Kobe Bryant: Too Soon To Die, Too Late To Say Goodbye  

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Kobe Bryant and His Daughter, Gianna Maria Onore, 13, were both Killed in a Helicopter Crash on Sunday,January 26, 2020.

Not many people demand attention. Kobe Bryant did.  And now he’s gone. Today, President Trump tweeted about Kobe’s death … saying, “Reports are that basketball great Kobe Bryant and three others have been killed in a helicopter crash in California. That is terrible news! “

 Yes it is.

Kobe Bryant’s untimely death hurts just as much if not more than Whitney’s in February of 2012 or Michael’s in June of 2009. Of all the unexpected and sudden, unforeseen deaths in recent memory, this one really hurts.

Tragic accidents are brutal.  Tragic accidents are unforgiving. And tragic accidents like Kobe’s are humanly impossible to deal with. They rip your guts out, punch you in the throat, put you in a choke hold and then stand over you and demand that you sing your favorite song at the top of your lungs with a smile on your face.  After a loss like this, there is no earthly way to recover or salvage our sense of sensibility other than to look to heaven for repose.

Kobe was LA, and Kobe was the Lakers. He was admired and loved or just respected or downright hated by everybody. Everybody had an opinion about him, because his life on and off of the court demanded attention.

Kobe was one of the great, greats, not only in the NBA, but in sports history. He is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and will go down as one the NBA’s most revered scorers and defenders. Kobe’s resume is full of an embarrassment of riches. He made 18 All-Star teams during his 20 year career with the Lakers. He was a first-round pick in the 1996 draft, winning 5 NBA championships, 2 NBA Finals MVPs and he was the league MVP in 2008. He was on 15 All-NBA Teams, 12 All-Defensive Teams and led the league in scoring for two seasons. He ranks fourth in the NBA for all-time regular season scoring and all-time postseason scoring. Kobe also repped USA in a number of Olympic appearances.

Within the storied Lakers franchise, he is listed with a long list of the greatest that ever played the game. The Lakers have won so many games and so many championships. From Jerry West to Wilt Chamberlain, to Kareem Abdul-Jabar to Earvin “ Magic” Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal and now LeBron “King” James. Over the years, the Lakers organization learned how to do one thing, and that is make it to the NBA Finals, and then win championships. And Kobe was a champion who won and lived like one.

And so we weep with them that weep and mourn with them that mourn and pray for Kobe’s wife Vanessa and the entire Bryant family. 

Unfortunately, this sad story got even sadder when it was learned that Kobe’s daughter Gianna Maria Onore — aka GiGi — was also on board the helicopter and died in the crash … She was only 13. We’re told they were on their way to the Mamba Academy for a basketball practice when the crash occurred. The Academy is in nearby Thousand Oaks.

Kobe is survived by his wife Vanessa. Together, they had four daughters — Gianna, Natalia and Bianca and their newborn Capri. Kobe and Vanessa got married in 2001 after meeting in 1999.  He was only 41,  and he played 20 of those years with one team, one basketball family, the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe is also “survived” by many Lakers who already miss his presence on court, and now will miss him in their lives.

In Kobe’s 41 years, he was much more than a legendary basketball player. He was a husband, father, friend and mentor to so many who still play in the “Association,” aka, the NBA. His iconic impact on the sport and his indelible imprint on the lives of athletes worldwide may never be fully known.

Kobe Bryant; too soon to die, too late to say goodbye.

 Farewell, Kobe.

Playing With Fire

Simmons on SLIM Cover
Is Ben Simmons Playing With Fire?

The Philadelphia 76ers are playing with fire. Principally, their all-stars, center Joel Embiid and guard Ben Simmons, are too good to be giving too little to the game. So said the beloved and behemoth NBA analysts on TNT, Shaquille O’Neal and former Philly great Charles Barkley. Both of these NBA icons played with fire. And Barkley and Shaq called both of these Philly young bucks out on their lax and lackadaisical performances in recent games on national TV this week.

First, let’s unpack the definition. On the one hand, playing with fire is not a complementary term. The Urban Dictionary says that “Playing with Fire” is “used primarily to advise someone against a course of action that may result in an unpleasing outcome either for themselves or others around them.” In other words, Simmons and Embiid have the potential to be great, but as they play with the fire of forlorn fecundity, they risk their reputations and the prospect of professional prosperity.

On the other hand, all of the Philly basketball greats played with fire. Dr. J, Moses Malone, Allen Iverson and Wilt Chamberlain all played with fire. That’s the second meaning of the term. When you play with a fire in your soul, it consumes you to the point where you want nothing else but to win, by any means necessary. Playing with fire is a necessity, not a nicety. And the Philadelphia faithful expect nothing less than this fire that should burn every game, night in and night out.

Playing with an inner fire is contagious. It’s infectious. It can be transmitted to others in a good way. When a star player is on fire, it’s because he (or she) is playing with fire. Fire consumes and purifies. Fire illuminates and invigorates. Fire is a feeling of great warmth and intensity. When great players want to motivate their teammates, they often say, “Get Fired Up!”

And that’s today’s lesson folks. Saint’s and friends, if we are to be victorious and triumphant, we must play, and live, with fire. Fire in the form of fervent prayer and passionate praise will propel us and project us and eventually will promote us to the next level. Living with fire means that we will not accept anything other than spiritual success, because failure is not an option.

At one point, the prophet Jeremiah felt like throwing in the towel. He was a step away from quitting. But Jeremiah knew that even to think of quitting was playing with fire. Jeremiah knew that to even contemplate giving up was a course of action that would result in an unpleasing outcome for himself and for others around him. Instead of giving up, Jeremiah remembered that God’s Word was like fire shut up in his bones.

So let’s make a decision. Let’s not play around, like listless lackeys do. Let’s play with a fierce fire that will consume and engage us fully and destroy every opponent completely.

Let’s PLAY with fire!

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.

You Are A No. 1 Pick

SI NBA Draft Pics

On this the evening of the NBA Draft Lottery, thoughts of being chosen and selected and overlooked and left out come to mind.  We all want to be a part and participate in something big and meaningful.  But we can’t get  there on our own. We all need to be selected.

 Think about it: only a small, rare, select few athletes are in the No. 1 Pick Club. And who was the biggest, baddest and best NBA No. 1 pick of them all? That’s fairly debatable.  Magic and Kareem and Shaq and Iverson (yes Iverson), and of course LeBron, come to mind. 

As for you and me, we need not lament if we were never picked first on the playground to play pickup games, or if even now if we’re not anyone’s favorite.  In the eyes of God, we all find grace and favor.

So never no mind what people say. You only need to know what God says about you. You are more than a conqueror through Him who loves us. You are the head and not the tail. You are strong in the Lord. You are a child of the King. You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and God’s own special selection. You are the light of the world and you are the salt of the earth.

In God’s eyes, first and foremost, you are His greatest love, joy and concern.

Can Magic Pull A Rabbit Out of His Hat?

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Is it Magic or is it just make-believe? Is it live or is it Memorex? (Remember that one?) Is it possible or is it just probable that Magic Johnson can turn the Lakers around?  And soon?

 The LA Lakers are 19- 42, tied for second to last place In the Western Conference. The Lakers Organization, and Laker Nation, and everyone living in Southern Cal are used to winning basketball games, and NBA Championships, in June. The Lakers have a long and storied history of success, dating way back. Jerry West won. Wilt Won. Kareem clobbered. Magic and then Kobe (and don’t forget Shaquille O’Neal) all won multiple championships and have multiple rings.

But can Magic work a miracle? Can he be the savior and save this sinking, stinking, reeking and reeling team in need of more than a trim here and there? Yes they have young Luke Skywalker, err . . . I mean, Luke Walton on board, plus several young promising players like D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram; but . . .  The Lakers have room to grow as they have nowhere to go but up. However, it will be a steep climb for Johnson, who has no NBA front-office experience, to turn this young core into a championship team.

So, the question is this: can Earvin “Magic” Johnson sprinkle some pixy dust and wave his magic wand and pull a rabbit out of the hat?  The Lakers sure do hope so. 

So, if you missed it, here’s the news flash:

“The Los Angeles Lakers announced that they hired Magic Johnson to become president of basketball operations, firing GM Mitch Kupchak and Vice President of Basketball Operations Jim Buss.

The move comes weeks after the Lakers named Johnson an advisor to the team. Shortly after, Johnson admitted he would like a chance to “call the shots.”

In a statement announcing the hire, Lakers president Jeanie Buss said, “I took these actions today to achieve one goal: Everyone associated with the Lakers will now be pulling in the same direction, the direction established by Earvin and myself. We are determined to get back to competing to win NBA championships again.”

Johnson said in the statement, “Since 1979, I’ve been a part of the Laker Nation and I’m passionate about this organization. I will do everything I can to build a winning culture on and off the court. We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions.”

 Go Magic. We’re all pulling for ya.

Faith In God Is A Slam Dunk 2.0

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Aaron Gordon should have won the 2016 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Period. He threw down the best dunk of the night. End quote. In virtually any other year in dunk contest history, Gordon would have been an obvious, unanimous winner. He brought innovation to go with his athleticism, pulling off dunks without NBA precedent using the Orlando Magic’s mascot “Stuff.”

The dunk that dazzled the denizens in Toronto and around the NBA world was and will be an instinct and forever classic. Gordon took the ball from the grizzly, green mascot Stuff as he circled on a hoverboard; this required tremendous precision. Gordon also managed to soar over the mascot while finishing with a windmill and a dunk in which he went under his legs and seemed to hover in midair (with his eyes at rim level) to finish. The dunk was surely the night’s best single effort, bringing down the house. Many thought that this scintillating, fascinating, slick, slam would surely give Gordon the 2016 NBA Slam Dunk contest crown. It did not.

Gordon’s signature dunk was great but his best wasn’t good enough as last year’s slam dunk champion, Zach LaVine, won over the judges and took home the title. How ironic. How sardonic. Even Zack LaVine said that the two dunkers should have shared the trophy. In life and in sports, some things should be unquestioned, undisputed and unchallenged.

A field goal that splits the uprights, a homerun that lands in the upper deck, and a sprinter that breaks the tape far ahead of the pack are all slam dunks. You don’t have to review the video tape over and over to make sure. It just goes without saying. And another of those things is our God. Yes, such is the case with our God and such should be the case with our faith in God.

Faith in God is a slam dunk. Faith in God is an air tight, fait accompli, open and shut, no questions asked, done deal proposition. At least it should be. The existence of God has been discussed and debated, considered and contemplated since time immoral. And the answer is still the same. God is. God always has been and God always will be. That, my friends, is a slam dunk.

The problem is that the world and our flesh and devil combine and conspire to block and rock and sock our faith so that we don’t believe. Unfortunately, we often don’t believe despite the preponderance of evidence that should lead us to believe rather than doubt and distrust the power and promise of God. Instead of holding on to God’s unchanging hand we wander with the world and flounder in our flesh and dance with the devil and make believing and trusting and relying on God harder that it needs to be.

Our faith is based on what God says, not on what the devil says. Our faith is based on what God has promised and provided, not on what our friends have renounced and reneged on. Our faith should redirect our fear. As the hymn writer Charles Albert Tindley said, we must trust and never doubt and He will surely bring us out. So take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there.

So this is my way of encouraging myself in the Lord and building myself up in my holy faith and standing on the promises of God. This is my way of telling myself to “stop relying on yourself” and learn to lean and rely only and solely on God. Because the only slam dunk there is, the only hope and help we have, is in the God of our salvation and the Father of all creation. The only slam dunk we have is in God and his son, Christ Jesus.

Tribute To Kobe Bryant: A Liked and Loathed Treasured Trove

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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.  

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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.

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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’.