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June 19, 2014 / Pastor George Fike

Cory & the Giant


My wife & kids gathered to watch Game 5 of the Finals

My wife, kids, & I gathered to watch Game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals

It wasn’t the cramps in the calf of the “king.”  It wasn’t even the “claw” of Kawhi the Conqueror. To understand the dominating championship performance of the 2014 San Antonio Spurs, you have to look back at a low moment in the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Spurs had demolished the Thunder in Games 1 & 2 against an OKC team playing without their defensive lynchpin, Serge Ibaka – a one-man traffic jam.  Due to his defensive prowess, the Thunder had been having their way with the Spurs for the past 3 years.  But following the conference semi-final, Ibaka was declared “out for the season” due to a severe leg injury.  The Spurs carved them up in the opening games.  But lo and behold!  Ibaka was back – a seemingly miraculous recovery – and in Oklahoma City we witnessed a reversal of fortunes.  In game 3 he shot 6 for 7 and blocked 4 shots.  In game 4, 4 of 6 with 3 blocks.  So disheartened were the starters and so disgusted was Coach Pop that he benched the starters and sent in the backups for most of the 2nd half. Amazingly, the bench not only held its own against the much-heralded stars of the Thunder, they actually began to erode the deficit.  And then,…

… the unthinkable happened. Take a look.

That is correct.  Sparsely-used backup point guard Cory Joseph totally POSTERIZED “I-block-a”!  And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the moment the Spurs believed they could win it all.

I posted on facebook after that play that, if we won the WCF, Cory Joseph should be considered the MVP of the series.  The Spurs won the next 2 games handily to close out the series, emboldened by the fine showing of the back-ups – especially Cory.

As I watched the Finals come to the expected conclusion, I ruminated on how familiar that story was.  There were great similarities to the story of David and Goliath in the 17th chapter of 1 Samuel.

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.”10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.

So the army of God was intimidated and passive, enduring the scorn of their oppressors.  Charles Barkley even called their women fat. O wait… That was during the NBA playoffs.

20 Early in the morning David … loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

26 David asked the men standing near him, “… Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

When the giant is rattling his saber, who will step up?  Will you?  This life is filled with misadventures, mishaps, mistakes, and missteps.  The Bible pictures life as a great field of competition.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.   No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.   1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NIV

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV

In a world that idolizes the superstars, it is natural to underestimate the underdog.  But it is simply not enough to quote Coach Taylor’s mantra: “Bright eyes. Full hearts, Can’t lose.”  It takes more than a ‘want-to’.

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

David’s confidence was not wishful thinking; it was built on his preparedness.  As the youngest of his brothers, he was left at home watching over the sheep.  In the culture of the time, that was a job for the girls.  But David willingly took the rookie assignment.  It was the job hazards he faced regularly in the backwoods that prepared him for the big event.

Cory Joseph was selected by the San Antonio Spurs with the 28th pick in the 2011 NBA draft.  He was immediately sent to the developmental team, the Austin Toros.  He would be sent there several times over the next 2 seasons.  When Tony Parker would incur an injury, Cory would be brought back up to replace him in the starting lineup.  He was always ready.  But not many realize that Cory would often petition Coach Popovich to allow him to go back to Austin to gain valuable experience in the D-League.  Most people want to leave that behind once they have made it to the big stage.  But Cory always wanted to get better, even if it meant spending time on the JV.  When the time came, he was ready.

There’s no way to really know what impact his WCF Game 4 play had on the Spurs.  I know what I felt.  It lifted me from an exasperated “how are we gonna beat these guys?” deflation to a “who in the world can possibly beat us?” exhilaration.  And I don’t think I’m alone.  Look at Manu’s expression in the video about 10 seconds in.  For the remainder of the playoffs, Cory was on the bench for all but 15 minutes through the final 7 games, scoring only 7 points.  But had he not raised up with a heart full of moxy late in game 4 of the conference finals, might we have had to sit at home, watching in disgust, as Miami repeated as champions?  We’ll never really know, but I know on Tuesday night, May 27th, in Oklahoma City, one guy was ready to make a difference. And BOY, did he!

What obstacles am I facing?  When I look at the road ahead, am I ready for the inevitable surprises that will crop up?  What preparation do I need to make to be ready to stand up in the day of trial?  

When the giant raises his ugly head,…

           … will I be ready?

… will YOU be ready?

 

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