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Two years ago, the university I am affiliated with began the process of moving our athletic affiliation to the NCAA. It was not an easy decision. We were accustomed to the traditions of our old association. There were established, sometimes bitter, rivalries that we were accustomed to. And then, there were the rules and regulations.

Yes, the NCAA is known for its rules, and the enforcement thereof. Violating a rule at this level can get you a handslap, a public flogging, or even “the death penalty”, depending on the severity of the violation. And yet, for a myriad of reasons the NCAA is the right affiliation for our university.

The history of intercollegiate sport, and certainly athletics in general, long predates the founding of NCAA, but don’t tell that to some in their leadership circle. It can be our little secret. The 26.2 mile race known as the marathon, in fact, dates back to the namesake battle around 490 BC. The famed James Naismith invented the game of basketball in 1891, 15 years before the creation of the NCAA.

Speaking of 1906, another organization dates back to that year, give or take a little time on either side of that date. The university I am affiliated with is a Christian university, and is affiliated with an American Restoration religious movement identified by most religious census data as having begun in 1906.

We are accustomed to the traditions of our association. There are established, sometimes bitter, rivalries that we have become accustomed to. And then, there are sometimes rules and regulations.

The history of faith in these United States, and certainly Christianity in general, long predates the recognized founding of a certain movement in 1906, but don’t tell that to some. It can be our little secret.

Actually, forget what I just said. I must be suffering from March Madness. Everyone knows, or should come to know, that Christianity officially came into its own in 33 AD, after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

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Today is a day known to many in Christianity as Palm Sunday, they day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem to begin his Passion Week. Many Christians recognize this week with pomp and circumstance, just like that Sunday in Jerusalem. Pomp and circumstance is not a big deal in the associated group of Christians that I relate with, unless you are talking about weddings. Sorry, I digress.

My point is, or maybe should be, that we maybe should be open to sometimes being more in tune with ceremony and tradition, for it can be an outlet for our passions. The spiritual leadership of AD 33 was passionate about their rules and perceptions, and they ultimately killed Jesus over them. We would do well to avoid similar crimes of passion today. March Madness, indeed.

Basketball fans are passionate. That much is an understatement. They love their teams. They dress up in colorful garb. They sing, and they dance, and they cheer. So do some Christians, when celebrating their Love. Is that wrong? I’m not necessarily convinced it is.

I’m feeling my way along here. To say I’m thinking out loud may be an understatement, as well. I’ve been reading lately about the divisions in Christian movements in the United States (and, not surprisingly our related/supported universities) dating back to 1906, it the irony struck me as I was looking in the car mirror yesterday at my NCAA hat and saw the “Est. 1906” looking back at me.

Don’t get me wrong. I think rules can be good. The same can be said of order. But, too many rules can diminish the flow of the game. Naismith would tell you that, were he here today. So would Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18-28:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Brothers and sisters, pray for us. Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

I often find myself more passionate and expressive about basketball than my faith, and that just shouldn’t be. The faith group, the church, I am affiliated with is a Christian faith, and is affiliated with an American Restoration religious movement identified by most religious census data as having begun in 1906. And yet, the passion dates all the way back to 33 AD. I would do well to work to ignite it each and every day, just like for a good contest on the hardwood. Bring on the madness. It’s game time.

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20130121-103938.jpg“You are pathetic!”

The shouted words reverberated in my ears as we walked in the door last Saturday, and I immediately knew. I could see their owner jumping up and down, with the referee only a few small feet from his critic. Indeed, we had arrived at the scene of the crime, albeit a crime of passion.

Before we go on, some definitions are in order: “Pathetic, meaning, miserably inadequate”, to which I might say to last weekend’s protester, “Touché“?

How about “vitriolic“?

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These utterances occurred in a small Oklahoma hamlet, during a “game” designed to improve the health of its participants. How sadly ironic. You see, only a year prior to this past weekend, some residents of said unmentioned hamlet were in our neighborhood for a similar roundball match up, and the cursing and anger were present even then. Our young protagonist in the picture above was on the receiving end of the rhetoric, and he was not even on the floor or in uniform.

We spoke that night last year (my young protagonist friend and I) and at times over the year to follow, about what the rematch would be like “on their turf”. While it did not surprise, it sadly did serve to disappoint.

Is this what we’ve come to? Were he here today, BBall inventor Dr. James Naismith would likely not be smiling, and I can’t say that I would blame him.

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Our beloved “KD” has begun crossing the line publicly this year, and its a little sad to watch. I have examined and found myself guilty a time or two of possessing and expressing some “vitriol” during a game or two recently, but thankfully without said profanity. Still, that is no excuse.

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Here is some history of the game for us, courtesy of “Wikipedia”:

At Springfield YMCA, Naismith struggled with a rowdy class which was confined to indoor games throughout the harsh New England winter and thus was perpetually short-tempered. Under orders from Dr. Luther Gulick, head of Springfield YMCA Physical Education, Naismith was given 14 days to create an indoor game that would provide an “athletic distraction”: Gulick demanded that it would not take up much room, could help its track athletes to keep in shape and explicitly emphasized to “make it fair for all players and not too rough.”

Therein lies a great reminder: “…not too rough”. It’s a great message for us all, and a reminder of what it’s all about. It is only a game, and the true battles royale are of the heart, and not on the hardwood. Our true enemies are enthroned anger, hate, resentment, crime, poverty, and the like, and not our opponents in a contest of skill and will.

KD’s grandma took him to task in the public eye a week or two ago, and I wish we could all take a lesson from her message.

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Our young protagonist and I have visited this year about containing our anger, both on the court and in the stands, and thankfully we both passed muster in a tough place Saturday night, with him ultimately standing tall at half court the victor in both score and sportsmanship on that night.

We both pledge to continue that battle. I only hope KD can do the same. Thankfully we have his grandma to remind us.

I wonder if she likes small town basketball, as well? We’ve got room in our car…

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“It’s going to be a cold, chilly day out there”.. The words of Sunday morning’s weather forecast rang in my ears as I looked away to finish my newspaper article about the life and ways of OKC Thunder Coach Scott Brooks.

They both had garnered my attention, both the weather caster and the coach, but for different reasons. One, for using hyperbole to artificially inflate the conditions of a day that would be sunny and mild, like so many others. The other, for how he goes about his work, deflecting from opportunities to promote himself, and garnering praise in the process.

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It reminded me of the early days of TV weather, and yes, sadly, I can say I was alive and watching within that era. Harold Taft, he of 1960’s and 1970’s DFW Channel 5 fame would garner my attention as he talked about the weather and showed his hand drawn charts of what was happening in our atmosphere.

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Even in “those days” weather was big business, and the personalities would use tools at their disposal to draw our attention and garner viewers. In this age of computerized models and high tech visual aids, the personalities, and the hyperbole, still rule the day.

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As Sunday’s weathercast snippet played out, my mind went back to the article about Brooks, his upbringing, his work ethic, and what it really meant to garner the attention that he has. And, what does this word garner really mean?

Verb garner – acquire or deserve by one’s efforts or actions
earn
acquire, get – come into the possession of something concrete or abstract;
letter – win an athletic letter

Garnering attention. Garnering favor. Garnering praise. Garnering minutes. Garnering results.

We do lots of things in this day and age to garner attention. How we dress, what we drive, where we live, what we say: we Facebook and we blog, but I digress. Touché?

I know some garnerers. I also know some Garners. In this instance, they might be one in the same. As my son’s most recent high school basketball game ended, and ended badly, I said to the eldest namesake “your sons played well tonight”. The bewildered look I received back spoke volumes, so I clarified my thoughts: “they played hard and aggressive; they never quit working”. His eyes cleared, and hopefully he understood my point. His boys are garnerers, like their dad.

Garnering, in the truest sense of the word, takes effort. It takes work. All the fancy moves, fancy gear, and fancy words, in weathercasts, in basketball, and in life won’t win the battle for you. It takes hard work. It takes persistence. It takes dedication. It means putting your nose to the grindstone, sometimes even to the breaking point.

No one ever said garnering was easy; just ask this guy…
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*photo by Bonnie Howard

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Don’t laugh. After all, he is my doppelgänger.

What exactly is a doppelgänger, you may ask?

Well, according to Wikipedia, In fiction and folklore, a doppelgänger (German “double walker”) is a paranormal double of a living person, typically representing evil or misfortune. In modern vernacular it is simply any double or look-alike of a person. It also describes the sensation of having glimpsed oneself in peripheral vision, in a position where there is no chance that it could have been a reflection. Doppelgängers often are perceived as a sinister form of bilocation and are regarded by some to be harbingers of bad luck.

You see, Sam and I both live in OKC. We both wear glasses, and hair gel. Don’t forget the hair gel. Sam was a Rhodes scholar. OK, maybe I slept thru my interview for that. OK, maybe I went to college. At least I know what a Rhodes scholar is, and I didn’t even have to use Wikipedia. I heard about it on a CBS sports broadcast…

And, Sam, if you sign James, you and I will both work for non profit organizations.

Now that we have that squared away, let’s get down to talking basketball. Sign James Harden, Sam, and sign him quickly. You see, talent like that doesn’t grow on trees, and as evidenced by the picture above, I know a thing or two about basketball. And talent. I might know a thing or two about talent. Not together, necessarily. OK, I might know a thing or two, like the the meaning of doppelgänger, or how to access Wikipedia. Not together, necessarily, but I digress.

But, what about the salary cap and luxury tax, oh doppel double, Sam might say. Well, I think I have that figured out. Take a look at the following spread from the sports page. You know what a spreadsheet is, don’t you, Sam? Of course you do: you wear hair gel.

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Maynor is gone after this year, so play him hard, let Reggie Jackson learn a game other than baseball, and use him next year in place of Eric. Let Lazar move on. And, as much as I may like the kid, you’ve got to trade Cole. It’s just not gonna work out between you guys and the people he needs to play defense against. Come on, Sam, you know I’m right on this one. Draft a couple of rookies to groom and practice against, and you’ve got your 12 man roster. Hey, if the Miami Heat can do it, so can you.

Do all of that, pay James what you’re paying Serge, and I just bet you can stay under the projected 2012-2014 luxury tax level of $74 million. Clay and the boys may not make any money, but we both know you can burn cash and still have a winning team. Non profit, remember?

So, step out there Sam. Get it done. The home team is counting on you.

Trust me. I’m your doppelgänger. Or, maybe you’re mine…..

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Now come and listen to my story about a man named…Dan. But, first, some background is in order.

Author Donald Miller defines “story” in the following way:

The elements of a meaningful story are the same as the elements of a meaningful life: A character that knows what they want and is willing to overcome conflict to get it.

Do you know exactly what you want and why? And do you appreciate or bemoan the conflict you endure? Is your story more interesting to you than television? Is all of life boring or is just your life boring? Do you believe you can make changes that will make your life more interesting?

Back to Dan. No, I’m not confusing Ackroyd for Bill Murray and his “Cinderella Story” portrayed in the film Caddyshack. Murray’s character wanted something, which was to kill the groundhog. Murray’s character, rather than overcoming conflict, created conflict, and blew up the landscape along the way.

No, my Dan character is in real life, and coaches college basketball. For years, his teams have known what they wanted, and have been willing to overcome conflict to get it. But, at some point, you have to ask yourself if the goals of all the combatants are truly the same, and if the same rules of engagement apply to all.

Winning championships is great, but operating with consistent high goals and integrity is even better. Graduating your players, rather than seeking out the highest short term gain via “rented” NCAA refugee mercenaries, is the true objective.

This year, Dan’s last in the NAIA, saw him starring in a “Cinderella Story” of sorts and unexpectedly winning his final conference crown. Moving on to the national stage, the story did not play out.

Or, will it play out after all? You see, Cinderella lived long in the shadow of her evil stepsisters and unfair and abusive stepmother. Despite it all, she got to go to the big dance, but that was not the final prize.

As I returned to the OKC airport after a disappointing day at the tourney, the following Toby Keith tune greeted me on the car radio:

Justice is the one thing you should always find
You got to saddle up your boys
You got to draw a hard line
When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune
We’ll all meet back at the local saloon
We’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces…

Evil forces, and your rules of engagement, we bid you adieu. Look out Heartland Conference, here come the mighty Eagles. You know the Eagles, they are the ones with the degreed alums and former Academic All Americans cheering in the stands…and the 2012 SAC Conference championship trophy in the case, earned the hard way. We couldn’t be any prouder of their story.

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Night and Day

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Without a doubt, NBA basketball has been good for Oklahoma City. The game returns this next week, and I surmise that folks are ready for some gamers to hit the hardwood.

What the NBA has not been kind to is College basketball in our fair but finite state. There are only so many fans, so many dollars, and so many discretionary hours to go around, and they are going to the benefit of two great college football programs, and to the mighty Thunder Rising.

I’m currently in the mid two game lull of the 76th annual OKC All College Classic here at “The ‘Peake” Arena, and it is quite a lull. OU just had an impressive and exciting comeback
win over Houston, but the place is pretty quiet. We shall see if Keiton Page can fire up as many Cowboy fans as he does 3’s before this night is over.

Thunder Up. The town is ready, no disrespect to our College gamers. There’s only so much fandom to go around…

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Rules are rules, and sometimes nothing you can do will change them. Laws are laws, and the same holds true.

The Oklahoma Secondary Sports Athletic Association has rules, and they are meant to protect the sanctity of secondary school sports. I heard an advertisement on the radio yesterday for OSSAA promoting years and years of serving students. As I was driving last night to watch my son play in a Junior Varsity high school basketball game, and watch him sit in the stands later as his teammates and friends played in a varsity game without him, I was reminded that rules are rules. That being said, OSSAA’s “service to students” claim seemed to ring hollow in my ears. Rules are rules, and when they penalize people for moving or making the best educational choice for their kids, the accompanying one year sanctions are like salt in a wound. Sometimes, things are out of our control, and it hurts. Sometimes, people find ways to circumvent the rules, but it always comes at a cost.

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Laws are laws. Gravity is one of the most universal of laws. Sometimes, we find ways to circumvent the laws, but it always comes at a cost. The concept of risk/return trade offs is at the heart of this idea. Man taught himself to fly over 100 years ago, and it has revolutionized the world. Good things, great even, like international travel and study opportunities, life saving air ambulance services, overnight delivery, and the like are all a result of man’s desire to learn from his environment. Bad things, horrific even, like arial bombardment in warfare and tragic accidents are all a result of man’s desire to conquer his environment. And conquer it, we may not.

Laws are laws. What goes up must come down. Sometimes, things are out of our control, and it hurts. OSU lost 10 from their basketball family in a plane crash 10 years ago, and it has happened again this week with the loss of Women’s Coaches Kurt Budke, Miranda Serena, and two others in another crash.

What we do know is that there is hope. Its not only about today. There is life after the pain, and there is life after we are gone. Thank God for that.

There is a saying that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I hope that is true for my OSSAA mandated varsity sideline companion for this year, and I hope it is true for those who are hurting in the OSU family today.

James 4:13-14: Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

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