Kawhi Leonard: 2019 NBA Champion & Finals MVP

Kawhi wins NBA Championship with Toronto

His hands are raised Heavenward, his eyes looking upward, his heart and soul certainly looking onward, all the while celebrating the moment inward,  Kawhi can now say “mission accomplished!”  How spiritual is that? Kawhi is the example of how we should be; our hands lifted up and our mouths filled with praise, celebrating the Victory.

Kawhi came to Toronto for one reason and one reason only — to win an NBA Title.  Done.    

Kawhi crushed and killed every living opponent that came a calling by playing lights out night in and night out. At times he played like a rabid wild animal, demanding the ball from friends and commanding the attention of his enemies. Most times he played consistently excellent and masterfully brilliant, dicing and slicing his way to nightly double doubles from game to game and from series to series as he led his new team to the NBA’s promised land.

The Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors, 114-110, in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, the last Game at Oracle Arena, sealing the first title in franchise history and claiming Canada’s first championship in a major American sports league since the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series.

Kawhi Leonard, who posted 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, was named Finals MVP for the second time in his career, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players to win that award while representing multiple teams. The all-star forward, who sealed the title with three free throws in a surreal closing second, previously won in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs, who traded him to the Raptors last summer

Now, Kawhi can demand whatever he wants from whomever he wants. And now he’s got his newly stocked resume to back up every commanded penny. From his four bounce buzzer beater against the Sixers to win Game 7 of that series to overcoming and overpowering and overtaking Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals to outperforming and overwhelmingly whupping the defending champs, Kawhi and the Raptors earned every bit of this championship. Every bit.

On the other hand, we must mention and acknowledge the wounded Warriors. The hobbled and humbled defending champions fought like cornered canines but in the end it wasn’t enough.  In the end, anything and everything the Warriors did or even tried to do wasn’t enough. Even the injured Klay Thompson running back out of the tunnel onto the playing floor to shoot his two free throws wasn’t enough.  The weary and well-worn Warriors were well on their way to defeat long before Klay went down,  for the SECOND time. Physically dent and emotionally spent, the W’s were tired and they were beat long before the final buzzer sounded. Curry was not himself and the team was reduced to a shell of their former championship form. But fight they did.

Here’s how ESPN Senior Writer Ramona Shelburne put it:

“This season has been a war of attrition and attention for the Warriors. At times, the team seemed to be dragging itself along — too talented and proud to surrender, but too tired and injured to mount the kind of fight it has become known for.  Five straight years of breathing the same air with the same group of human beings can wear on the most gentle soul. Five years of doing that under the spotlight that accompanies being the best team in the NBA is when pipes start bursting.”

But surely we digress. This is Kawhi’s time. This is Kawhi’s moment. So Congrats to the Raptors who ripped Kawhi from San Antonio. Congrats to first year Coach Nick Nurse who came from out of nowhere to do what previous and banished head coach Dwane Casey couldn’t do. Speaking of Coach Nick Nurse, what about him? He’s got a feel good, upsets, comebacks and turnarounds story all of his own as well.

“Coach Nick Nurse’s team Toronto defeated Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Golden State in these playoffs. That means Nurse got his team past ones coached by Steve Clifford, Brett Brown, Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr. That foursome is about the toughest draw a first-year coach in the league could get in his maiden postseason voyage.

‘He’s one of the hardest-working coaches I’ve seen,” Raptors assistant Jamaal Magloire said during Toronto’s victory celebration after the title-clinching win. “When it comes to this team’s success, he deserves every bit of it.” Nurse played at Northern Iowa, started his coaching career there as an assistant and wound up becoming a head coach at Grand View when he was 23. He coached in Belgium and Britain. He won a pair of British Basketball League titles as a coach, in Birmingham in 1996 and London in ‘00, then got a couple of titles in what is now called the G League.

The second G League crown got Nurse noticed. He was at Rio Grande Valley, guided them to a title in 2013 and that’s when the Raptors called and wanted to talk to him about offense. They ended up hiring him as an assistant.” And the rest is history.

Finally, congratulations to this Raptors team that made it work. Kawhi’s teammates, from Pascal Siakam in Game 1 and certainly to Kyle Lowry Game 6 — with Serge Ibaka and Fred VanFleet and Marc Gasol mixed in between — they all pitched in. And whenever they would and wherever they could, each did their part, and it amounted to a total team win.

So always remember, it’s “Team, team, team;” that’s what it always takes to pull off a quantum victory  like this.


Oh Cananda!

Every Good Player Needs A Good Coach

steve kerr

Every good player needs a good coach. And every great player needs a great coach. And such is the story of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors won Game Six of the Western Conference Semi-Finals — IN HOUSTON, mind you — on the strength of their best, leading role players, namely Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But/and they needed help, and they got big help from their supporting cast:  Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston, plus the rest of the bench.

And therein lies the lesson: In Game 6 against Houston, Steve Kerr employed his bench superbly. Maybe he should have used them more earlier in the playoffs, but as they say, “better late than never.”

Steve Kerr is a great coach.  And he has to be to coach the band of brothers that he has on his roster. Greatness needs greatness to succeed.  And we’re seeing the secret of Golden State’s success in the chemistry between the players and the coach.

Here’s a case in point: Steph Curry received his second foul early in the first quarter of Game Six, and Kerr immediately took Steph out of the game, much to his chagrin. When Curry got back to the huddle, Kerr was blunt with the two-time MVP.

“He keeps it real with us,” Curry said of Kerr after the game. “There was a moment tonight where I had my second foul when I fouled James on the three, and I saw on the board that he had put Quinn in. Obviously, I had a reaction to that. I walk into the huddle and he keeps it real.” 

“He’s like, ‘How can I trust you to not get your third when you know how big this game is right now and you put yourself in a situation — a predicament to get your second foul? So, I got to make a decision.’ Put Quinn in. Quinn was ready. Obviously, I didn’t like it, but we have a strong relationship where he knows I’m not going to lose confidence in that moment, and whenever I get back on the floor, hopefully good things will happen.” https://sports.yahoo.com/steve-kerr-had-blunt-message-223457898.html 

Steve Kerr knows which buttons to push and he knows when to yell and when to whisper. He knows his players. He knows their strengths and weaknesses and their bents and their dents, and he knows how to get the best out of them.  Sounds a lot like Psalm 139, right?

Psalm 139 speaks of how well God knows us. He knows our ins and our outs and our ups and our downs. And He wants to see to it that we are victorious in every situation. That’s why we must believe and rely on our Heavenly Head Coach. He knows us, and He wants to see us be the best we can be.

Here’s how Mike Cruz from ClutchPoints reported on the Warriors Game Six win:

“Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala were the stars of the Golden State Warriors’ series-clinching victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night. But as much as they led the defending champs to their Game 6 win sans leading scorer Kevin Durant, the Warriors banked on their motto, “Strength in Numbers,” to propel them back to the Western Conference Finals.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he was proud of how each of the Warriors’ supporting cast made their mark in their Game 6 win and wondered why he didn’t deploy them earlier in their 2019 postseason, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

‘Houston puts the fear of God in you,” Kerr, halfway through a postgame Corona, told The Athletic. “So we played it very close to the vest the first five games, just allowing our best defenders to be out there the whole time, thinking we got to do this. Then look, we’re forced to play the bench and they’re fantastic. And I’m like: ‘Well, what the  . . . ? What was I thinking? I should’ve played them earlier.’ But I’m just proud of them.’

The Warriors’ bench has been its thinnest since the Steve Kerr era began in 2015. Kerr has played his stars nearly 40 minutes per game over this playoff run so far. But with Kevin Durant slated to miss the rest of the series against Houston, he had no choice but to dig deep into his rotation, going 11 deep in Game 6.

Needless to say, Golden State’s unsung heroes delivered in every way possible. Kevon Looney continued his impressive play with his hustle, rebounding, and improved ability to finish around the rim. Veteran guard Shaun Livingston, likewise, turned back the clock and gave them an offensive spark off the bench.

Andrew Bogut started in place of Durant and was part of their solid start to Game 6. Jordan Bell gave them a spark with his defense and athleticism, while backup guard Quinn Cook gave quality minutes with Curry struggling and saddled with foul trouble in the first half.

The Warriors could possibly get injured stars Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins back at some point during the Western Conference Finals. Kerr could definitely try to use his bench more moving forward to give his stars fresher legs as they get deeper into another championship run.”

The 2018 NBA Finals: Leftovers Warmed Over

LebronCurry

We’ve seen this movie before, right? I mean, remakes are great, but by the time they got to Rocky XV, I fell asleep during the credits– the PRE credits.  I love watching a favorite movie again and again, don’t you? (Matrix fans unite!) But some people want something different all of the time. Don’t get me wrong, because the Warriors and the Cavs absolutely deserve to be in the NBA Finals.  Correction — LeBron, a.k.a. King James and Steph Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and all of the rest of the Warriors deserve to be in the NBA Finals, with an honorable mention to Jeff Green of the Cavs for the way he played and helped LeBron in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

If the 2018 NBA Finals are must see TV,  why are some people tired of eating Cavs/Warriors leftovers? Becasue they want something different. Their tired of eating manna every morining (or every year).  Get it?  The spiritual tie in is so surreal. We get to watch high level, high caliber basketball, yet we’re tired of the same ole, same ole. But it’s still good. It’s absolutely still good.

Oh well. You can’t please everybody. So the Warriors and the Cavs will play and we’ll watch the Warriors win another Larry O’Brien Trophy.  Right? 

So who ya got?

The Politics of Sports, a.k.a., Who Wants To Be Uninvited To The White House?

white-house

“You could see the end to this awkward dance between the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors and President Donald Trump coming from 140 characters away.

Less than a day after so many prominent members of the Warriors reiterated their stance that they didn’t want to visit to White House to celebrate their title, and just hours after Trump’s inciteful rally in Alabama where he took aim at NFL players who protest the national anthem, he wasted no time in taking to Twitter – again.

‘Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!’ Trump tweeted.”  https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2017/09/23/donald-trump-rescinds-white-house-invitation-stephen-curry-warriors/696136001/

Wow.  

Much could be said, but here I yield to another writer, Michel Wilbon.

The following article is from “Wilbon,” (as Tony Kornheiser calls him), co-host of ESPN’s PTI, Pardon the Interruption, sports show.  Michael Wilbon hit the nail on the head.  In light of the ongoing media feud between the President of the United States, who rules from the White House, and athletes in the NBA and the NFL, I could write my own thesis or treatise on the subject, but Wilbon beat me to the punch.  Thanks Mike. 

“It was just before 3 a.m. Saturday, and I could hear the phone buzz from the incoming text. It was from Rex Chapman, a friend of many years now after I’d covered a lot of his college and NBA basketball career. For those who don’t remember Chapman, he was the sweet-shooting guard from Kentucky — white kid who could jump out of the gym — about to turn 50 this October. The despair he was feeling was coming right through the cellphone screen.

The text, in part, read, ‘I’m sorry about Trump. I’ve never been more ashamed. I hope you knew this before, but in case you didn’t I need to say it now. Love you Brother. Rex.’

This was an American man — white — feeling compelled to reach out to another — black — to make perfectly clear he didn’t support any of the garbage coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth. Not in the president’s Friday night Alabama speech, not in any rantings on Twitter. That Chapman didn’t think taking a knee during the national anthem meant a black football player was a “son of a bitch,” that he didn’t want any part of the hideous racial divisiveness that Trump was instigating.

I texted Chapman back to tell him I’ve known him well enough and long enough to know the only thing he has in common with Trump is race, and I already knew what side of any divide he was on … and that I loved him for composing and sending that text.

Chapman’s 3 a.m. communication was also a forecast of the storm coming right back at the president. Trump was either clueless about the blowback he’d get from the brotherhood of pro athletes, particularly African-Americans, or he’d seriously miscalculated the willingness of an industry of powerful people, most of them white, to stand with those “sons of bitches” who Trump demanded be fired for expressing the most fundamental American right.

Whether Trump was oblivious or misguided, I doubt he expected LeBron James to stand up for rival Steph Curry on Twitter. Could he have had any idea that white teammates would rally around black ones in locker rooms and on sidelines Sunday? Or that the team owners he wanted to fire those black protesters would link arms Sunday with those very players during the anthem? And the last thing he could’ve expected was New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, his friend, saying in a statement, “I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner they feel is most impactful.”

The beginning of Kraft’s statement, that there is “no greater unifier in this country than sports and nothing more divisive than politics,” might as well have been the NFL’s official position going into the day’s games. It even one-upped the statement from the measured NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who also called Trump’s comments “divisive.”

Those who thought Trump would fire back at Kraft and Goodell personally were left waiting. The president doesn’t waste his nastiest insults on white men, even those who disagree with him, when he has black men such as Curry and Colin Kaepernick to attack. And few, if any, African-Americans were surprised that the man who led the Obama birther movement and called Mexicans rapists said during an Alabama speech that a football player taking a knee during the anthem is a “son of a bitch.”

For a great many of us who find Trump and his actions somewhere between objectionable and loathsome, this latest episode illustrates once again that he is what we think he is. Black men taking a knee during the anthem enraged Trump, but a Charlottesville, Virginia, rally of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members carrying torches also included, in his words, “very fine people” who were just there to protest the removal of Confederate statues.

This isn’t lost on anybody paying even scant attention. As Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “These are … probably the most divisive times in my life, I guess since Vietnam … our differences, I’m speaking in terms of values, are so dramatically different. I’m talking in terms of inclusion and civil discourse and dignity. I thought his comments about NFL players are as bad as anything he’s said to this point. You’re talking about young men who are peacefully protesting, hallmarks of our country.

‘How about the irony of, ‘Free speech is fine if you’re a neo-Nazi chanting hate slogans’ but ‘Free speech is not allowed to kneel in protest’? No matter how many times a football player says, ‘I honor our military but I’m protesting police brutality and racial inequality,’ it doesn’t matter. Nationalists are saying, ‘You’re disrespecting our flag.’ Well, you know what else is disrespectful to our flag? Racism. And one’s way worse than the other.’

There’s an old adage in sports that conveys: You are what your record says you are. We know what Trump’s record is regarding race. And in taking on two leagues, one (the NBA) with some of the most famous people on the planet and another (the NFL) that features the most popular form of sports entertainment in America, Trump emboldened a population that is often reluctant to rally or take risk. Suddenly, with public backing from owners and leagues, players aren’t feeling their careers are at risk to the same degree as before.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wondered aloud during a television interview Sunday whether Trump is ready for the blowback from a community of people with so much national and global influence. And now those people, even the anthem-kneelers, find themselves being patted on the shoulder by sympathizers if not allies.

I texted Rex Chapman later in the afternoon to ask permission to share his thoughts publicly. Like millions of us, he was watching and listening, hoping to see definitive signs that we had progressed as a nation in our lifetimes, hoping that a choir of voices could overwhelm Trump’s.

I’m going to forward to Chapman the Facebook post of Dan Rather, a man who knows the sweep of American history. Toward the end of an eloquent and stunning rebuke of Trump, Rather sounded a note of cautious optimism that I’m certain Chapman was also getting at with his Saturday morning text.

‘We are not a nation of majority bigots,’ the former CBS newsman wrote. ‘The strident ranks of the intolerant can be overwhelmed by enough people agreeing that this is not who we are or who we want to be. Mr. Trump’s cheers can be drowned out by a chorus of justice.’ Even if that chorus is built one voice — or one text — at a time.

——-

Michael Wilbon is one of the nation’s most respected sports journalists and an industry pioneer as one of the first sportswriters to broaden his career beyond newspapers to include television, radio and new media. He is a co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption.

https://theundefeated.com/features/donald-trumps-nfl-comments-inspired-a-response-he-didnt-see-coming/ 

Warriors Win!

The Golden State Warriors are just better. 

They’re better than the Cavaliers by a country mile. Yes the Dubs have Durant, but that’s not their fault.  Truth be told, the only reason this series wasn’t over in four games was that unbelievable, super human, Herculean effort in Game 4  by the Cavs which they will NEVER be able to duplicate.

On the other hand, the Warriors can turn it on at will, and they wanted to win at home instead of on the road. Nuff said.

So congratulations to the Golden State Warriors, the 2017 NBA Chdmpions.  And congrats to Kevin Durant, the Finals MVP.  He got his well deserved ring, and I for one am glad he did.

Is It Time To Worry About The Warriors?

stephen-curry

The Warriors are everybody’s favorite NBA team, right? They have Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Steve Kerr, not to mention Kevin Durant. They’re blowing their opponents out left and right, and they have the chutzpah and charisma we all love.

But wait – this just in: the golden goose, Golden State Warriors are in trouble.

They’ve lost 4 of their last 5. They’re losing the close games they used to win. There is no timetable for Durant’s return, and KD doesn’t know when he’s going to come back. And last night, Coach Kerr rested Curry, Klay, Green and Iggy. It was an impulsive reaction to the challenge of playing the Spurs on the road in prime time because they look worn and weary, forlorn and leery.  And their locker room ranting sounds as bad as they look.

The Warriors are (or were?) the favorite to win the title this year, but that was when Durant was healthy. Now they’re fighting to win home court in the West, so their cake walk to a championship just turned into a challenge of running across burning glass. So is it time to press the panic button if you’re a fan of the Dubs?

If it’s not time to pound on the panic button, it’s at least time to tap it. The season is winding down, and the Warriors are going to have to gear up and figure out a way to win until Durant gets back. If not, the Spurs and the Cavaliers are waiting in the wings to snatch a title from the presumptive favorites.

But we’re not supposed to worry, right? We’re not supposed to fear or fret or sweat or swoon. Instead, we need to exercise faith and fortitude. When things aren’t going our way, we need to hunker down and buckle up. We need to endure the hard times with just as much courage and composure as we display during the good times. Right? And, hopefully, that’s what the Warriors will do.

When the chips are down and our friends are few and the clouds hang low and our pace is slow; when the vultures are circling and the predators are prowling, digging deep and standing strong and holding on and looking up is what we need to do too.

What Went Wrong With the Warriors?

draymond green finals

Lots. Tons. Heaps and mounds and stacks and piles lay at the feet of every player wearing the Warrior wardrobe. Plenty went wrong and there are bundles of blame to go around the Golden State Warriors locker room after losing Game 7 to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors were leading late in the Fourth Quarter, 87-82 and at one point they were leading in the series three games to one; but they let both leads slip away. And now the defeated and deflated 2015 NBA Champs are certainly worse for the wear after this painful, painstaking loss.

Blame and fault go hand in hand with culpability and responsibility. How about this one: Who’s to blame for fouling LeBron James as he attempted a three-pointer late in the Fourth Quarter with the game on the line? The coach, Steve Kerr, who put the player in the game? Or the player who shouldn’t even have been on the court who actually committed the foul? Festus Ezeli, the WORST player on the court, was playing the BEST player on the court, in crunch time! AND they were out on the perimeter, where James hadn’t made a three pointer ALL NIGHT! What’s wrong with that picture? Talk about bad decisions.

And then there’s the Draymond Green factor. Unfortunately, the Warriors will wear this wound like the Red Badge of Courage for years to come. Unfortunately, the Warriors taught us all a lesson in how not to win. And unfortunately, “the Warriors might always be remembered as one of the best teams ever that couldn’t close it out, and Green is taking at least a good share of the blame after he sat out Game 5 on Monday night, June 13, after being suspended for flagrant fouls.”

Who’s to blame for Draymond Green missing Game 5? Who’s to blame for Draymond Green’s multiple flagrant fouls during the playoffs? Draymond Green, of course. But for his part, Green accepted responsibility, at least for his part in the disappointing collapse. Draymond Green said “the loss stings.” And he said, “it’s supposed to sting.” Wow. At least he’s honest. Green went on to say some very respectable things:

I learned a lot about myself as a man. I got to control my emotions. I will always control my emotions now. There is a silver lining in between everything. I’m not a guy that takes moral victories, but I did learn from that. I learned that I can’t put myself in harm’s way and that’s in anything. That’s in basketball. That’s in life. You can’t put yourself in that position.

Everything happens for a reason. I’m not sure what that reason is right now. I know that I’ve learned from [the suspension]. I know it will make me better down the line. But there is still more to it. It will eventually come to me, but I don’t have the answer right now. But the one thing I do know is I’ve learned from it. And if you can learn from something in life, it can go a long way.

Well said. And nuff said.