Redeem Team: Lakers Return to Greatness

 Kobe and family

***Memo to The Godfather: this is my last NBA Finals post. 

As I sat thinking about my view of the Lakers return to The Promised Land hours after their deciding Game 5 victory, I realized that I enjoyed the Lakers most recent success for different reasons.  Normally I am just fan.  The Lake Show has been my favorite for 30 years: win or lose.  

I enjoyed Magic’s five championships, and the return of Laker greatness with Shaq and Kobe.  There was something about this championship that got to me on a more human level though.  I connected with some of the players and coaches that I have watched over the years and felt good for their success.  I can tell by listening to them between games, in interviews etc. how much it meant to be at the top when the dust of the season settles.  

This is especially compelling when I consider the fact that most of our sports heroes make a tremendous amount of money and enjoy a level of fame that gives them privileges that most of us couldn’t imagine.  It makes me appreciate their commitment to excellence that much more. 

Then there is the defense against “hateration.”  In a way, the Lakers are compared to the Yankees for a societal theme that many people hate Goliath and cheer for the underdog.  I never agreed with the premise of, “I’m tired of seeing the Atlanta  Braves in the playoffs every year.  Why don’t they let someone else in it.”  In my opinion as long as no one is cheating dynasties are good for sports.  Excellence is something to be modeled.  Personally I don’t think the Yankees always spend their money wisely, but I respect that George Steinbrenner wants to win the World Series every freaggin year.

In my years as a Laker man, I’ve noticed that like many other dynasties people either love or hate them.  There is no middle ground.  When it comes to the more recent players, guys like Shaquille O’Neal were accepted because he was sort of a goof ball.  But cats like Kobe Bryant are horrifically crucified by Laker haters as a man who doesn’t have so much as a soul.  Part of that I think was his fault because he had a bit of a swag that people didn’t understand.  He came from a different country and became a superstar in a beloved American sport.  He had to compete with the likes of guys like Allen Iverson who sold more shoes than he did and Kobe tried to get street cred by not being himself.  He wasn’t a thug like A.I.  He was a sophisticated phenom who lived in Italy and traveled the world when kids like Iverson had barely left Hampton VA before going to Georgetown.  But he grew impatient and tried to be someone he wasn’t.  He didn’t come across well and youth was a part of that.  I think he wanted to do the right things.  But, but he didn’t have the maturity level and ability to bring people with him.  He isolated himself and when he caught that case in Colorado, it didn’t resonate with people to offer much empathy.

When you look at him now, I think he has come full circle in understanding the balance one has to have with being a mega star athlete driven beyond the level of most top level athletes, and being a person who can give and receive love and trust from others.  It seems like ages ago when Phil Jackson wrote that book about Kobe being uncoachable.  But over the last few seasons he has really grown up and I am happy to see that.  I love seeing redemptive qualities in people.  So I will put him as one of the people I am truly happy for in winning this championship. 

Kobe Bryant– for all the reasons I mentioned above.  Kobe is not just a basketball player anymore.  He is a man.  A respectable man with a beautiful family.  He teammates love him and I think he loves them back.  No more talk about him not winning without Shaq – which was ridiculous in itself cause it ain’t like Shaq led the Heat to the championship though he did run Stan Van Gundy in the middle of the season.  No,  that was pretty much Dwayne Wade killing the Dallas Mavericks in 2006.  Shaq was along for the ride.  Kobe was the man already, the best player in the league regardless of what “The Logo” Jerry West said.  This really puts his legacy in place regardless of whatever happens in his career from this day forward.  This team was horrible just a few years ago.  They were smashed in Game 6 against the Celtics last year.  And they redeemed themselves on the shoulders of their most talented player.  Kobe was the leader of the team in every sense of the word – including leading by example everyday.  I am sure he will remain classy during the offseason and we won’t be hearing any free style raps at local LA clubs where Kobe goes with a “Yo Shaq, tell me how my ass taste!” blast.

Derek Fisher– What can you say about D-Fish?  When I visited Staples in February to see the Lakers play the Hornets on my birthday, Kobe had his 39 but it was Fisher who hit the game tying three pointer to send the game into overtime as regulation expired. This guy has been through a lot since he left the Lakers years ago after their first three championships.  He played up north with the Golden State Warriors, then the Utah Jazz before his daughter became seriously ill.  Eventually the Jazz released him so that he could re-sign with the Lakers and be in a city where they had the medical facilities to treat his child.  Big ups to the late Jazz owner Larry Miller for that classy move.  Fisher is a business man, a hard core example of professionalism.  He’s a players rep with the NBA players association and has represented nothing but class during his entire NBA career.  This cat is so serious he put Luis Scola, a man almost twice his size on his ass and missed a playoff game just to send a message.  Remember that? How can you NOT be happy for this guy. 

Trophy

 Phil Jackson– This guy is hated on more than any other coach in basketball history.  The first thing people say is that he coached Jordan, then Kobe and Shaq.  Well I got three things to say about that.  For one, Jordan, Kobe and Shaq didn’t win a damn thing before he started coaching them.   Two, I have never seen a team with average players win any NBA championships.  I do remember after Jordan retired the first time, Jackson took the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals and was one Hugh Hollins phantom call that put Hubert Davis of the Knicks on the free throw line away from going to the Finals without MJ.  Three, when you look at a guy like Red Auerbach, hell he coached more Hall of Fame players than any other coach in the history of the game toward his 9 championship wins.  But you never hear anyone say, “Red had that damn Russell, Cousy, Jo Jo White, Sam Jones, and Havlicek – So how was he going to lose?”  No one said Doc Rivers couldn’t coach when his teams weren’t winning crap in Boston before they got Allen and Garnett to help Paul Pierce.  Think about this, in 10 NBA Finals victories Jackson’s teams have never gone to a Game 7 and have won deciding games on the courts of my Lakers, the Jazz, 76ers, Nets, and now the Magic.  To me that sounds like there is a lot of good coaching and preparation going on before the games.

Why is Phil criticized so much?  Because he is just smooth with his game.  He doesn’t scream at his players like Stan Van Gundy.  It’s not sexy television.  He has this anti-establishment tone to him.  It’s like he loves the game of basketball, is hyper competitive to be the best, but understands that it’s still a game and that there is more to life.  This is the same guy who after the Lakers won their third championship rode his motorcycle from Los Angeles to his ranch in Montana as a way to come down from the grind.  But look at the results.  He is his own man and that is why he left Chicago after their 6th championship.  Jerry Krause didn’t like the attention Phil got.  Phil didn’t give a flip anymore.  He gets it.  His players don’t tune him out, and his assistant coaches have remained loyal and stayed with him throuought his career.  And dammit he passed Red Auerbach.  Ten championships is ten championships.  Period.

I could go on talking about how I am happy too that Pau Gasol redeemed himself after having his manhood taken against the Celtics last year.  I called him Pau Gasoft.  Not anymore!  Or how Lamar Odom stepped it up when it counted and earned himself a ring.  I know they appreciate this.  Guys like Trevor Ariza don’t quite understand how hard it is to get to this place year in and year out.  He’s only 24.  But he played his ass off too and is about to get paid!

Mitch Kupchak got from underneath Jerry West’s shadow.  And his trade for Gasol was the reason why.  That is geting it done. 

So its for these reasons, the human factor to borrow a phrase as to why this championship for me means a little more.  Players are human too.  And though I don’t know these guys personally, I can still see some of the history, the background, the hard work, commitment and most of all the soul of the men who show that in spite of the multi-million dollar salaries, winning and winning the right way still means something.  It’s a great example for our youth.  It’s a great example for the nation.  It’s part of why I love sports.  Not merely for the sake of the sport.  But for the way sports brings people together, give of their talents, and sacrifice selfish motivation in order to accomplish a goal together

Congratulations 2008-2009 NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers!  You earned it!

Phil Jackson pregame

 

 

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I’m So Thankful

My friend Gregg “The Happy Guitar” Haynes has a nice jam called, “I’m So Thankful.”  Its one of my top gospel jams.  My favorite version is from a live CD recording I witnessed at Friendly Temple MB Church in St. Louis. Thinking of it while sitting in church recently reminded me once again that in spite of all the challenges we face in this life, I am still and will remain thankful for all that is good and right in the world.  So for this post I thought I would take time to list just a few things I am thankful for.

* The opportunity to live in the world and enjoy the natural beauty around me.

* A sound mind which allows me to think straight; or at least want to.

* The friends and family that I know without a doubt love me, and will challenge heaven and earth on my behalf when I need them to.  Ride or Die!

* The special friends and family who allow me the opportunity to be there for them when they are in need.  Thank you for allowing ME to bless you.

* My beautiful children and grandchildren; You are all so special to me – priceless

* My haters; for keeping me grounded and reflective at all times.  Sometimes your criticisms are right on!

* My vocation/dreams.  Opportunities to earn money comes and goes – but my purpose is for life and the results are forever.

* My heros; dead and alive.  And all of the ancestors who watch over me – who speak wisdom.  May my ears continue to be open to hear.

* My thinking crew!  Those who always challenge my way of thinking and stretch me beyond my paradigm!  They know who they are!

* My Creator and the Universe of which I have the priviledge to participate.

Embracing Pride (Part 2) When Enemies Become Friends

Two sayings come to mind for this post.   “Always remember to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  And, “We have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interest.”  The first I heard in a scene from the classic film, “The Godfather.”  The other I heard from talk show host and political activist Tavis Smiley though he may have not originated it.  These are some of the wisest statements ever and yet many of us sleep on its genius.  I definitely have not fully subscribed in the past because when I think of enemies I think of the hurt they have caused me – the betrayal, the lies, etc.  My first instinct when coming across the people who I know have hurt me intentionally – (though sometimes they even smile in my face) is to resist them at all cost.  If I see he/she coming one way, I usually go the other.  I avoided conversation and any type of small talk or contact with the individuals who I knew not to have my best interest at heart.

However, I am learning now that total isolation from our enemies can do more harm than good in the long run.  My classroom has been within some of my own business dealings.  One of my business ventures requires a lot of networking and since I am new to this particular business that means double for me.  It’s been often said that it’s not about what you know – it’s who you know.  Well that’s not completely true.  In reality it’s who knows you!  I can know the CEO of a company but in order for me to benefit from his/her favor or influence depends on if he/she knows who I am when my name is mentioned.  Fortunately, I have managed to gain quite a few notable contacts within this field that now know and respect my name.  And slowly I am building up credentials that will give me business for several years to come should everything continue on course.  But as in any venture I also have my share of detractors and haters.  (Thank you Rich House for reminding me to embrace my haters!)  One such hater is actually a person I have known for over 10 years.  He has been in the field for over 20 years and I looked to him for guidance, advice and connections.  Admittedly this person started off helping me quite a bit.  But then I noticed a turn in his attitude after he began to notice that I started to take off and create a network for myself which increased my opportunities within the field.  He noticed me at different places and wondered aloud to me, “How did you get turned on to this?  Who did you speak with?  That person didn’t call me.  How much business did you acquire? Etc.”  I could tell in his tone that he was envious at my progress – and I have very strong evidence that he made efforts to take some business away from me that I obtained through a mutual  contact.  From the beginning these revelations hurt quite a bit.  And I felt that a person of his stature should be happy for me – especially because he knew of my career situation and the fact that I was struggling to make ends meet.  Initially I though to avoid this person – or even give him a piece of my mind.  Instead, I kept my approach professional and gave him the appearance of respect.  In the meantime when he ask I don’t give him accurate accounts of my progress – and since he still has the power to give me business occasionally, I give him the impression of gratefulness on my behalf.  For every time I get even an ounce of business from him, I have the opportunity to profit initially and show my skills and abilities to other potential clients.  Its not as if I am not thankful in reality.  It’s that I understand the games being played when ego and greed are involved.  Often to get what we want we may have to stroke or placate someone’s ego a bit for desired results. 

This lesson came up again as I was reading, “An Ordinary Man,” written by Paul Rusesabagina who was the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Rwanda as portrayed by Don Cheadle in the movie, Hotel Rwanda.”  He spoke of doing business with many of the people he did not consider to be friends – some of whom were out to kill him and the over 1200 refugees he protected in the hotel during the genocide in 1994.  General Augustin Bizimungu was a major player in the vicious murders of 800,000 Rwandans.  He was charged with war crimes and is in a Tanzanian prison.  In the midst of the unrest and extreme violence, Paul maintained a friendship with him that was started mostly by Paul’s services rendered to the general and people of power like him at the hotel.  But it was with a purpose.  Paul explains it himself in his book, “An Ordinary Man.”

I have been criticized for my friendship with him during the genocide, but I have never apologized for it.  “How could you have stayed close to such a vile man?”  I am asked, and my answer is this: I do not excuse whatever he may have done to promote the genocide, but I never heard him agree with any of the bloodshed when he was in my presence.  I had to stay close to him because he could help me save lives.  I would have stayed close to anyone who could help me do that. 

He then went further to illustrate yet another important point.  In describing the general in more depth:

… There is a saying in Rwanda: “Every man has a secret corner in his mind that nobody will ever know.”  And I do not think I know enough about Bizimungu’s secret corner to judge him.  He may have done terrible things in Rwanda before and during the genocide, but I know that he stepped in for me at crucial moments to save lives of innocent people when it was of no conceivable benifit to him.  If I had ended that friendship, I do not think I would be here to write these words today.  There are at least 1,268 people who survived the killing partly because of the instructions of Bizimungu. In my book that counts for something.  (P. 162-163)

 

While I am disapointed in this particular person, I am not going to write off his value and humanity.  He is still a child of God in my eyes and each day he lives, like myself he has opportunity for regeneration and growth. If he wants to hurt me for apparently no reason, then there is something inside himself that is lacking.  But I digress.  The main point is that there is no shame to the one to doing business with people who think less of your value.  It is in no way selling out as long inward dignity is preserved.  As the bible says, in life we have to be as wise as serpents and yet gentle as doves.  Many black men for instance had to subject their egos at the door of humility when operating within Jim Crow segregation.  They were called boy, and at other times much worse.  While some men felt inferior I’m sure, still many more understood other people’s ignorance could not define them.  And having the ability to earn a living for family is honorable above all.  As I like to say, this is an inward issue.  Its one thing to cower from within and an even worse practice to betray one’s principles for a dollar; I know many such men who appear to be well off and yet inwardly they are slaves to their position, status and income.  But I submit as well that a man can pick his battles, act strategically, get his money and keep his dignity.  In this case, I am such the man.

Perhaps one day I may let this person know that I have known for some time that he has not had my best interest at heart.  But for the foreseeable future – I can allow his ego to flounder while it falsely confirms itself as superior in my own financial interest.

Selah

Pictured is Paul Rusesabagina with me and my son Christian during a book signing visit in St. Louis