A Victory for Vanessa Bryant

 

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Vanessa Bryant Eulogizing her husband Kobe Bryant at the Memorial Service, Staples Center, Los Angeles, Monday, February 24, 2020

Vanessa Bryant, the wife of the late, great NBA Superstar Kobe Bryant, just won a great victory, and triumphed gloriously in the face a clear and crushing loss. Vanessa Bryant, someway and somehow, summoned strength to stand and state her love for her loving husband and her little lady.  It was a moving, emotive message of triumph amidst unspeakable tragedy. God bless her!  She stood flat footed, and through tears and talking back to herself — “Ok, you can do it” — she motivated the mass of mourners when she herself just wanted to weep and wail and question and query God about why this all happened, and what she’s supposed to do now.

Vanessa Bryant is by all standards a trooper and a champion.  Her husband won five NBA Championships, but her performance at her husband’s memorial service at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 was a testament to her greatness and her superior solemnity far beyond what her husband achieved on the basketball court. Vanessa’s strength and courage under fire was phenomenal, and was also absolutely supernatural. Why?  Because only Heaven and all things holy could help her handle the stress and the strain of the moment with power and poise.  

Vanessa Bryant would have made Kobe proud. She honored her husband and daughter with grit and grace and dignity and distinction. She spoke and stood when she did not want to, but she had to. And it was amazing. What was so amazing was that we all knew that this was an impossible position to be in, and yet in the midst of understandable and allowable grief, she pressed through her own misery and misfortune and sorrow and sadness in order to help the rest of us, hopefully and eventually, overcome ours.

That’s why Heaven had to help. Because she had to do it. And in so doing she carried the burden of her bereavement, even if for a moment, above and beyond the heavy pall of defeat that tried to weigh her down and wipe her out.

 God bless you, Vanessa Bryant.    

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.

It’s Time To Dance

UNC Victory over Duke 3.9.19

It’s time to dance. And it’s time to do your victory dance. So do your dance. It’s a message for every wounded warrior and for every sanctified Christian soldier. It’s time for beleaguered believers and for every distressed disciple to dance. For every hater of evil that’s hungry for Heaven, it’s time dance. So do your dance.

UNC_Duke

North Carolina just beat Duke for the second time this season, and in so doing they earned the No. 2 Seed in the upcoming ACC Basketball Tournament, the Granddaddy of ‘em all. Duke was without their best player, Zion Williamson, who got hurt in the last UNC/Duke game a few weeks ago. Then today, another Duke diehard, Marques Bolden, was injured early in the game. In the first three minutes of the latest Duke/UNC showdown, Bolden, Duke’s starting center, was helped off the floor and to the locker room with a knee injury suffered on a hard fall after attempting to block Garrison Brooks’ dunk. Duke scrapped and scraped almost all game, but in the end, Duke was not dancing.

Sometimes victories don’t look assured, and sometimes defeat looks like a distinct possibility. Duke was down but not out, and for most of the game they made it look like they could beat UNC at UNC without two of their best players. But for North Carolina, in the end, they could say as David said, “You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.”

In the end, all of the North Carolina players were dancing and prancing and juking and jiving as they celebrated a sometimes pretty, but mostly ugly, hard-fought fight at the Dean Dome. The Tarheels outlasted and out defended and ultimately outscored their rivals on the way to a 79 70 victory that was well worth dancing about.

Dancing is the universal expression of joy and gladness. Michael Jackson said that “consciousness expresses itself through creation. This world we live in is the dance of the creator. Dancers come and go in the twinkling of an eye but the dance lives on. On many an occasion when I am dancing, I have felt touched by something sacred. In those moments, I felt my spirit soar and become one with everything that exists.”

“Dancing is so much more than just grooving on the dance floor to your favorite tunes. In fact, you’ll be surprised how many benefits are associated with dancing. Not only does it train your brain and your body’s motor skills but it also is an excellent exercise for your entire body. As such, it helps you to stay physically and mentally fit. Even more so, dancing regularly can improve your general well-being, boosts your self-esteem and has also been shown to improve your social skills.” http://www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/2017/dance-quotes/

When David killed Goliath, the women danced. When the Ark of the Covenant was brought back to Jerusalem, David danced. He dance with all of his might. And when the prodigal son came home, the father threw a big welcome home party for him. And they all danced.

So dance. It’s March, right? They don’t call the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament “The Big Dance” for nothing! So Dance! Dance like David danced. Dance like the North Carolina Tarheels danced. Dance like no one is watching. Dance like you’ve just beaten your greatest rival, again. Do your dance and celebrate the great victories that God has won for you.

Croatia Stuns England, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup Is Theirs for the Taking

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Mario Mandzukic celebrates after scoring Croatia’s winning goal in their upset, comeback win against England

“Little” Croatia didn’t get the memo. Little Croatia didn’t read the script. And Little Croatia, the little country across the Adriatic Sea from Italy (see, sports and a geography lesson to boot!) that was carved out of former Yugoslavia (and a history lesson), is on its way to its first World Cup Final in only 27 years of existence. And along the way, Team Croatia defeated Argentina and host Russia. Unbelievable.

England was on its way to not just the World Cup Final, but to a victory in the World Cup Final. It was a fait accompli, or so they thought. Until Croatia got in the way with a come from behind, goal in extra time-turnaround win. It was an upset for the ages. England wasn’t supposed to lose. And Croatia wasn’t supposed to win. And that’s how the ball bounces in this summer of surprises.

And here’s the theological twist: what have people, or even you yourself, said that you couldn’t do? What seemingly insurmountable, unachievable, or impossible feat have you been told just can’t happen in your life? Write it down. The Biblical examples are endless. Abraham and Sarah had their promised baby boy late in their retirement years. So did Zacharias and Elizabeth. The woman with the issue of blood was cleansed after being sick for so long, and the widow from Nain had her son raised to life again. It can happen!

So write it down. Write what you are believing God for down. Put a magnet on it and stick it on the refrigerator. Write it in on a post it and stick it on your mirror. This way, every day, you can remind yourself of what you are believing God for. And then remember Croatia in the FIFA 2018 World Cup. Because if Croatia can pull off the improbable, you can too.

And if “little” Croatia defeats France in the final on Sunday, they will forever be the upstart that pulled off the upset that we will be talking about for ages to come. And, when your miracle comes to pass, we’ll be talking about you too.

Coach Jimmy V: Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds

UCT Cover

Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds: get your copy TODAY!

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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. 

Washington Capitals 2018 Stanley Cup Champions: Pain Is Part Of The Process

Ovechkin Lifting Stanley Cup Trophy
Washington Capitals 2018 Stanley Cup Champions as Ovechkin Lifts Stanley Cup Trophy

Pain is part of the process. The Washington Capitals players and fans and coaches and commentators have all endured much pain over their 44 year history. But after all of the pain and disdain, finally comes victorious gain. Finally, the Washington Capitals are kings of the hockey world.

The Washington Capitals defeated the Las Vegas Golden Knights to win their first Stanley Cup Trophy. And the championship was a long time comin’. The Capitals had been stained with the loser label since 1974-75, when the expansion team won just eight games, still the NHL’s worst campaign. After 44 years, 3,701 regular and postseason games and 28 playoff appearances — the most by an NHL, MLB, NBA or NFL team at the time of its first title — the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions. And pain was part of the process. https://sports.yahoo.com/stanley-cup-run-could-capitals-playoff-failures-055535489–nhl.html 

NHL teams leading 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won 91 percent of the time (276-28). Of those 28, the Capitals have blown such a lead five times – FIVE TIMES – the most of any team. But there was no such falloff this time.   As checkered playoff histories go, the Washington Capitals haven’t been around nearly as long as some NHL teams, but their track record was still long and sad. For instance, the Caps have lost nine of 11 postseason meetings against the Pittsburgh Penguins alone, and each loss is filled to the brim with gut-wrenching letdowns.  Because pain is part of the process.

But this year, all of that turned around.

This year, the Caps defeated their longtime rival, those same Pittsburg Penguins, and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. They rode a hot goalie to the Stanley Cup Finals, and their long time star, Alex Ovechkin, finally led his team to hockey’s Promised Land. Since Ovechkin’s arrival in 2004, drafted first overall, his presence eventually brought more regular season success, and with a young superstar core of him and center Nicklas Backstrom, a first championship felt inevitable. However, Ovechkin has admitted that he sometimes took it for granted that he would win a championship, perhaps taking for granted how hard it can be to win. And Ove learned that pain is part of the process.

Surprising no one, Ovechkin was named MVP of the playoffs, securing the Conn Smythe trophy. Ovechkin finished as the postseason’s leading goal-scorer with 15. Ovechkin, who had never made it out of the second round before this season, was all smiles as he made his way through the fourth and final happy handshake line of this incredible postseason run for the Capitals. 

So let’s learn the lesson. Pain must be part of the process. But our pain is not in vain. Because after a while, it leads to eternal gain, just like the Bible says.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.  You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.  So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

THE MESSAGE

 

Dear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy,  for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete.    TLB

 

And of course our beloved King James Version reads like this:

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. 

KJV

Shaun White Is Gold!

  Shaun-White Wins Gold

Shaun White did it!

Here’s how ESPN reported his epic come from behind win in the half pipe at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongyang South Korea:

“The pressure was real. So were the tears — of joy, relief, redemption.

This is why Shaun White keeps going. This is why the snowboarding superstar keeps coming back to the Olympics, a journey that’s seen him evolve from teenage phenom to global brand to living legend. One with a perpetual target on his back and impossible expectations to meet. Standing atop the halfpipe on a gray Wednesday morning at slushy Phoenix Snow Park with his hopes for a third gold down to one final shot, White never wavered.

 ‘I honestly knew I had it,’ said White, 31.

‘I knew I had to put it down.’ The stakes left him little choice. Rising star and heir apparent Ayumu Hirano had snatched the lead out of White’s hand during the men’s halfpipe final, throwing a spectacular epic second run to vault into the lead and put a portion of White’s Olympic legacy at risk. Not that it mattered.”

He knew.  Going into his final run, with the gold medal on the line, Shaun knew what he had to do. And he did it.

And Shaun’s victory gives us hope and heart and help to know that we can do it too. Whatever “it” is for you, you can do it!