Saturday, August 29, 2009

King David-ish

Being raised in the church has ingrained me with the stories, deeds, parables and examples of Men/Women of God. My childhood preachers/teachers used the ways of prophets and ordinary folks mentioned in the Bible to help instill life long lessons into their congregations. While their lessons from the pulpit focused on the true essence of life(salvation, love, morals, Heaven), some of the figures and incidents in their teachings help describe the valor of athletes.

Now, I am not being sacrilegious or trying to desecrate the names of prophets. However, we all engage in hyperbole at times. How many times have we all seen, heard or invoked scripture to help us in athletic battles? How many times have we heard that David slew the proverbial Goliath when an underdog like Buster Douglas beats up a Mike Tyson. We all loved the moment in Hoosiers where the small school is led in prayer by a preacher who reminds us that David killed the behemoth Goliath with a simple stone, so anything is possible. The great King David would have probably respected the will, determination and toughness of Becky Hammon.

Put Becky Hammon in a lay up line with San Antonio's Sune Agbuke, Arielle Roberson and Chatavia Boone-Fudge. Then invite a few college scouts to the game. Do not give any background on any of the players and see who the scouts highlight in their recruiting prospect book before tip off. The scouts will inevitably watch the movements, body frames, and any hint of brilliance in the San Antonio high school kids. None of them will watch Hammon make a lay up and fall in love. The point is that, in a game that worships size and speed, Hammon has neither. What she does have is the last 'S'; skill. And, she is so skilled that she slays Goliaths on the regular.

We all know the story. The Philistines were led by the giant Goliath. Goliath had killed many men and invoked fear into the hearts of many. The Israelites were led by King Saul, who had to kill Goliath if he were to protect his kingdom. In comes the puny Shepherd named David. David was not a soldier by profession but had seasoned himself protecting his flock. In fact, he had faced the threats of lions and bears and fought both with success. He would have to use those dangerous encounters(practice) against the killing machine that went by the name of Goliath. Goliath stood over 9 feet tall and killed people for fun! At least that is how I always envisioned him. Anyway, I found some interesting things from that epic battle that I find reminiscent of Becky Hammon and women's basketball.

" You are not able to go out against this Philistine(Goliath) and fight him: you are only a boy, and he has been fighting from his youth". King Saul to David

Becky Hammon was not heavily recruited out of high school. She was not recruited by any of the empires of women's college basketball and ended up at the small Colorado State University. After an All American college career, Hammon was not drafted into the WNBA and had to try out for the New York Liberty. Just like King Saul, college coaches and professional GM's found it hard to look past her appearance and see the heart and passion of something great.

"But David said to Saul, " Your servant has been keeping his fathers sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and killed it. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it."

At every level, Hammon has succeeded. She won state player of the year as a junior in high school and was a prolific scorer in college. Yet still, she went undrafted and was underestimated at the pro ranks. Lets look at weapons.

King David was finally given the green light to engage the giant Goliath. Saul gave David a sword, helmet, tunic and armor. David must have felt good to receive all this stuff from the king and tried it on. He eventually declined the gear. The gear did not FIT(again we arrive at fit) him. He said " I can not go with these, because I am not used to them." David knew that he was better prepared to fight with weapons he had mastered in his professional life. Lets look at his weapons.

Staff/Rod- A staff was used by Shepperd's in biblical times to ward off wolves, wild dogs, lions and other predators. A good Shepperd would defend his flock by getting up close to a predator and beat the predators in the head with these strong sticks. Needles to say, the Shepperd would have to be courageous and tough. Fighting off lions and packs of wolves with a stick sounds challenging to me. When Goliath saw David approaching him with the staff he shouted " Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks"?

( A Side Note about a Staff: TD Jakes is the man! No one describes and uses King David's life to teach life lessons like him. I have heard him teach about the importance of a staff for a Sheppard. Many Staffs were fashioned with a hook-like top of the stick. They resembled the modern day canes that many use to aid themselves in walking. Besides helping with walking, the primary reason for the hook on ancient staffs, were for Sheppard's to tend to their flock. Apparently, sheep are not the smartest animals. They have trouble understanding that there is safety in the flock and straying away from the Sheppard is dangerous. When some thick headed sheep would wander a little too far from the group, the Sheppard would use the staff to yank the sheep back into line by its neck. Sounds like a good Sheppard is something like a great point guard or masterful coach. I guess Bobby Knight took the Sheppard role to heart when Neil Reed strayed a little too far from the flock.)

Sling Shot- A sling shot in these times are different from the ones we grew up with. We all remember a wishbone looking contraction with a strong rubber band in the middle. We would put a pebble in the rubber band and pull it back. The pebble would fly out and we would think we were marksmen. Not nearly! The sling shots of ancient times were one handed weapons that allowed projectiles to be thrown at targets with great velocity. The effectiveness of the weapon was noted in the battle. " Reaching into his(David)bag and taking out his stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine in the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he(Goliath) fell face down on the ground."

Let's rewind. A 9 foot man, armed with swords and a shield, gets defeated by a runt with a stick and a rock. David also received just a little help from God, but the picture is this; being great at using the gifts that you have will give you an advantage over those that rest on their laurels.

Becky Hammon is a runt in basketball circles. She is not fast, athletic and can be unorthodox at times. Like all players, her game has weaknesses but she uses her very developed skill set to slay opponents. Her jump shot is not a jump shot. It is a set shot that needs distance and spacing to be successful. It is a modern day sling shot. Deanna " Tweety" Nolan and her simply beautiful jump shot is the finest sword available. Nolan elevates in the face of opponents using the natural ability that she exudes. Her jumper is a fine work of art and kin the the fighting weapon of the giant Philistine. Nolan jumper is new age, high tech, effective and deadly in basketball terms. Hammon jumper is primitive in comparison. Although it is simple, it lands in the forehead of the competition. Hammon is the second All Time leader in 3 pointers made. The other top 5 players are: Katie Smith 5'11, Tina Thompson 6'2, Diana Taurasi 6'0, Katie Douglas 6'0. Hammon is 5'6 on a good day.

Becky Hammon faces giants on the regular. In a recent game against the Sparks(my favorite team), Hammon faced a line up that went 6'5( Lisa Leslie), 6'4 ( Candace Parker), 6'2 (Tina Thompson,) 6'1(Delisha Milton-Jones), and 6'0 ( Noelle Quinn). Add to the mix that the Silver Stars have their own beautiful giant is the very talented Sophia Young who stands 6'1. Hammon understands that to defeat these Lionesses, you must have the courage to defeat them up close and use your rod to strike them. Her rod is her brain. Or is her rod the ball handling that allows her to penetrate small gaps and exploit the defense? Or is it her crafty shot making ability that enables her to make lay ups from awkward angles and positions over bigger players? Whatever her rod is, she has mastered the use of it and has made millions of dollars(in Russia) using it.

Sundays game against the defending WNBA champs, Detroit Shock, was another example of her slaying Goliath. Hammon scored close to 30 points in the second half to help will her team to victory. During one overtime stretch, Hammon used her sling shot and her rod to put the game out of reach. In the one minute stretch, Hammon accounted for 9 points. First she was left wide open for a 25 foot bomb. Any true basketball fan knew that this rock was going to hit the bulls eye. She caught the pass in rhythm with no defender in a ten foot range. The Shock underestimated the accuracy of her sling shot as their scouting report forgot to mention that Becky Hammon in the clutch is almost automatic. They allowed her to bury that three and another one a few possessions later. The Shock did not wear a helmet to protect their vulnerable foreheads. And yet, a few possessions later, Hammon penetrated the key by using a crafty(very risky) split dribble against a double team. She then found her sidekick, Vicki Johnson, all alone in her spot on the wing. The pass was perfect as Johnson splashed the three. Three possessions, nine points, game over!

I wrote all of that to say this, Becky Hammon overcomes perceived weaknesses to be a great player (warrior). I am not calling the Candace Parker's of the league Goliaths. I envision Goliath as an ugly giant. Believe me, there is NOTHING ugly about Candace Parker. NOTHING!Ugly and her do not belong in the same paragraph! But, what I am saying is that the game of basketball is going towards the men's game. Big, athletic and beautifully gifted players will dominate the future of women's basketball. Britney Griner will change the battle field forever. Personally, few things excite me in women's basketball more than a Candace Parker displaying the skill set of a point guard, or a Sophia Young hitting a 1-2 dribble pull up jumper from 17 feet, or Griner dunking off of two feet vertical. However, Hammon shows all of us that there will always be a place for the player (warrior) that hones her use of weapons (although limited) to almost perfection. Hammon, like the Great King David, can be used as a role model for common size players with common physical attributes. Common players can do uncommon things if they have an uncommon work ethic and environment that nurtures uncommon results.