Posts Tagged ‘LeBron James’

FAST Blast: The Best Player-Coach Ever — Bill Russell or a First-Century Superstar?

02/19/2018

HALL OF FAMER BILL RUSSELL won 11 NBA championships, all with the Boston Celtics. He was a five-time league MVP. Old-school basketball fans are familiar with the incredible exploits of the legendary center.

What’s lesser-known is this: For the last two titles in that amazing stretch — in 1968 and 1969 — Russell was Boston’s player-coach. Further, he was the first African-American coach in the NBA, according to NBA.com.

After the ’69 title, Russell retired on top, riding off into the proverbial sunset. In 1980, he was voted the “Greatest Player in the History of the NBA” by the Professional Basketball Writers Association. Since then, Michael Jordan and perhaps LeBron James have laid claim to that lofty honor, although some still say that Russell is the NBA’s best ever.

What’s indisputable is that Russell has the most championships as a player in NBA history. And two came while he was also the coach.

The concept of player-coach is intriguing — even more so when we consider the bedrock reality of the Christian faith: God incarnate. The cornerstone of the Christian worldview is that God entered the arena of human history. But once in the arena, he didn’t sit in a VIP seat or stand on the sideline as a coach. Rather, he joined the fray on the field of play, essentially as a player-coach.

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I grew up in the Church, so I’m no stranger to this notion. At the same time, I’ve wrestled with questions — mainly, whether the Christian faith is true. By the way, I have the same question about every other faith, philosophy and worldview: Are any of them true? Or is truth so elusive in this life that it’s beyond discovery?

Jesus of Nazareth is the ultimate player-coach proclaimed by the Christian faith, the pivotal figure in human history, according to the biblical record. He says that truth can be known because He can be known, and He is the Person most worth knowing, and He is the embodiment of truth — again, according to the biblical record.

His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection are the three most essential events known to humankind, and they’ve resulted in what the human heart longs for, the new start of a new creation — yes, according to the biblical record.

Yet how can we know the biblical record, penned by ancient writers, is actually historical? In fact, given the congenital tendency of human nature to fib, fabricate and otherwise falsify, how can we know that any written record — whether ancient or modern — is historical and true?

Let’s revisit these existential and postmodern questions in a moment. But first let’s look at some quotes of record — as reported by 21st-century writers — about the fine art of coaching in the context of our player-coach discussion.

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Conchita Martinez, who won the 1994 Wimbledon title, coached tennis star Garbine Muguruza during her run to the Wimbledon title in 2017. During the tournament, Muguruza said of her coach:

“She’s helping me to deal with the stress — it’s a long tournament. She knows how to prepare, how to train … having her by my side gives me confidence.”

“Having her by my side…” Sound familiar? Jesus is described in the gospels as “Immanuel, God with us” — the player-coach who knows how to prepare and train because he’s been there. The player-coach who is on our side.

Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is working to complete his college degree in criminal justice and has forged a close friendship with judge Donald R. Zuidmulder, who has served as a life coach for the former Pro Bowler. Says Clinton-Dix: “He’s kind of like my second grandfather. It’s definitely a blessing to have him on my side.”

Notice the theme? Here’s another quote in the same ballpark…

Soccer manager Pep Guardiola, who coaches Manchester City, was previously the manager at Barcelona. Another coach, Stuart Pearce, once visited Guardiola at Barcelona. Says Pearce: “He gave me a great insight into how to be a good manager. As we said goodbye and walked away, he turned around and said, ‘By the way, get a Messi in your side.'”

FYI, American fans: “side” means “team” — and of course “Messi” refers to Lionel Messi, who is regarded as the best player in the game today … by Barcelona supporters, anyway. Real Madrid fans say this designation belongs to Cristiano Ronaldo. Among soccer fans worldwide, the general consensus is that the debate about who holds the best-player title begins and ends with these two luminaries.

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“Get a Messi in your side,” Pep Guardiola advises his fellow soccer coaches. Or, if the NBA is your league of choice, get Bill Russell on your team as your player-coach.

Biblical writers advise something similar — get Jesus of Nazareth by your side, on your side, and in your side.

He’s the epitome of every stellar player and player-coach in the universe. He’s the only person — the quintessential Person — who can raise your game so your endgame is knowing Him as the author of life and thus becoming the best person you can be. Apart from Him, New Testament writers say, we’re left with the worst we can be … in the worst-case scenario, forever.

Jesus is the way we can ultimately become the shining stars we were meant to be … forever.

As He declares in the gospel of John: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” A controversial statement in a postmodern world? Perhaps — but the key question is this: Does it reflect reality? In other words, is it true? Which brings us back to the existential question regarding how we can know what’s truly true and historically accurate.

C.S. Lewis, the noted British writer and scholar, connects the question to the issue of authority:

“Don’t be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you’ve been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority.

“I believe there is such a place as New York. I haven’t seen it myself. I couldn’t prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority — because the scientists say so.

“Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.” — from Mere Christianity

So authority and trust go hand in hand. No one can avoid the issue — scientists, theologians, historians, journalists and sports fans alike … plus everyone else across the spectrum of disciplines and worldviews.

By the way, I have this on good authority: The best player-coach is the best Person to have on your side.

Related Post — The Best Player-Coach Ever, Part 2

© Bruce William Deckert 2018

 

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FAST Blast: On worldviews, detecting truth and Messiah College soccer

06/01/2017

Related posts
Intangibles at heart of stellar Messiah College soccer program
Reflecting on sports, holiness and Messiah College soccer
Musing about relative truth, exclusive claims, Messiah soccer
On worldviews, ‘reasonable disagreement’ and Messiah soccer

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This blog post completes a five-part series on Messiah College soccer and related life-and-faith motifs. If you’re just joining us, no worries — while this post caps the series, it can also stand alone.

ALLOW ME TO NOTE once more, in the interest of full disclosure: I’m a Messiah College soccer parent. My daughter Kayla completed her Messiah career this past fall and graduated this May.

Her class produced a four-year record of 86-6-7, back-to-back Final Fours, and a run to the 2016 national championship game after a rocky start to the season. Yet after that 2-2 start — yes, by Messiah’s standards, 2-2 is a rocky beginning — the Messiah women didn’t lose another match, until the championship game.

In the title game, they fell 5-4 on penalty kicks despite outplaying their opponent (in my view) throughout regulation and overtime. Of course, that’s how soccer works sometimes.

Speaking of Messiah’s standards: 12 Final Fours and five national championships (NCAA Division III) and an undefeated regular-season conference record in 17 seasons under coach Scott Frey.

Messiah’s overall record in that time frame — regular season and postseason — is 362-20-20. I’m no math whiz, so correct me if I’m wrong: That’s an average of barely more than one loss per season. Wow.

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Naturally, such success has resulted in media coverage, and that’s where I left off last post. We’ve examined a philosophical reference to reasonable disagreement by an ESPN.com/espnW reporter in his outstanding story on the Messiah women’s soccer program and what sets it apart on and off the field.

Essentially, the context is the ever-present disagreement about the meaning of life.

When human beings consider the meaning of life, it seems there are as many faiths, worldviews and philosophies to choose from as there are eateries in New York City. Clearly, consensus is elusive if not impossible. Given the numerous menu options in this surging sea of worldview rumination, how can we discern the truth?

Apparently, we need to search, investigate, discuss, mull, and hope and pray we arrive at the right conclusions about matters as weighty as life’s meaning — especially, the origin and identity and destiny of human beings. In other words: Where did we come from? Who are we? And where are we going?

Every worldview addresses these questions, and everyone must answer the question of which worldview is truly on track.

Which brings us back to — how can we ascertain whether something is true? We consider evidence, we contemplate, we seek to verify … and ultimately, we must decide what to believe. And take steps based on that decision.

Another option: We can decide that the worldview question is impossible to answer, a la agnosticism, which maintains that big-picture truth can’t be known. But note the contradiction: The agnostic says we can know that truth can’t be known. In other words, it’s true that we can’t know truth.

I confess, I don’t exactly like the elusiveness of the truth-seeking process.

I tend to prefer that these life-and-faith issues (especially the life-and-death ones) be crystal-clear and so self-evident that we all agree — like the basketball scouts who found and followed LeBron James. Given the uncertainty of the age, I see the appeal of agnosticism.

Yet besides its inherent contradiction, I sense that agnosticism misses out on the necessity of commitment, and when we’re commitment-shy, we miss out on … love.

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The Christian worldview proclaims that truth can be known — not fully because humans are finite, but known nonetheless. In fact, Truth and Love are embodied in a Person: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the Son of Man.

This worldview infuses the ethos of Messiah College and the Messiah soccer program.

In a speech my daughter gave at the 2016 Division III Final Four banquet, she spoke of her Messiah soccer experience: “I saw friendships that were marked by a willingness to care for the other in radical, sacrificial ways. Most importantly, what I found was the foundation from which all these actions stemmed — the desire to love God and love others. Although soccer is what brought our team together, that is not the foundation of our program. Our goal is to point back to God.”

Kayla’s teammate and classmate, Erin Sollenberger, likewise spoke about Messiah women’s soccer (or MWS) at the team banquet that closed the 2016 season: “I know my life wouldn’t be what it is now without the caring hearts of my best friends who … showed me what the unconditional grace and love of Christ looks like. MWS is so not about soccer. Sure, it brings us together, but our God is at the root of it all.”

Compare those quotes with a comment by Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson, who previously coached in the San Antonio Spurs organization. In an ESPN.com story, he discussed his coaching journey, including his interview with the Spurs — which took place in the immediate wake of his brother’s death.

Watson expressed gratitude to the Spurs for hiring him “at a time when I was very fragile in my life.”

“I went to [my brother’s] funeral on a Saturday, and [met] with the Spurs on Monday. Three days,” Watson says. “I guess you could say I got lucky because I ended up in a place that wasn’t about basketball — it was about family and love.”

Sound familiar? Sure does. That comment could readily be applied to … Messiah soccer.

Under coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs are known for their selfless, team-first, play-the-right-way culture — which has resulted in the most NBA titles of the past two decades (five, tied with the L.A. Lakers in that time span).

Let’s place Watson’s quote side by side with excerpts from the two Messiah teammates above.

• Suns coach Earl Watson
“I ended up in a place that wasn’t about basketball — it was about family and love.”

• Messiah wing Erin Sollenberger
“MWS is so not about soccer. Sure, it brings us together, but our God is at the root of it all. … My best friends … showed me … the unconditional grace and love of Christ.”

• Messiah defender Kayla Deckert
“I saw … a willingness to care for the other in radical, sacrificial ways … [and] the foundation from which all these actions stemmed — the desire to love God and love others. Although soccer is what brought our team together, that is not the foundation of our program. Our goal is to point back to God.”

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To me, the symmetry of these sentiments is exquisite. One significant difference, though, is that the two soccer players credit God outright as the source of such love, while Watson doesn’t mention God (though he reportedly believes in God).

This brings us full circle … back to a comment, cited in a previous post, by Messiah forward Marisa Weaver: “It’s just kind of impossible to love someone else unless you have the love of Christ in you.” Which prompted this remark by the ESPN.com/espnW reporter: There is ample room for reasonable disagreement on the exclusivity of such sentiment…

So, yes, a skeptic might say: Look, a secular pro team like the Spurs has the same culture as a Christian college team like Messiah … that proves you don’t need God — in fact, it might even prove God doesn’t exist.

But that critique has a counterargument: What if the unseen God of the universe — unseen like oxygen, perhaps — is the lone source of the selfless love that causes people and teams to flourish … whether they believe in Him or not?

What if knowing Jesus Christ — connecting with Him and receiving his heart, like a transplant patient who would die otherwise — is the only way to secure the well-being offered by the Giver of love and life?

And what if growing in the Creator of the cosmos — like a grafted branch on an apple tree — is the sole means of bearing the fruit of love that keeps us from withering away?

Can this counterargument be verified? In this life, I guess not. And in some ways that drives me crazy, because I’d prefer a here-and-now guarantee that erases all questions and avoids all discord. Instead, we’re left with plenty of disagreement and uncertainty in the worldview realm.

Yes, this can drive me crazy — but maybe I shouldn’t be surprised … because sometimes true love does that too.

So I suppose no worldview, faith or philosophy can be proved in a manner that removes all dispute. It appears that disagreements and doubts are an ongoing component of human experience — and healthy doubt can detect error, like a TSA airport scanner, in the pursuit of truth.

Perhaps no worldview can be proved beyond reasonable disagreement, but maybe the worldview that’s true can be known beyond reasonable doubt.

© Bruce William Deckert 2017

Non Sequiturs + Other Quasi-Funny Stuff #8

01/21/2015

Some samples of humor, intentional and unintentional, from the Internet journalism realm — actual news item first, followed by brief commentary:

Notre Dame To Fix Souvenir Cup Error
Darren Rovell discusses the souvenir cups sold by Notre Dame that included the spelling error “FIGTHING IRISH.”

In other news: There is apparently no truth to the report that Notre Dame graduates have been receiving diplomas for years that bear the title, “FIGTHING IRISH DILPOMA.”

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LeBron One Vote Shy Of Unanimous MVP Honor
… LeBron James laughed during a portion of the video when forward Mike Miller said the two of them now have four MVPs between them, “so let’s keep it going.”

In other news: Just to clarify, in case anyone is confused — LeBron has, yes, four NBA MVP awards. And in case the math is too complicated: Mike Miller has zero.

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Name Of Four-Team Playoff Revealed
Rece Davis and Kirk Herbstreit report from the BCS spring meetings, where it was announced the four-team playoff will be called the College Football Playoff.

In other news: The NCAA has announced that the immensely popular annual basketball event known as the NCAA Tournament (aka March Madness) will be creatively renamed to … the College Basketball Playoff.

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During Race, NASCAR Driver Receives Speeding Ticket
… NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski … was handed a speeding ticket in the form of a pass-through penalty when he tried to exit pit road a little too quickly.

In other news: There must be a safety reason for this rule, but doesn’t it seem absurd that a NASCAR driver can receive the equivalent of a speeding ticket during a race? And by the way, from now on boxers and MMA fighters will be arrested for assault and battery at certain random bouts.

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Basketball Recruiting Update
… At 6-foot-11 and about 225 pounds, Turner is a face-up post man with range to the 3-point arc. … He runs the floor well, finishes above the rim, and plays with energy and urgency.

In other news: Is it, shall we say, necessary to write that he “finishes above the rim”? If you’re 6-foot-11 and you don’t finish above the rim … well, let’s go out on a limb: You won’t be showing up in a college basketball recruiting report.

Non Sequiturs + Other Quasi-Funny Stuff #6

01/31/2014

Unintentional humor observed on the Internet — my comments in bold, followed by the actual examples from the Web…

Math 101, Part 1: From the illogical equation department
The Dodgers now have 39 players on their 40-man roster.

No offense … but has any offense ever, you know, played D?
Mike D’Antoni won in Phoenix with an up-tempo offense that played little defense, but he wasn’t necessarily going to use that same style in L.A., right?

Two TV analysts unknowingly join the Ravens’ roster
Joe Budden Has Faith In Ravens
Rapper Joe Budden discusses the Ravens’ chances of beating the Patriots with Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless.

The Yankees: apparently the first team in history to suffer a collective broken bone
TAMPA, Fla. — The New York Yankees finally have a date for Derek Jeter’s return to game action after suffering a broken ankle in the American League Championship Series last October.

Math 101, Part 2: Glad to know that key 2 and 3 info
But that probably understates LeBron James’ efficiency improvement because a big chunk of James’ shots come from 3-point range, where the value of an improved jump shot is leveraged even more (three points is worth more than two).


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