The Toronto Raptors: Oh Canada!

Raptors Logo. 2

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.

Smokin’ Bert Cooper: A Hometown Hero Goes Home

bert-cooper
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

Aggressive Faith: How To Come Back From Way Back

Stanford Coach David Shaw
Stanford Coach David Shaw Says You Just Gotta Believe

 

We love college football. And the only thing we love more than college football is college basketball and March Madness. But it’s the first full day of Fall 2018, and it’s football weather, so we’re in for upsets, comebacks and turnarounds, college football style.

In the Stanford – Oregon game — played in Eugene Oregon, mind you – with the score 24 -7, Ducks, Oregon running back Jaylon Redd appeared to have scored a touchdown, but he was later ruled to go out-of-bounds just inside the 1-yard line. He hit the pylon, and the pylon is out of bounds. It is?  Who knew? Anyway, no big deal, right? The way the Ducks were playing, they were destined to punch it in on the next play and take a seemingly insurmountable 31-7 lead in the first half. Right?  Wrong.

Wouldn’t ya know it, a bad snap sailed over Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert’s head. Stanford’s Joey Alfieri scooped it up and ran 80 yards for a touchdown. All of a sudden, a 14-point swing has the Cardinal down by just 10 points. After the game, Coach David Shaw called it the turning point of the game. And then, the Ducks go three and out, and the next time Stanford touches the ball, they go right down the field like it’s a walk in the park and they get another touchdown. That made the score 24 -21 at half-time, when it could have been 31 -7, Ducks.  Unbelievable.

And the final score? Stanford 38, Oregon 31, OT. Talk about a comeback for the ages.

The Stanford Cardinal (Cardinal is singular, mind you – but don’t ask) is ranked No. 7 in the nation. No. 7!  But they sure didn’t look like it in the early going, as Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert picked Stanford apart. It looked like a shooting gallery. It was like shootin’ ducks in a barrel – get it? Ha ha.  Anyway, Stanford couldn’t do anything right, and Oregon seemingly couldn’t do anything wrong. But that all changed in an instant. And as we live and breathe, we also believe that what’s going wrong can go right, if we only put feet to our faith.

After the miraculous comeback, Stanford Coach David Shaw said this:

 

We talk so much about believing. And not just about believing, but believing in the work and the effort and believing in the passion that we have for each other.

Wow. Coach Shaw sounds like a preacher! And he’s right. He’s exactly right. If you can believe it, you can achieve it. But you first have to believe; you must have faith.  And then you must put feet to your faith. We need not just talk about believing; we need to put our faith in action put our confidence in God in motion and do more than just believe. And that’s exactly what Stanford did.

Stanford came back from way back because they hung in there. Stanford was aggressive in the second half, and took advantage of every opportunity that came their way. And that’s what we need to do. We need to have aggressive faith. When we’re down, we should never feel like were out.

In this season, many of us are praying for revival. As we pray for a revival in the land, we should also pray for a revival in our souls. We should ask God to give us a personal revival. And as we pray, we should sing this great hymn by W. P. Mackay:

Hallelujah, thine the glory!

Hallelujah, Amen!

Hallelujah, thine the glory!

Revive us again.

 

 

 

Aaron Rodgers Does It Again!

Aaron Rodgers. No. 12
Aaron Rodgers Leads Epic Comeback Against the Chicago Bears, 24-23, On Sunday Night, September 9, 2018

Aaron Rodgers did it again. 

That’s right folks, Aaron Rodgers, the king of comebacks, pulled off yet another one on national TV against the Packer’s bitter rival, the Chicago Bears.  No one thought he had it in ’em. No one thought it could happen. No one, except Aaron Rodgers.

Which leads us directly to our point.   You can make it! You can absolutely comeback from way back and win, even with a bum knee. It doesn’t matter how banged up or beat up you are, you can overcome any and every obstacle to reach the top.  But you must have faith. You must have hope. And you must believe that all things are possible to him that believeth. Doubt and fear are like oil and water; the just don’t mix. So when you’re feeling low and have nowhere to go, when your friends are few, and the finish fades from view, always remember Aaron Rodgers. He did it. Rodgers came from behind, AGAIN! And you can too.

Here’s how one sports writer put it:

“Aaron Rodgers can beat the Bears in the regular season. Aaron Rodgers can beat the Bears in the playoffs. And, as Sunday night proved, he can beat the Bears on one leg.

Rodgers rallied the Packers from a 20-0 second-half deficit less than an hour after being carted to the Lambeau Field locker room with an apparent knee injury. The two-time NFL MVP willed his team back from the dead, throwing three touchdown passes despite not being able to put much weight on his left leg in a 24-23 victory that will stand as one of the most memorable moments of his football career.

But for Chicago, it was just more of the same. Sunday’s win marked the sixth time Rodgers had engineered either a fourth-quarter comeback or a game-winning drive against the Bears. It was a familiar feeling 250 miles northeast of the Windy City, too. Rodgers has come back to beat the Detroit Lions an additional five times. Some of these epic comebacks have been for playoff spots. Others meant nothing more than pride. One doomed Detroit to the dumbest possible season.

So where does last night’s win rank on the scale of Rodgers comebacks against NFC North rivals (he’s 12-7 against the Vikings as a starter but none of those wins featured a game-winning fourth quarter drive)? It’s near the top with room to grow based on how the Packers play after Week 1.”  https://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2018/9/11/17841522/aaron-rodgers-comeback-wins-bears-lions-ranking

 

 

“As Brazil Crashes Out, the Magic Appears to Be Gone, Too”

Brazil Loss in 2018 FIFA

Here’s an absoultely brilliantly written piece by By 

KAZAN, Russia — It is a fine line between respect and deference, and in the days before they came face to face with Brazil, Belgium’s players and staff did all they could to navigate it.

A World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil was a challenge, defender Vincent Kompany said, but he and his teammates would not be “losing sleep” over the identity of their opponents. There was “no weakness” in Brazil’s team, according to striker Romelu Lukaku, although “defensively, they can be taken” on.

Belgium’s coach, Roberto Martínez, would concede only one advantage to his opponent before his team beat Brazil, 2-1, on Friday. “The difference is, we have not won the World Cup, and they have won it five times,” he said. “Brazil has got that psychological barrier out of the way.”

That weight of history, of course, is what lends Brazil its magic. It is what makes Brazil the world’s most prestigious national team, a byword not just for taste and style but for success, too. That ultimate marriage of style and substance is what makes the sight of those canary yellow jerseys, blue shorts and white socks so enchanting, what makes the colors gleam just a little brighter.

To see them is to remember Pelé and Jairzinho, Romário and Ronaldo, all of the single-name stars who emerged, every four years, to light up a tournament and so many childhoods. It is to recall the goals they scored and the World Cups they won, the stories of their indelible greatness the world was told when it was young.

It is the same whether you are a fan or a player: Brazil is different; Brazil is special. Martínez is quite right — that effect must count for something, at some level, however deep in the subconscious. It must bewitch those who find themselves tasked with stopping the thing that so inspired them.

And yet if those jerseys are intimidating to see, they are surely no less daunting to wear. All those greats, all those ghosts, on your shoulders and on your back, reminding you of what you are supposed to achieve, who you are supposed to be, that only victory counts as success and everything else is failure.

But Martínez was also quite wrong. Brazil might have won five World Cups, but this Brazil team — this Brazil generation — has not won any, and it will be painfully, crushingly aware of it.

There are five stars on Brazil’s jersey representing those championships, but the last one was added in 2002. After this defeat, the soonest a sixth can join it is in 2022, a wait of two long decades for a nation that — for all the romance of jogo bonito — values only victory. This team, like the three that have gone before it, has failed.

There has not even been a succession of near misses. Brazil fell in the quarterfinals in 2006 and 2010, just as it has in Russia. It went one step further on home soil in 2014, but found only humiliation, the sort that can scar a nation, waiting there.

Every time, the rhythm of the country’s reaction has been the same. There is a bout of soul-searching; the manager is sacked; a new coach promises to make the team more resilient, more tenacious. He does this by playing with more defensive midfielders. It does not work. The cycle begins again.

This time, it is even harder to believe such a response would be proportionate. Brazil was not embarrassed by Belgium: Tite’s team created more than enough chances to have forced extra time, at the very least. It can regard itself unfortunate not to have been awarded a penalty for a foul on Gabriel Jesus. It can believe itself cursed that, in the first half in particular, Belgium defended so effectively by accident, rather than by design.

Not every defeat is proof of some spiritual failing. Not every defeat means everything is wrong. Certainly, there is no shortage of talent on this Brazilian squad, just as there was no shortage of talent in any of the squads since 2002. Neymar is not a mirage, and neither are Jesus, Philippe Coutinho, Douglas Costa and the others.

There are some aging legs in the back line, and something of a dearth of young, dynamic fullbacks, but this is a country that exports thousands of players every year. It is a place where players will continue to grow.

That is what has allowed Brazil to build its history, that endless flowering of talent, one star replaced smoothly by another, year after year, cycle after cycle, decade after decade.

What has happened since 2002, though, suggests this is no longer the advantage it once was. The playing field has been leveled: Brazil is no longer pre-eminent in the way it once was, possessed of enough raw brilliance to carry it through. The explanation for that does not lie in Brazil’s shortcomings, but in someone else’s strengths.

It is not a coincidence that all four of this year’s World Cup semifinalists, whatever happens in the second set of quarterfinals, are from Europe. This is, increasingly, a European competition. All four of the most recent world champions have been European. Since 1990, what might be broadly termed soccer’s modern era, there have been eight World Cups. Brazil has won two. Europe will have picked up the rest.

At least one manager here has confided privately that Europe’s power — in terms of finance, influence, and physicality — has become almost impossible to compete with, certainly for Africa, Asia and North America, and increasingly for South America, the game’s other traditional stronghold.

The major nations of the Old World have industrialized youth development so effectively that France, Germany and Spain can now rival Brazil and Argentina as a source of players. Its smaller countries have such easy access to best practices that their size is no longer an issue.

Their players and coaches can be exported easily to the best leagues in the world. The latest developments in coaching, sports science, nutrition and the rest can be imported rapidly. It is that process that allowed Iceland to draw with Argentina, and be a little disappointed it did not win. It is that process that has left Belgium in the World Cup semifinals, and Croatia and Sweden with hopes of joining them.

And it is that process that has seen Brazil come and go from four World Cups, all without success. Each one, each failing, simply adds to the pressure that awaits the next team to try to end the wait, to try to overcome all of the advantages that Europe can call on.

The players in those yellow jerseys know as well as anyone that Brazil has won five World Cups. They know more than everyone that they have not contributed to any of them. Increasingly, those victories are not a psychological barrier that lies broken at their feet, but one that towers above them, standing in their way, casting them into shadow.

Why I’m  Going to Watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup (now)

Neymar-world-cup-2014-hairstyles

 Ok, ok, ok. So stop ribbing me already about not watching the World Cup. I’m going to watch Brazil beat Belgium tomorrow. Because Brazil is the favorite now, right?  So that should be a great match. What? You mean you’ve been watching the whole, entire tournament; every match, every penalty kick and every minute of stoppage time? Please.

Let’s just say that I’m finally going to go all in on the world Cup. Partially because it’s the Elite Eight (what? they don’t use that term?) and partially because it’s almost over and I’d hate for some great goal to get scored and I didn’t see it. And I’ve got to see Neymar’s fancy new doo.  What? That hairdo was from 2014? Ooops.  Oh well, Neymar’s the flashy guy on Team Brazil so he (or his hair) and the match should still be great to watch.

AND I’ve got to watch because Russia is still in it (booooo!) And if they (they being Russia) win, we’ll never live it down. So let’s all watch the Russia/Croatia match and route, route, route for the AWAY Team. GO Croatia!

Coach Jimmy V: Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds

UCT Cover

Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds: get your copy TODAY!

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Upsets%2C+Comebacks+and+Turnarounds

https://read.barnesandnoble.com/book/upsets-comebacks-and-turnarounds-2/cover#1

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this photo is worth a thousand pictures. The image is that powerful. 

Every time I look at the cover photo for Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds, a book about God and sports, I get goose bumps. It’s a photo that you almost want to jump into. It’s the party that we all want to crash. It’s the celebration that we all want to be a part of. It’s a picture of pure, unbridled and unapologetic joy. There’s nothing in the world like it. That’s why we need Heaven’s help to get it. It’s unspeakable joy.

Coach Jimmy Valvano experienced this kind of indescribable joy when his team pulled off the upset of the ages and won the 1982 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship. The picture speaks volumes. After the big win, Coach Jimmy V is being carried off of the court by the fans. The FANS!  It’s not that this doesn’t happen often, it’s that it NEVER happens. Being carried off the court or the field by the players? Yes, that’s happened. But to be carried off by fans is unheard of. After this historic win, the excitement and ecstasy of victory was so moving that it moved the fans close to the winning coach to the point that they undertook this unprecedented uprising.

The North Carolina State Wolfpack defeated the heavily favored University of Houston Phi Slamma Jamma team in a NCAA Men’s Basketball Final that will never be forgotten.  Coach Jimmy V’s arms and hands are stretched wide, as the hands and arms of his fans are stretched high to lift him and laud him and raise him and rally around him for the great victory he’d won. And great victories deserve and even demand great celebrations. And that’s what we witness here in this iconic photo.

Joy is great delight, and only comes from something exceptional and unusual. And the 1982 Wolfpack win was truly exceptional. It was a stroke of coaching genius on the part of Coach Jimmy V. The theological tie in is this: isn’t our spiritual victory over sin and Satan by the power of the Cross even more exceptional and extraordinary and moving and marvelous? I believe that Jimmy V’s sports victory is God’s way of giving us a glance and a glimpse of the glorious celebration we will have in Heaven with Him at the end of time.  It’s pure, unspeakable joy, and we don’t have to wait till the end of time to get it.

 We can have this joy in Jesus right now.