What’s the moral of this story? Where’s the hidden truth in all of this?

Life is about choices and decisions and options and alternatives. And we all hope and pray that we’ll make the right choice and the correct decision and pick the right option and choose the best alternative all the time.  Wishful thinking. But thankfully God is so merciful that He can take even our bad choices and turn them around and allow good to come out of them.  

I’ve found out that some things you pay for twice, and others you pay for over and over again. Some decisions cost you big time. And the sting remains overtime. With some selections you lose friends and make enemies. It’s just like striking out at the plate. But other times you hit one out of the park on a 3-2 count. And sometimes, you get much more than you asked for and you pay next to nothing.

So here’s to making the right choices, every time, all the time, and trusting God to fix the wrong and make it right. Because everything costs something, even when you don’t have to pay.

Champs and Chumps

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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?

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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.”

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?

Westbrook Slams The Spurs, a.k.a. Can You Hear The Thunder Roll?

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

This year, more than any other year in recent memory, the NBA Playoffs are as unpredictable and un-scriptable and unforeseeable and undeterminable as could be. I mean, the twists and turns and bumps and bends in the road are enough to throw anybody off of their game. And that’s just like life. That’s why you play hard and play smart and trust and believe that all things will work together and work out for good (Romans 8:28).

Sometimes and oft times and most times you think the ball is going to bounce your way and you think that things are going to go your way and all of a sudden, out of the blue, you’re injured and break your hand or bust your knee and everything changes. Just like that. On the other hand, you could win when no one gave you a chance and you could defeat the favorite when they were supposed to blow you away, and just like that, you’re contending for a title.

Yes, King James is going to play in the Eastern Conference Finals, and yes, Stephen Curry is going to defend in the Western Conference Finals, but all in between we’ve had unbelievable and unpredictable results.

In the East, the Raptors and the Heat are playing Game 7 in Toronto tomorrow. And it’s anybody’s guess who will come out on top, as the Raptors look like champs one minute and chumps the next. So, if they get by Dwayne Wade and his band of boys from South Beach, there’s no tellin’ how they’ll fare against King James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the next round. But the gift we really want to see under the tree is Wade and LeBron going head to head. But this year’s playoffs don’t seem to be in the giving mood.

More importantly, the LA Clippers are as snakebit as they come. I felt really bad for Chris Paul. I did. He and the Clippers just can’t seem to win in the playoffs. And the amount of injuries the Clippers dealt with in just one series was almost unthinkable; losing Chris Paul (hand) and Blake Griffin (quad) in Game 4, they could’ve phoned it in when their stars went down. Instead, the banged-up, beat up, severely depleted Clippers fought and scraped for every loose ball and every long rebound in an elimination Game 6 against the Portland Trailblazers, before eventually falling just short in the game, the series and the season in a 106-103 loss.

Then, to top it all off, the San Antonio Spurs lose in six games to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Who saw that comin’? The favored and fundamental Spurs fell from grace in six games, losing two games AT HOME, as Russell Westbrook and the 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant wouldn’t go down without a fight. And it turns out they were determined not to go down at all. The Spurs were supposed to win going away and set up a showdown with Curry and the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Oh well; there goes the script.

So who ya got? Can Curry carry his comrades past the plucky, perky, chirpy duo from the dustbowl destined to derail the destiny of the boy wonder? We all want Curry to win another title. It would be a shame to waste a record setting 73-wins season and not win another Championship, right?

But who could argue against a Kevin Durant/LeBron James Finals? Steph Curry could. So this is a tough one. If Curry loses, the basketball world will be voting and pulling and cheering for Durant to finally win the NBA Championship he so clearly and dearly desires and deserves. That’s why we play the games and keep score.

So tell me again – why aren’t you watching the NBA playoffs?

Why Aren’t You Watching The NBA Playoffs? (2016 Edition)

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I know that many of you don’t  really like basketball in general and detest the NBA in particular, but I’m telling you, if you aren’t watching the 2016 Playoffs, then shame on you. And that goes for me too.

The NBA Playoffs, for all they are not, are entertaining and intriguing and even inspiring. Yes, inspiring. The best player on the best team is out with an injury and yet his team hasn’t missed a beat. The Golden State Warriors are warlords on a war path en route to a 2nd Straight NBA Title. Or so it seems. So, no Steph? No problem! Clay Thompson and Draymond Green have stepped up to the plate and they’re hitting it out of the park, so to speak.

And in the other Western Conference series, the Oklahoma City Thunder got absolutely smashed in Game 1, 124- 92. Everybody, and I mean everybody didn’t see this coming. Not their humbling loss in Game one nor their exhilarating win in Game 2 (98 – 97). How do you lose by 32 points one night and then turn all the way around and win a nail biting thriller the next?

Their hero and soon to be free agent-leader Kevin Durant didn’t cry or wine or complain after the loss. He just came back and played Game 2 in the cauldron of the steamy AT&T Center with reckless abandon. And San Antonio is a place where the Spurs had lost only once this season — to the Warriors — the greatest regular-season team of all time, mind you.

So, for Durant and Westbrook and the Thunder to thunder back and win in San Antonio to tie the series when they did, how they did, the way they did, has got to be some sort of miracle. The win was instantly inspiring and encouraging and moving and motivating. And I didn’t even watch the game! But when I saw the final score, something in me just jumped up and basically broke down. I wanted to leap for joy and break down in tears all at the same time. OKC may have been down, but they’re not out.

It just goes to show that in sports and in life you can come back from the brink, and yes, even from the dead. When everyone and everybody everywhere puts you down and counts you out and  writes you off, and you STILL manage to mount a comeback and stage an upset and triumph in a turnaround, you know that Providence must be doing another great work.

Kevin Durant: “Mom, You’re The Real MVP”

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Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball star, won the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player Award. It was well deserved. In sports, a Most Valuable Player (MVP) award is an honor typically bestowed upon the best-performing player or players on a specific team, in an entire league, or for a particular contest or series of contests.

Kevin Durant was the league’s scoring leader and is one of the most exciting and exhilarating and electrifying players ever to play the game. He is leading his team through the playoffs and has his sights set on a higher goal: The NBA Championship. While the team has a tough hoe to roe en route to winning the title, Durant’s individual accomplishments as a player are not in dispute.

Kevin Durant loves the game. But not only that, it is apparent that he loves his teammates even more. And the love he has for his mother is even more heartwarming and tear-jerking. His MVP speech is a must see. In the speech he praises his mother, Wanda Pratt: “And last my mom. We weren’t supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.”

Kevin Durant got it right. Tina Turner didn’t. In her smash hit “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” Tina Turner didn’t quite get it right. Love, for her, was a “second-hand emotion.” Ummmmm, no. If we love the games of basketball and football and baseball and hockey and soccer and the sports of gymnastics and track and field and swimming and everything else in between, then it’s clearly more than a second hand emotion. It’s a primary emotion. And our emotion or emotions have EVERYTHING to do with our love, and our love is inextricably tied to our emotions.

Kevin Durant reminded us that our moms are the love of our life, and they have done more for us than we’ll ever know. The love of a mother is emblematic of the love God has for us. The “Mother’s Day” song Shirley Caesar popularized says is all:

“For the 9 months I carried you holding you inside me, $ NO CHARGE

For the nights I sat up with doctored you and prayed for you, $ NO CHARGE

For the time and tears and the costs through the years there is NO CHARGE

When you add it all up the full cost of my love is $ NO CHARGE “

 http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2014/05/07/kevin-durant-praises-the-real-mvp/ 

God’s love comes with a price, but not at a cost to us. Love is a fact and a feeling. It is first a fact. God loves us: fact. His love compels Him to do for us and to care for us; to console and to correct; to comfort and to cajole. Love “made” God do for us what He did for us and does for us. God so loved the world that he gave, and He cared enough for us that He sent His best, His only begotten Son. Jesus, loved us and cared for us so much that he lived and died for us.