Multiply

Bobcats Spreads

If there is one word that describes the 2013-14 Charlotte Bobcats season, it’s this: multiply.

Two seasons ago, they won seven games (during a lockout-shortened 66-game schedule). Last season, they won 21 games (of 82). This season, they finished with 43 victories (in 82 games), six times their amount of wins in 2012 and double the wins from a season ago.

They’ve gone from the punch line of jokes on sports talk shows across the country to becoming a serious threat around the league, as they went on a 20-9 tear after All-Star Break and defeated some of the NBA’s best teams, in part because of a stifling defense that allowed the fourth fewest points in the league.

One year before Charlotte reclaims its “Hornets” name, the Bobcats have already created a buzz in the Queen City, advancing to the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2010. No matter what transpires in the 2014 postseason, it’d be foolish not to recognize the breakthrough season the Bobcats have had merely two years after finishing with the worst winning percentage in NBA history.

But their number of victories isn’t the only thing that has multiplied this season. The stories of three newly acquired Bobcats players—Anthony Tolliver, Cody Zeller, and Luke Ridnour—can teach us about multiplication in a different realm.

Anthony Tolliver

Anthony Tolliver was on the Bobcats plane one evening when a teammate asked him about the book he was reading. Tolliver told him that it was a book called Multiply by pastor and renowned speaker Francis Chan. His teammate expressed interest, and the two of them started meeting together on road trips to talk about the concepts in the book.

Other players noticed the two of them meeting and asked if they, too, could join. Before Tolliver knew it, his little conversation on the plane had turned into a seven-person Bible study that met in hotel rooms on road trips. The title of the book Tolliver was reading couldn’t have been more ironic.

“God literally used the title and meaning of the book,” Tolliver laughs. “The book is about discipleship and teaching other people about the Lord—so it couldn’t get any more direct. I was like, ‘Wow, this isn’t me.’ It’s funny because I always looked at myself as someone who doesn’t know a lot, but there are always people who don’t know as much as you do who you can help.”’

Tolliver, who has bounced around between six NBA teams in six seasons and has experienced inconsistent playing time this year with the Bobcats, has been reminded this season that, no matter what his circumstances might be on the basketball court, God still may have him in a specific place at a specific time for a purpose. All he has to do is look around any given Bible study he is leading to realize that.

“It’s one of those things that is kind of surreal—to think that these guys are listening to what God might say through me,” Tolliver says. “It’s crazy. It’s not something I’ve done before. It’s out of my comfort zone.

“Every time I think about that, I’m like, ‘Yeah, God is always going to put you where you are supposed to be. I’m always going to be in the right spot. If I play a lot or don’t play at all, it will still lead me to my next journey and next place.”

Amidst the challenges facing Tolliver on the hardwood, he positioned himself before the Lord, and God used him in a way he never imagined and multiplied it.

Cody Zeller

For rookie Cody Zeller, this season has been an exciting season, but also a transitional one, as he turned professional after his sophomore year at Indiana University and was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats fourth overall in the 2013 NBA Draft.

In an instant, his life and surroundings changed.

“College is a lot of fun, but now you’re playing basketball for a living,” Zeller says. “I had to pick up my concentration and focus playing against the best players in the world every day, whether that’s back-to-back games or four games in five nights. I think that’s been an adjustment for me. In this league, it’s more of a job, and they can always find someone else to do it. I feel like I’ve grown up a lot this year.”

Zeller is naturally a go-with-the-flow type of person, anyway, but his transition into the NBA was also made easier by the ingredients in Charlotte.

“I think it’s uncommon to have as many believers as we have on the team,” Zeller says. “That’s definitely made it a lot easier. On other teams, I might have to look elsewhere for close friends or guidance on different things. We have a great group of guys, and that has made the transition a lot easier on me.

“The other thing about the Bible studies we have is that it’s fun because a lot of us come from different backgrounds. Different ages. Different homes—one might have grown up in the city, another might have grown up in the country. Some might have come from single-parent households. Others might have had two parents. Luke (Ridnour) is in his mid-30’s. I’m 21. Al has a little kid. Our discussions are really good because guys are in different points in their lives, have been brought up different ways, and are in different phases of their walks with the Lord.”

NBA Hall of Famer and Charlotte native Bobby Jones has also had an impact on Zeller in his transition. Whether it’s offering guidance with the NBA lifestyle or simply playing Ping-Pong at his house, Jones has become a spiritual and professional mentor for Zeller, inviting him to his house at least once a week.

“He is so low-key that you would never think that he was an NBA Hall of Famer,” Zeller says. “He lives out in the middle of nowhere on a dead-end street, and it’s very humbling talking to him because he is so down to earth and never makes a big deal out of anything. He is a great Christian man, and he’s had a big impact on me.”

Jones’ influence and humility, perhaps, has been a reminder of the importance of slowing down, especially in the helter-skelter lifestyle of an NBA basketball player, where wealth, power, and fame are at one’s fingertips.

“I have more time to study and more time to pray,” Zeller says. “It’s kind of cool because a lot of times on plane trips, I can’t sleep after just getting done playing, and I find it really peaceful for me. It’s dark on the plane and a lot of guys are doing their own thing. I read the Bible app on my phone, and I throw on some music. Since you can’t get service in the air, you don’t receive any texts, or get on Facebook or anything else like that. It puts me in the right frame of mind, whether I played well that night or played bad that night. It reminds me what is most important in life—my relationship with the Lord. That is my routine now.”

Amidst the transition—a new city with a new lifestyle and new responsibilities—Zeller positioned himself before the Lord, and God brought people and scenarios around him in ways that he never imagined—multiplication. Through teammates. Through an ex-NBA player. And through hanging out with God in the dark cabin of an airplane.

Luke Ridnour

One player’s story that is oddly similar to the Bobcats recent history is that of Luke Ridnour.

Before his arrival in Charlotte, Ridnour had been to the playoffs only twice in 10 seasons: once in 2005 with the Seattle Supersonics where he spent his first five seasons, and again in 2010 with the Milwaukee Bucks where he spent the next two seasons.

Ridnour was then traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves where he, like the Bobcats, experienced the frustrations of season after season when the losses significantly outnumbered the wins. The Timberwolves finished 17-65 in 2011, 26-40 in 2012, and 31-51 in 2013. In the offseason, Ridnour believed it was a positive sign that his old team, the Milwaukee Bucks, decided to trade for him with the intentions that he could help them make a playoff run in 2014.

When their season began with an abysmal 3-15 start, however, and a 9-43 record before the All-Star break, Ridnour saw his minutes slip as the Bucks began to invest more in their younger players. The experience was a continual mental battle.

“It was a tough situation of me being a veteran, wanting to get to the playoffs and win and play, and none of that was happening,” Ridnour says. “It made me really focus on God and not the circumstances. It really affects who you are, your character and what you are doing. My wife really encouraged me that I’m just not here to play basketball, but I’m here to be a light and represent Him.”

Of course, by the time the All-Star break rolled around, it was the Charlotte Bobcats who were trading for him.

“When I was in Milwaukee, I felt like it was a test for me to stay positive and stay encouraged and still be a light in a tough situation basketball wise,” Ridnour continues. “I was able to do that, and I look back on it and I think God kind of rewarded me or honored me and brought me to a place with a playoff team. I think God is always watching to see if you give Him the little situations and if you honor Him still when it’s not going well. That’s what I kind of feel like this year has been for me. It’s been exciting to be able to go from that…It’s my 11th year, so to be able to play in the playoffs is fun.”

Amidst the discontent and feelings that he was running out of time, Ridnour positioned himself before the Lord, and God brought him to a place he never imagined, multiplying his wins, minutes, and influence.

Positioning and Multiplying

So much of this life comes down to positioning, doesn’t it? Positioning our hearts. Positioning our minds. Positioning ourselves before the Lord so He can use us, so He can take a seed on good soil and multiply the crop (Matthew 13:8).

And after that, it’s just simple math.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine.

A look back at Hoosiers star and UCLA head coach Steve Alford

Yawn…yawn. Seemingly just another day at the office for point guard Steve Alford. The smooth 6-foot-2 senior led Indiana University to the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championship this season, averaging 22 points a game. But his fluid movements on the floor belie the effort and diligence away from the camera that went into his contributions toward the team’s national title.

Alford ended his career as the Hoosiers’ four-time Most Valuable Player. He finished as the number 2 all-time scorer in the Big 10 Conference–a mere deuce behind Michigan’s Mike McGee…

To read our story on Hoosiers star and UCLA head coach Steve Alford from our Volume 1, Number 3 issue, click here.

Rising to the Occasion

Michigan v Syracuse“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Romans 8:5

I had the privilege of going to last year’s national championship game between Louisville and Michigan. I confess I knew nothing about either team, but as the game progressed, I was quickly captivated by a little, freshman guard on Michigan named Spike Albrecht. Albrecht, who was only averaging 1.6 points per game, caught fire from the 3-point line and single-handedly kept the Wolverines in the game. In 18 Big Ten games, he had 22 points total. In the national title game, he had 17 points in the first 11 minutes. The Wolverines fell to the Cardinals in the end, but Albrecht’s performance is one I know I’ll never forget.

I believe Albrecht probably performed the way he did, not because he got lucky, but because he entered each game, each half, and each minute throughout the season with the mindset his team might need him. That’s the way good players think. On a star-studded team with national player of the year candidate Trey Burke, Albrecht stepped up when Burke was in foul trouble and rose to the occasion.

I’m learning to approach my walk with God the same way. If what God desires for me is perfect unity with Him, then it seems plausible that He may use me in unexpected places, random conversations, and unscheduled occasions. It’s this full-time purpose, constant adventure, and life led by the Spirit that seems to continually captivate me on this walk with Christ.

By Stephen Copeland

Stephen Copeland is a staff writer at Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Devotional of the Week — The Fourth Soil

 

799px-Kansas-Basketball-Staff-Nov-15-07-Washburn“But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirty fold, some sixty and some a hundred.” Mark 4:8

In 2004 Bill Self left Illinois as head basketball coach and went to Kansas. He later won a national title in 2008. Illinois then hired Bruce Weber, former coach at Southern Illinois University, to replace Self. Since Self stressed offense and Weber stressed defense, the first year was difficult for the returning players, adjusting to a new coach and new coaching style.

The next year, Weber was quoted as saying he was glad the players had “bought in” to his system. They finished the year 37-2 and made it to the NCAA Championship game, losing to North Carolina.

The phrase “bought in” occurs often in sports when there is a managerial or coaching change. It means the players are willing to listen and implement what brand of play the coach desires.

In Mark 4, the parable of the sower and its explanation are given by Jesus. He said there are four soils where God’s Word may fall. I think I’ve been in all four. The first, I just wasn’t listening to the Word. In the second, I listened for a while. In the third, I listened but was distracted. In the fourth soil, I listened and “bought in.”

In which soil are you? Are you listening to God’s voice? Are you distracted? Be in the fourth soil. “Buy in” to what God is saying. Be fruitful for Him.

By Stanley Tucker

Stanley Tucker writes devotionals for Sports Spectrum magazine. This devotional is taken from our most recent Training Table. Log in here to access our most recent Training Table. Subscribe here to receive 12 issues a year and a daily sports-related devotional.

Closeup — Jacob Mulenga

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Soccer hasn’t always been at the top of Zambian national soccer team member Jacob Mulenga’s favorite sports list.

When he was young, he was addicted to motocross.

His weekdays were spent going to school, but his weekends were filled with motocross training and racing.

Soccer didn’t become a part of his life until high school. Even then, though, he said he “mainly just watched.”

Motocross was fulfilling his competitive desires. Soccer was for fun.

“I did not play for any youth teams or academies—just playing for fun at school,” he recalls. “I learned a lot basically from watching. I learned a lot from watching on TV.”

But after high school, he decided to get serious about soccer.

“After High School I thought, ‘OK, now before you decide what you want to do with your life, play football for a bit and see what happens.’…(former Zambian player and coach) Kalusha (Bwalya) saw me play…and said ‘You know you could be good at it.’ For me it was still a dream.  I would joke about it with my friends in high school, ‘One day I will play professional football.’”

Despite not playing soccer until late in his career, his rise to elite level was fast.

He made Zambia’s national team when he was 20, and he scored in his first game—a 1-0 victory against Togo in a World Cup qualifier in 2004. From there he went to the next two World Cup qualifying matches in Senegal and Mali and became a fixture on the national team.

But his rapid success didn’t turn into confidence.

“It was scary. I was nervous. It was a whole new world to me,” he says. “I had never been in front of the public eye that much before. I had no idea what playing for the national team was. You hear about it; you read about it. Now you put yourself in a position where you are ready to be criticized. Everything you do—good or bad—is going to be criticized and you are going to have someone say something about it.”

He gradually became comfortable, though, and in 2010 he scored two goals in two games at the Africa Cup. The following two Africa Cups, in 2012 and 2013, though, were met with disappointment. He didn’t play in either one, including in 2012 when Zambia won the title.

“For me it was really hard, you knew in 2010 you played a big role in the Africa Cup and now you could not be part of it,” he says. “That was a big blow for me…you are happy but every time someone talks about it, it reminds you of not being part of it.”

“I used to ask God so many times, ‘Why is this happening to me when I come to you, pray to you…and everyone else is okay? What did I do to deserve this? … For me it is always why? Why this? Why that? Stop with the why. First of all I learned…that you are not in control. No matter how much you try, you are not in control of things that happen…if I did not have Jesus…I would be so lost.

“I know that I am extremely blessed. I am someone who can do anything in football. I know my strength does not come from me. It comes from above….God won’t take you to the next level if you don’t know how to handle the pressure…the higher you go the worse (the pressure) becomes.

“Everything that is built without God is not worth building. I am not going to sit here and lie and say, ‘I live a perfect, God-fearing life.’ I have problems sometimes. My faith is tested…You have so many challenges. You have so many things that come to you. You want someone to talk to. I think when you bring someone to Christianity, you really have to help them understand, ‘Listen, God is going to be the center of your life.’…It is not saying you aren’t going to have challenges. You are going to have challenges as a Christian and you are going to have trouble as a Christian…But you know in all that, you are going to be victorious.”

By Brett Honeycutt

Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor at Sports Spectrum magazine. 

 

 

Closeup — Cyrille Domoraud

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For Cyrille Domoraud, the 2006 World Cup represented both the greatest triumph and most difficult challenge of his career.

In late 2005, Domoraud, then a 34-year-old fullback from Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), captained the Elephants’ national soccer team to its first-ever World Cup berth, a historic event that prompted a temporary ceasefire in the nation’s six-year civil war.

But Domoraud rode the bench the first two games—close losses to Argentina and the Netherlands—before getting a red card in the Elephants’ final game, a win over Serbia and Montenegro.

“It was a blow to feel like my efforts hadn’t been rewarded,” he says. “But that’s part of the job.”

Earlier in his career, Domoraud might have called the whole episode bad juju. As a native Ivorian, Domoraud grew up in a culture steeped in witchcraft. As a young player he used to wear a good luck ring—one of many talismans he owned, some of which he received from his parents—in the hopes of currying spiritual protection and fending off evil spirits. But thanks in part to the faithful witness of his sister, Domoraud became a Christian in 1999 and eschewed his superstitious upbringing.

By then, his impressive playing career was in full swing. After starting with several French clubs from 1992 to 1999, he spent a season with Italian Serie A giant Inter Milan in 1999-2000 before playing with teams in France, Spain, Turkey and, finally, his homeland. His last professional season came in 2008 with Africa Sports Abidjan.

Since retiring, he has devoted more time to his Cyrille Domoraud Training Centre in Abidjan, which has produced, among others, Ivorian striker Wilfried Bony of Swansea City (English Premier League). But Domoraud will always be remembered in the Ivory Coast as part of the famed 2006 World Cup team, despite the temporary frustrations that followed.

“I was just delighted to be at the World Cup and thank God for allowing me to be a part of it, for it was He who enabled me to go,” Domoraud says. “It was a miracle—a great moment He gave me in my life and in my career. I would never have thought about becoming a professional football player but for His leading. So rather than ask why the negative things happened, I thank God for the chance to be part of His kingdom and to play in the World Cup.”

By Joshua Cooley

 

 

 

Closeup — Fabio

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Fans call Fabio “the blue wall” and consider him a hero.

But for Brazilian goalkeeper Fábio Deivson Lopes Maciel, who has won numerous titles and been on Brazil’s national team at every level, the road to the titles is what’s most important.

In 2007, his career was interrupted when he ruptured the ligaments in his left knee during a key game for his club, Cruzeiro, which was playing against its rival. Some thought he would never return.

“It was a difficult time but important for me to revise my way of living and it was essential so God could work in my life in a way that I had never allowed him,” he says. “God is the basis of my life.”

Adding to his troubles was the fact that people doubted that he was even injured because his right knee hit the goal post, but it was his left knee that was injured.

“People doubted my character, suspicious, said I was lying, that I was actually taken off the team,” he says. “The pain brought me closer to God. It was the pain of an injury, the recovery of the crowd, the loss of a title, to see the world commenting the atypical goal that I took from my back by doubting my character which has become the largest and best decision of my life: to accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I gave my whole life to him.”

Despite doctors telling Fabio he would return in six months, he was back on the field in half that time.

The following season, Cruzeiro made the finals once again, and this time his team won.

“Many would say I was not going to play football and not return to Cruzeiro,” Fabio says. “But God put me down to restore me giving me the opportunity to walk with Him and to put me where I am today. God is amazing. Exactly one year after the hard times I went through, He restored me. The pain I went through turned into a great victory. I played in 200 games for Cruzeiro, I was a champion and considered the best goalkeeper of that tournament.”

One more title followed in 2013 and Fabio was named best goalkeeper of the Brazilian Championship. The experiences led him to the understanding that God is real and directs all things.

“Everything that happened in my life was planned by God,” he says. “He determined everything…My basis is God in my life. He waited to put me in places and give me things I never imagined. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the life and blessed family I have today…He is a true God who makes it happen.”

By Brett Honeycutt

 Brett Honeycutt is the managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine.

 

 

Closeup — Lee Young-Pyo

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When it was all over—the Fred Astaire footwork, the subtle wizardry, the impressive globetrotting—there was only adoration.

As Young-Pyo Lee walked off the pitch for the final time as a professional soccer player in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2013 season finale, the crowd at BC Place stood en masse and showered the Major League Soccer defender with cheers for two stellar seasons as a hometown Whitecap and 14 years of sublime professional soccer. The sellout crowd—21,000 strong—raucously chanted “Y.P. Lee!” Some fans held up a massive South Korean flag with an image of Lee in the center, covering the traditional yin-yang symbol. His teammates encircled him and tossed him up into the air over and over, like Little Leaguers at the denouement of a feel-good movie.

“God is the most important thing to me, not football,” Lee says. “Football is only one of many ways I can glorify and serve my Lord.”

Lee, who was 36 when he retired, became one of the most popular and decorated Asian footballers in history. The native of Hongcheon-gun earned 127 caps—third-most all-time among South Koreans— and competed in three World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010), helping the Taeguk Warriors reach the 2002 Cup semifinals.

After starting his pro career in 2000 in the South Korean Professional Football League, the 5-foot-10, 150-pound Lee made the jump to Europe’s upper echelon in 2002 when he signed with PSV Eindhoven of the Dutch Eredivisie. He followed a three-year stretch in the Netherlands with stints in the English Premier League (Tottenham Hotspur, 2005-08), the German Bundesliga (Borussia Dortmund, 2008-09) and the Saudi Arabian Professional League (Al-Hilal, 2009-11).

For his final two seasons, he opted for the MLS’s Whitecaps despite reportedly receiving far more lucrative offers overseas, partially because he thought Vancouver would provide a better chance for him to learn the business operations side of soccer.

What Lee marvels at most, though, is not his illustrious soccer career, but his salvation. Growing up as a nominal Buddhist, he put his faith in Christ after some Christian friends shared their faith and challenged him to read the Bible.

“When I honestly searched for the truth through reading and close friends, I was amazed,” Lee says. “God showed me that He did exist, and my heart was changed forever.”

By Joshua Cooley

 

 

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