Tag Archives: basketball

Things You Should Agree With: Rondo Is the NBA’s Best Point Guard

My favorite NBA point guard, Rajon Rondo, just got a glossy spread in Boston Common magazine.  I am fond of Boston Common for many reasons, not least because it is the location of Park Street Church in Boston, the church my dissertation subject, Harold John Ockenga, led for 33 years.

But Ockenga is gone now, and Boston has a new stylish leader: Rondo.  He’s the NBA’s best point guard.  He can dominate the game without scoring.  I think he’s poised to have a big year.  Here’s a bit about Rondo:

Rondo’s résumé includes plenty of impressive statistics, but a point guard in the NBA is never defined purely by numbers. At Rondo’s position you can have a great game and not necessarily score a lot of points, and he’ll be the first to say it. “It’s always the whole package,” he says. “Some fans look at a point guard and say he had 26 points, seven assists, and eight rebounds, and they’ll say he had a great game. But there is a lot of talent in the NBA, and eventually that talent catches up with you. The mental game is where it’s at. I would say the game is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical, for me at least. What separates great players from good ones is performing consistently. I can dominate the game in any number of ways, not just with the numbers.”

People can judge point guards by assessing passing, scoring, defense, and a slew of other things, but Rondo takes it a little further. “My definition of what a good point guard is might be different from what some others might think,” he says. “I’ll give you an example: If [head coach] Doc Rivers gets thrown out, I can run the team for the rest of the game. I know what plays to call, what sets to call, or when to call time outs. It’s more than keeping track of the score. There is so much more going on that you take for granted on any given night, and there are only so many guys who can run a team when you don’t have a coach. In that category I think I am the best at what I do.” Rondo has the rare ability to see the big picture while still focusing on the details of his own game.

Read the whole thing.  This is valuable information, people.  The Celtics matter, and I say that without any of the bias that would accrue to a New England native who grew up in the halcyon days that were the Bird era.


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The Thomas Lake Interview (PT 2)–and how Basketball Shaped Him

Part 2 of my long-form interview with Thomas Lake is now up at the Gospel Coalition.

We talked in this part about the importance of long-form journalism, what it’s like to work at the world’s greatest sports magazine (Sports Illustrated, which like Lake I read cover-to-cover every week growing up), and how pastors can be great storytellers.

I’ll leave you to go read the interview if you like.  However, one of the most personally revealing segments of the interview is available only here on this blog (a world-exclusive!).  In the questions below, Lake and I talked about his love for basketball and his tough experiences getting cut from the Gordon College team.  I resonated with Lake’s words here, and I think the anecdote shared here tells you a great deal about the empathy for the underdog, the down-and-out, that is a constant theme of Lake’s writing (many of his stories are collected here).

Is it true that you’re a skilled pick-up basketball player?  Do you have courts named in your honor at Gordon College? 

I wish!  I do love to play and hoped to play in college although it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. 


I started out at a community college and didn’t make it.  I was smaller and behind on the physical curve, then I tried out at Gordon and that’s it’s own long story about why it didn’t work out.  Probably ever since then there’s a part of me that’s on the court trying to prove that I was good enough—I guess you never get away from things like that.

What happened at Gordon?

The coach was Troy Justice.  If you asked him about me, he probably wouldn’t remember, as he’s had to do a lot of cuts in his career.  The way he put it was, he told me about the last guy who had made the team.  The guy’s name was Luke Reynolds, he was trying to soften the blow, and he said “It’s not like Luke was a 10 and you were a 5, more like Luke was an 8.25 and you were an 8.24.” 

He handled it about as well and nicely as he could have, but I walked out of his office and went downstairs and found a bathroom stall and cried and it was the first time I had cried in a few years.  I guess the reason it was so hard was I can’t really overstate how much preparation I had put into wanting to achieve this goal.  We’re talking about thousands and thousands of hours of practice, much of it by myself, on little courts in Little Falls, New York and later in Herkimer, New York shooting hundreds of thousands of jump shots and running hills.  I bought special platform shoes that were supposed to help you be able to dunk the ball.  I was probably about a quarter of an inch from getting it down.  When it came to Gordon’s team, we’re not talking about the UK Wildcats—this was NCAA Division Three, so it didn’t seem like an impossible goal.  To come that far and for it to mean that much, and to know that was it, that was your last chance, you didn’t measure up, you’re not good enough, and now you have to go ahead and do something else–that was a lot for me.

I was talking with Terry McDonald of SI about how when I’ve written about how when people put it all out there and come up short that my experience has helped me relate to people, because there was such a finality to it.  That’s a part of life.  You don’t always get what you want.  Hard work doesn’t always pay off.  Sometimes you still fail, you come up a little short, and then you have to wake up the next morning and decide what you have to do with it. 

But come on—there are people who have some serious tragedy.  I can talk about it dramatically, but other people have had it much worse than me. 

Read the interview at TGC.

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Basketball Classic: Jeremy Lin Destroying John Wall

If you come within 5000 yards of this blog on any kind of semi-occasional basis, you know I am a Jeremy Lin fan, both for his faith and his stellar basketball skills.  The video above shows you the talent that almost never was expressed on an NBA court–in a game in which Lin technically should have been destroyed by his much-hyped opponent, John Wall.  (Update: this is from July 2010, just before Lin’s rookie season with the Golden State Warriors.  He couldn’t even stick with the Dallas Mavericks from this summer league play!)

Surgere et vincere, Jeremy.


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The Mistrial of LeBron James

The new issue of ESPN the Magazine has a fun story on LeBron James.  Worth reading for all you sports fans.  A selection:

Ask most anyone who LeBron James is and you’re likely to get a blunt reply delivered with great conviction. Choker. God. Traitor. Hero. Arrogant. Generous. Undisciplined. Underappreciated. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone is in disagreement. And over the course of this afternoon in Miami, they all will be proved right — and therefore all be proved wrong.

It’s an hour before game time. James’ bike is parked outside the Heat locker room, but he’s absent from the optional team shootaround. He’s not in the locker room. His favorite pregame snack, a ZonePerfect Classic fudge graham bar, remains untouched. Perhaps he feels his jumper doesn’t need fine-tuning at the moment. Maybe he’s watching film. If he were any other athlete, it would not matter. But when you’re today’s LeBron — hovering in the purgatory between the sins of The Decision and the redemption that will come only from multiple Larry O’Brien trophies — your punishment is to be questioned by those who have lost all faith in you.

Read it all.  I think two general things about this topic:

1) LeBron is a monstrous talent.  I cannot imagine what it is like to play against him.  He’s basically the tallest NFL linebacker and one who is also able to jump almost four feet in the air.  <gulp>

2) LeBron struggles in the moment.  He brings a lot of pressure on himself through his marketing and all that, and that raises expectations.  When the big moments come, though, he has in the past struggled.  Maybe that will change.


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Shaka Smart & How Athletic Coaching Is Like Pastoring

Shaka Smart is the basketball coach of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond.  For two years in a row, his teams have made it to the national tournament and overachieved.  He’s coveted now by many larger schools who can pay him a great deal more money than VCU.

But he just surprised the college basketball world by declining a $2.5 million/year offer from Illinois to stay at VCU for half that.  Here’s the rationale:

“My family is really, really happy in the city of Richmond,” Smart said, repeating something he has said often. “We have a great group of guys. We have some of the best fans in the country. It’s just a great situation.

“A coach told me a long time ago, don’t run away from happiness, and that’s what we have at VCU.”

Mark Few, head basketball coach of Gonzaga University, has had similar opportunities to jump for a bigger school and has likewise stayed at Gonzaga.  An ESPN story said this about his decision:

“The biggest mistake is that everybody tries to project their own feelings and own thoughts and own values into what you think a guy should do,” said Few. “It comes down to what that individual person wants in life.

“The only people that matter is the coach and the family and what they want and value and where they’re at in life,” said Few. “Do you want to pack up and move young kids, kids in junior high, high school? That’s where it becomes an individual choice and situation.”

The whole piece is worth reading.

I really like Shaka Smart.  He seems like an excellent coach in every way.  He builds his players up and doesn’t tear them down.  I’m impressed by his decision to stay–for now–at VCU.  He may well leave in the future, but even staying this long at a small school is unusual in the college basketball world when one has the kind of chances that Smart does.  Smart stayed because he genuinely likes VCU, and his family likes Richmond.  It’s refreshing to see a talented young coach do this.

It reminded me of a piece on pastoral ministry that Mark Dever wrote a little while back.  Dever suggested that his models for pastoral ministry are three Anglican bachelors who each stayed in a pastorate for decades:

When I’m asked about my models for pastoral ministry I’ve often said, “Three Cambridge Anglican bachelor S’s—Sibbes, Simeon, and Stott.” Each of these men found a strategic location, began expounding God’s Word, and stayed. Expositional preaching is foundational to a Christian ministry, and it’s worth thinking about finding a strategic location and even remaining single. But for this article I want us to consider that other matter of longevity.

First, the facts about these three. Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) began preaching in Cambridge in the early 1600s, and had a continuous ministry in London at Gray’s Inn from 1617 until his death in 1635. Charles Simeon (1759-1836) preached at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge from 1782 until his death in 1836, a remarkable 54-year ministry! And John Stott (b. 1921) began preaching at All Souls’ Church, Langham Place, in London from his appointment as curate (1945) and rector (1950), and he preached there regularly until just a few years ago—a ministry that, remarkably, even exceeds Simeon’s in length!

Here’s the whole piece.

Not every pastor needs to stay in one place for their entire career to be faithful to Christ.  But this is an inspiring model.  Those that do stay in one church for decades will know a level of influence that pastors with shorter tenures simply will not.  There will be many good things that come from such a situation–knowing generations of your people, becoming known in the community as a substantive and durable leader, and observing the gospel change hundreds and perhaps thousands of lives.

In the same way that we could commend Smart for his wise decision, we can commend the pastor who labors to love a certain people for much longer than he could.  There is a beauty in that, a humility, and a reward to be had on the last day.

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The Kid with a Big Heart: Elegy for a Fallen Basketball Star

Thomas Lake is the finest young sportswriter in America.  Working for Sports Illustrated, he writes long-form journalism pieces that transcend reporting and cross firmly over into beautiful, profound prose. 

He recently published a piece entitled “The Legacy of Wes Leonard.”  The story (featured in an issue with Jeremy Lin on the cover) follows a young Michigan basketball player who led his team to victory after victory until, just minutes after an incredible come-from-behind win, he collapsed of heart trouble and died.  As with Lake’s story on Darrent Williams, deceased Broncos cornerback, this elegy is long, poetic, and informed by Christian theology (Lake is a graduate of Gordon College).

Here’s a snatch:

After the autopsy, when the doctor found white blossoms of scar tissue on Wes Leonard’s heart, he guessed they had been secretly building there for several months. That would mean Wes’s heart was slowly breaking throughout the Fennville Blackhawks’ 2010–11 regular season, when he led them in scoring and the team won 20 games without a loss.

It would mean his heart was already moving toward electrical meltdown in December, when he scored 26 on Decatur with that big left shoulder clearing a path to the hoop. It would mean his heart swelled and weakened all through January (25 against Hopkins, 33 against Martin) even as it pumped enough blood to fill at least 10 swimming pools.

This heart pounded two million times in February, probably more, heaving under its own weight, propelling Wes’s 6’2″, 230-pound frame along the glimmering hardwood with such precision and force that finally a kid from Hartford gave up on the rules and tackled him in the lane. By March 3, the night of Wes’s last and most glorious game, his heart weighed 21½ ounces, double the weight of a normal heart, and it gave him all he needed from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Then the wiring failed, the current going as jagged as a thunderbolt, and Wes fell to the floor with his big heart quivering.

Read the whole thing.  I cannot wait to read Lake’s first book, whenever it comes.  Those who grew up reading the work of various SI authors will know that the magazine features not merely great sportswriting but great writing, period.  Lake continues that tradition.

(Image:Grand Rapids Press)

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Linsanity: Jeremy Lin, Christian Basketball Star

If you haven’t heard of Jeremy Lin yet, you soon will (see this dated Time article).  He’s a Christian basketball player for the New York Knicks.  He’s also a Harvard graduate and an Asian-American.  I’ve followed Lin on Twitter for some time, but he struggled early in the season as he was cut from the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets.  The Knicks claimed him off waivers, and he actually played a game in the developmental league in my home state for the Portland Red Claws.  Lin was not doing well, and it looked like he would be cut from the Knicks.

But a number of injuries forced coach Mike D’Antoni to give Lin an extended trial.  In his first game getting significant minutes, Lin scored 25 points; the next game, 28; and last night, 23 with ten assists.  In short, he is lighting up the NBA.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch, not least because this is a guy who Tweets CJ Mahaney quotations.  His situation has been so unstable that he’s slept on his teammate’s couch–imagine LeBron or Kobe doing that!

I would encourage you to keep your eyes out for Lin.  Though he was undrafted, he has many skills and could be a starting point guard.  He’s tall, has a great first step, is an excellent finisher, and creates many openings for teammates.  He plays good defense.  In short, I love his game, and it’s exciting to see yet another Christian athlete excel.  It’s also great to see an Asian-American Christian draw attention.  I’ve heard that Asian-Americans, to speak broadly, can feel like the “silent minority” in the American church, and that’s a major problem.

My buddy Doug Hankins of TEDS–a baller in his own right, with an excellent blog to match–just linked to some comments from Carl Park, a fellow TEDS PhD student, who commented positively on Lin’s impact for the Asian-American community.


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Principles for Good Basketball, Or, The Exorcising of Fifteen Years of Pickup Basketball Ghosts

This post comes out of nowhere.  No one has asked for it.  It is a thought-child that must be birthed.  It stems, as the title suggests, from my years of frustration playing pickup basketball.  If you play unorganized basketball–and you are not worthy of this blog if you do not–you will understand.  Actually, you’ll understand even if you play organized ball, which actually in a good number of cases is less logical than pickup.

This post is for everyone who has played with the guy who shoots every time he gets the ball; for those who have suffered through disjointed offensive schemes for hours on end; for defenders who work their tails off only to have one guy get scored on every possession; and so on.  Those who play pickup ball can come up with many more such examples of bad basketball.

I won’t drag this on forever.  I love basketball; I hate bad basketball; and I am opinionated enough to give you my rules for good basketball.  Contrary to what many high school coaches teach you, I don’t think good basketball is hard to play.  It’s actually pretty simple.  Follow some clear principles and you’ll be well on your way to efficient and fun roundball.  You may not necessarily get to the mountaintop, but you can go very far without arcane diagrams and authoritarian play-calling.

1. Move the ball.  Pass often.
2. Attack the defense, looking to kick to open shooters.  With sharp passing and the pick and roll, this is probably the easiest way to get a good offensive flow going.
3. Run pick and rolls with a guard who can shoot and a big man who can attack the basket.
4. Whenever you can, run the ball.  Get easy baskets.  Even if you don’t run and shoot, at least pick the low-hanging fruit.
5. Play good help defense.  This is not hard.  It’s 95% effort, honestly.  You don’t need to swat shots to be a good defender.  You just need to play with a reasonable amount of intelligence.
6. Encourage teammates who are working hard and taking the right kind of risks.  Talk diplomatically with those who are over-shooting.  Kindness goes a long way.  Instead of a guy getting down and making more mistakes (which almost always happens in an unkind environment), he’ll likely work hard on defense and play even better.
7.  LOOK FOR MISMATCHES.  Sorry to blast you.  But this is huge.  Note: if playing with a ball hog, this will not happen.  But it must for good basketball.  All things being equal, attack the weakest defender.
8. Go to the hot hand.  Go to the hot hand.  Go to the hot hand.  How many times have I seen this not happen?  This is one of the single best ways to lose out there.  Basketball is a highly psychological game–shooting is the crux of this.  Good shooters enjoy good psychological health.  Go to them.
9. On defense, do your best to match up well.  Shifting mid-game can really help if things aren’t working out.
10. Play to the glory of God.  Don’t play for yourself.  That will avoid all kinds of trouble–easy discouragement, ball-hogging, and so on.

Okay, that was completely unprovoked.  Thanks for reading.  May your pickup games improve exponentially.


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The Next Michael Jordan (!)

From the Chicago Tribune:

At 17, Harrison Barnes might not yet be a household name. But he’s determined to become one.

Here’s a funny story demonstrating his precocity:

Days earlier, when he announced where he would attend college, the nation’s top high school basketball player deftly fielded all manner of probing questions from a gymnasium full of reporters.

This one seemed like a layup. How tall are you? “I’m 6-8 with shoes on,” Harrison Barnes said.  Across the living room his mother, Shirley Barnes, squirmed.  “What? You’re going to list your real height this year?” she asked.  “Of course,” Barnes said.  “I thought you were still playing the 6-6 game.”

I’m not sure I follow you …

“It’s because Michael did it,” Barnes explained.

As in Michael Jordan.

Read the whole thing.

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Michael Jordan’s Teacher: “Nobody Cut Michael Jordan”

MichaelJordanThose of us who grew up going to wildly overpriced basketball camps (remember Five Star?  What a racket!) often heard the inspiring and–ahem–comforting tale that Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player in the world, was cut from the varsity team as a sophomore.  Great story–except it’s not technically true.

This is disheartening news for those of us who found solace in this anecdote, perhaps the only point of athletic commonality we shared with one Mr. Jordan. (Photo: Charlotte Observer)

SLAM just linked to a story from the Charlotte Observer that sets the record straight:

Ruby Sutton has a distinct pet peeve when it comes to the subject of her former pupil, Michael Jordan: the oft-told story of how he was “cut” from the Laney High varsity basketball team as a sophomore, spurring him to greatness.

“Back then, (most) 10th-graders played JV; that’s just the way it was. Nobody ever ‘cut’ Michael Jordan,” Sutton, who still teaches physical education, said this month, shaking her head as she retold the story for at least the 100th time.

So there you go.  Get a look at the early Jordan in the fun and well-researched piece.  The guy was so competitive, he outran other kids to the dugout on water breaks.  That, friends, is dedication.  Of course, this same competitive fire drove him throughout all of his life, sometimes to bad ends, as Michael Leahy’s exceptional When Nothing Else Matters abundantly shows.

That’s the final word.  You can never propagate the apocryphal tale that Jordan was cut again.  This likely affects your own life very little; it does, however, wreak havoc on half-winded summer basketball camp pep talks all across the world.


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