Appreciating Greatness: Choosing to Celebrate (and Not Hate) Kevin Durant and the Warriors

I am a Lakers fan, so I didn’t have a horse in the race in this year’s NBA Finals. However, as an NBA fan, I don’t understand the vitriol being directed at Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. Don’t begrudge other people’s successes.

From a business perspective: Imagine you have the opportunity to take a new job in California with one of the best companies in the world and some of the best coworkers imaginable where you will have the chance to help create one of the best products your industry has ever seen. OR you could stay in your current job in Oklahoma continuing to churn out the same good-but-not-great product year after year. By the way, you have this one hardworking but obsessive coworker who sometimes gets on your nerves and steps on your toes in meetings. Oh, and the company transferred your favorite bearded coworker to Houston just as you were getting started on a potentially revolutionary project together.

From a basketball perspective: The Warriors play a beautiful brand of basketball. They space the floor. They’re unselfish. They have a great coach in Steve Kerr. They have Jerry West in the front office, so you know they’re going to make smart moves in terms of roster assembly (*cough cough OKC traded James Harden!*) Why would anyone NOT want to play for the Warriors? I want to play for the Warriors! I can hit a corner 3!

From a legacy perspective: LeBron backers, you cannot have it both ways. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for LeBron’s greatness, but you cannot deny LeBron went to Miami and joined forces with Wade and Bosh and Allen because it gave him the best chance to win. He returned to Cleveland with Kyrie and Love because it gave him the best chance to win. Why did Durant go to Golden State? Ding, ding, ding…because it gave him the best chance to win! LeBron and KD are both historically great players who put on a masterful display in the Finals. LeBron’s legacy shouldn’t be tarnished for losing to a great Warriors team, and Durant’s legacy shouldn’t be lessened for leading an already great Warriors team to even greater heights, going 16-1 en route to a championship. I don’t know how anyone could come away from watching that series thinking anything other than LeBron and Durant are both historically great and unique players. Fans were robbed of never seeing a Kobe-LeBron Finals; personally, I am delighted we’ve now been treated to two LeBron-KD showdowns. If the Lakers still suck next year, I wouldn’t mind seeing LeBron vs. Durant Part III.

From a fan perspective: I get it. The playoffs sucked this year. There were too many blowouts. The Finals matchup seemed inevitable from day one because the Warriors and Cavs were so talented. Yet I contest that even in a 4-1 series featuring only two games decided by fewer than 10 points the Finals was still compelling, must-see television precisely because the Warriors and Cavaliers had so much star power. More than any other sport, the NBA is a star-driven league. Dynasties rule in the NBA. That has been true since Russell’s Celtics in the 60s. But the true origins of the “super team” superstar model goes back to the “glory days” of the 80s. Winning an NBA championship has—with very few exceptions—always meant fielding a roster with at least two future Hall-of-Famers. The 80s Lakers had Magic and Kareem, and then they added James Worthy. The Celtics had Bird, McHale, Parish, and Dennis Johnson, and then they added Bill Walton!). The Pistons had Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman. The 90s Bulls had Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman. The 00s Lakers had Shaq and Kobe. The Spurs had Duncan and some combination of Robinson/Parker/Ginobli/Kawhi. The 2008 Celtics had Pierce, Garnett, and Allen. The Heat had LeBron, Wade, Bosh, and Allen. You get the idea. Heck, even the 2004 Pistons, who defeated the Lakers “super team” of Shaq/Kobe/Gary Payton/Karl Malone, had four all-stars in Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, and Ben Wallace.

Yes, the Warriors were a “super team” in 2017, but they’re just the latest in a long list of NBA super teams. Maybe they will win the next 5 championships and the rest of the league will waive the white flag of surrender, but remember…Shaq and Kobe only won 3 when critics thought they’d own the whole decade. LeBron’s Heat only won 2 despite his press conference promises to win more. So let’s not crown the Warriors 2018-2022 champions yet. They still have to play the games. They still have to earn it.

That’s what they did this year. And they did it all fair and square. This team was constructed expertly. They didn’t cheat. They brought back players like Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, former lottery picks willing to fit into a championship team as role players. They drafted well. Steph Curry was picked 7th (behind players like Hasheem Thabeet and fellow point guards Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn). Klay Thompson was selected 11th (behind three players on the current Cavs roster, including Derrick Williams). Draymond Green went in the second round (35th overall), so the odds are your team team passed him up. They added veterans like Zaza Pachulia and David West and found a rookie worthy of NBA Finals closeout game playing time in Patrick McCaw. And they worked the salary cap to perfection to sign Kevin Durant. The rest, as they say, is history.

I am not a Warriors fan, but I choose not to hate. I prefer to celebrate and marvel at greatness. Durant and the Warriors earned that this season and this NBA Finals.

Kawhi not?: Why the understated, underrated Spurs star should be the 2016-17 NBA MVP

The race for this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player award has been one of the most hotly contested and highly debated in league history. Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the season. James Harden scorched the competition running one of the league’s most efficient offenses. Meanwhile defending champion and former four-time MVP LeBron James and reigning two-time MVP Stephen Curry once again put up big numbers while putting their respective teams back in title contention.

The glitz and glamour associated with the names listed above likely means Kawhi Leonard won’t be named the 2016-17 NBA MVP. While compelling cases can be made for any of the four names mentioned above, Kawhi Leonard should be named the 2016-17 NBA MVP. Allow me to explain:

Nearly a decade ago I wrote about my desire to fix the NBA’s MVP award. More specifically, I wanted to clarify what is meant by the term “valuable” because 10 different voters might define that term differently in regards to how it plays out over the course of an NBA season. My system, which first debuted in 2008, may not be perfect, but it accounts for 10 of the most significant arguments people tend to make regarding their MVP choice.

To summarize the process, I whittle the list of MVP candidates down to 10 with two major provisions. First of all, I do not include anyone from a non-playoff team. If a player is not valuable enough to get his team into the postseason, he may be an all-star, but he is not the MVP. Secondly, I only permit one MVP candidate per team. So, in the case of a team like the Golden State Warriors, I had to cut Kevin Durant in favor of Steph Curry. (Durant’s injury made this decision a little easier than it otherwise would have been.) The rationale is simple: if a player is not the MVP of his own team, he cannot be the MVP of the entire league.

List of MVP questions

I then ask myself the 10 questions shown above. For each question, I rank the 10 nominees with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. The nominee who totals the highest (out of a possible 100) earns my vote for MVP.

In the 9 years I have been using this process, my vote has matched the eventual winner of the MVP award 8 times. The only time my vote differed from the real life result was in 2011 when the NBA awarded the MVP to Derrick Rose. My system named LeBron James the rightful winner and actually had Rose third behind both James and Kobe Bryant.

Year-by-year comparison on my MVP vote and the actual MVP recipient

Continue reading Kawhi not?: Why the understated, underrated Spurs star should be the 2016-17 NBA MVP

Grieving After The Game, 2016 Edition

The 2016 edition of The Game between the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes will go down in history as a classic chapter in arguably the greatest rivalry in sports. Unfortunately for me and Michigan fans everywhere it was another painful chapter in which we ended up on the losing side. Michigan blew a 17-7 lead, a trip to the Big Ten Championship, and (likely) its hopes at a spot in the College Football Playoff, prompting me to update my 30 at 30 list of “The Most Devastating Losses of My Life as a Sports Fan.” Yesterday’s double overtime thriller jumped all the way to number six on my depressing countdown (a list that I really wish I didn’t have any more cause to update). Yesterday’s loss for Michigan marks the third time The Game has made the list. In my time as a Michigan fan, which dates back to the early 1990s, only the 2006 edition of The Game was as a more devastating loss against Ohio State.

Recovering from a devastating loss is never easy. Unfortunately, I am experienced when it comes to grieving sports losses. As miserable as Saturday’s outcome made me feel, I knew I needed to process the loss and eventually get on with life. Over the past 48 hours since the game ended, I have been mourning the loss through the sports fan’s equivalent of the traditional five stages of grief. I have borrowed some of that language here and edited other parts of it to more accurately reflect a sports fan’s perspective. (I don’t mean to trivialize grief and mourning. The loss of a loved one is obviously much more traumatic than the loss of a football game. I shouldn’t even have to write that sentence, but I wanted to be clear.) However, I also cannot pretend not to grieve after yesterday’s loss to Ohio State. No, it wasn’t life or death. However, the pain of a devastating sports loss like the one Michigan suffered on Saturday—a rivalry game on the road in double overtime—is real. And if you’re a diehard fan like me, you probably know the feelings associated with grieving a devastating sports loss all too well.
Continue reading Grieving After The Game, 2016 Edition

Benjamin’s Birth Story

The birth story of Benjamin Gregory Hubert began long before he joined this side of the world on November 13, 2015. It began with the longing for a child that God placed on our hearts, continued with reminders of God’s faithfulness to that desire, and concluded with an incredible consolation in the midst of labor.

Pregnancy
I was so thankful for a healthy and relatively easy pregnancy. In fact, pregnancy was perhaps the healthiest and most vibrant I’ve ever felt in my body. I was so connected to and conscious about what I was eating, how active I was, and marveling in how amazing and capable my body is. (These were all useful experiences for a woman who has struggled with both body image and healthfulness her whole life.) I had the typical challenges with food aversions in the first trimester, sleep struggles in the second, and achiness in the third, but other than that, there were no physical barriers standing between me and a positive pregnancy. Prenatal yoga was an essential physical, mental and spiritual practice for me during this time. Tree poses with “one hand on your heart and the other on baby” made me feel rooted in what was familiar and strong enough to reach for what was to come. I marveled in how strong and flexible I was in my pregnant body, and I had fun playfully exploring poses that challenged me and celebrated this stage of my life. I also would meditate there on my mantra that I would carry with me into labor: “I trust the wisdom of my body.”

img_8775Pregnancy was a busy season, though, as I wrapped up my M.P.A. degree with multiple online classes through the summertime. Matt and I decided to go away for an overnight to reconnect with each other before my final research proposal and other class assignments ramped up to the end in August. We had a lovely time, and (consistent with my pregnancy), I felt able to be present to each moment and savor it with gratitude. As we sat at Perkins eating an indulgent brunch on the drive back into town, I felt suddenly overwhelmed with God’s presence and proclaimed to Matt, “I don’t know exactly what the next few months will hold, but I know they will be very hard. But I do know that I’m so glad to be in it with you, and I know that God will get us through any challenges that we may face. It won’t be easy, but we are going to be okay!” At the time, I had no idea the significance of that moment and what a gift it was to feel that truth.

One hour later, Matt and I gathered with my parents and sister for a family meeting, where I learned the shocking news that my dad had been diagnosed with cancer. I remember dashing across the room after listening to him explain some of the medical details, including the many unknowns at the time, and hugging him around his waist saying, “What do you need? Do you need me to be angry? Do you need me to do something? What do you need?” We cried together, and dad told me that he just needed my prayers. My mom added that what she needed was for me to take care of our baby—a task that might be harder to do in the midst of so many new stressors.
[I am glad to report now that my dad, who approved me sharing this story, is doing very well. He had an extensive surgery and grueling treatments out of state, but he is now home, has returned to work and is healing beautifully. His healing process has also been marked with many tangible reminders of God’s presence and faithfulness.]
It was incredibly challenging for me to work full-time, take graduate classes and travel the hard journey with my family while being pregnant. But, in some ways, my mom’s loving (but challenging!) request to put myself and the baby first was a gift to us. I put my focus on staying healthy, minimizing stress and resting as often as I could, even though these were hard daily choices to make, knowing that my mom and dad were out of state going through incredible trials. I wanted so much to distract myself from my life and instead immerse myself in solidarity with my dad’s struggle, but instead, I honored my mom’s request and cared first for myself and the baby. I was able to travel to Ohio a few times to be with my family, which was wonderful, and Matt and I used technology to stay as connected as possible to my parents. Continue reading Benjamin’s Birth Story

Update on the 30 at 30 Project as a Fresh 32-Year-Old

I launched the 30 at 30 project three years ago in an attempt to celebrate (rather than complain about) turning 30 years old. Three years later, I am closing in on completing this project, but I still have some work to do. While I have finished the initial portion of the project, counting down my 30 favorite musical artists, I still have five lists of 30 to write before I can officially put a bow on the 30 at 30 project.

So far I have written 25 list articles covering everything from my favorite student comments to my favorite video games. It has been a lot of fun generating the list topics, brainstorming the items for the respective top 30s and then writing about them. More than anything, this project has compelled me to write. I wrote a lot in high school and college but then kind of fell in and out of it in my 20s. Having the 30 at 30 project has kept me motivated to write on a semi-regular basis, especially during the summer months when, as a teacher, my schedule is much more accommodating. The current word count for the entire 30 at 30 project is approaching 119,000 words. It has been a labor of love for sure.

As the calendar shows September 8, I am officially 32 years old as of yesterday. The first two years of my 30s have treated me very well. Two years ago I wrote my list of “Things I Want to Do in My 30s.” The good news is I still have eight years to go, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on my progress after two years as a thirtysomething. Continue reading Update on the 30 at 30 Project as a Fresh 32-Year-Old

30 at 30 Lists #25: Video Games

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

Christmas 1990 was a magical day in my childhood. Up until that point in life, video games were a luxury that I experienced only when I visited my older cousins. My dad owned an old Magnavox Odyssey², but it didn’t compare to the state-of-the-art graphics and gameplay of the Sega Master System or the Nintendo Entertainment System. That Christmas morning, 6-year-old me opened up an NES, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over the years, my family would go on to own various other video game systems, including Super Nintendo, Game Gear, Sony Playstation, PS2, and the Nintendo Wii—all of which are represented by at least one game on this list. However, original Nintendo was really my baptism into the world of video games.

Today, we live in a world where in a world where video games are an omnipresent force. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry in the United States made $23.5 billion last year, a figure that shows a 5% increase from 2014. If you haven’t heard of eSports, you’re probably old, but trust me, eSports are a thing and the younger generation doesn’t care if you disagree. Earlier this summer Pokemon Go, a game that cleverly blurs the lines between virtual reality and real life, dominated headlines and everyone’s social media feeds. The games produced for the likes of PS4 and Xbox One would make 6-year-old me’s head spin. The graphics are basically true-to-life renderings, and the gameplay is intricate and extensive. (The controllers have so many buttons!) Unfortunately, 31-year-old me doesn’t have time for all of the intricacies of 2016 gaming. Instead, I prefer to kick it old school.

Clearly I am not the only person in my age bracket who remains enamored with the systems I played when I was a kid. Recently Nintendo announced they will be releasing the NES Classic Edition, a special mini version of the original NES that comes pre-loaded with 30 classic NES games (there is a similar product in the works for Sega Genesis folks). While there are some great games included on the list for the NES Classic Edition, there are some notable games that will not be available as well, which leaves people like me turning to emulators like Nestopia or OpenEmu to get our retro-gaming fix.

As you scroll through the list of my all-time favorite games, you’ll notice a few clear trends: sports and platform adventure games dominate the list with very few deviations from those categories. I never liked first-person shooters. I never really got into role-playing video games. I played some fighter games like Mortal Kombat and Tekken, but they were never my top choice (unless you count wrestling games as fighting games, but I don’t). Nine times out of ten, my game of choice would be a sports game, and that tenth time I would pick one of the other classics included on the list below. Because sports games so dominated my list of favorites, I made some executive decisions to lump certain game franchises together as one entry rather than ranking multiple iterations of the same game. Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #25: Video Games

30 at 30 Lists #22: Movies

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

I don’t watch a lot of movies, at least not compared to some of my family and friends who are true movie buffs. When Oscar season rolls around, I’m usually left scratching my head wondering how it’s possible that I never heard of so many of the nominated films. When it comes to on screen entertainment, I spend the vast majority of my time watching sports. I also regularly watch a substantial number of TV shows. While sports and TV shows are a part of my day-to-day life, movies are more of a rare treat reserved for special occasions.

I could probably count on one hand the number of times I have been to the theater in the past year, and when I tried to remember back to the last movie I saw at the theater, I was stumped. Maybe Trainwreck in 2015? Jessie and I occasionally watch something on Netflix or HBO Go, and we make a few trips to Redbox or Family Video to catch up on some of the movies we missed, but the truth of the matter is that there are a lot more movies that I don’t see than ones that I do see these days.

When it comes to movie preference, I generally prefer something lighthearted and funny. So don’t expect my list of favorites to mirror IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes. My list has nothing to do with critical acclaim and everything to do with appealing to me. Nonetheless, if you haven’t yet seen any of the 30 movies on my list, I highly recommend checking them out. Each one of them is a movie that I could and have watched multiple times. Now without any further ado, my favorite 30 movies of all-time. I also included links to each movie’s IMDB page in case you are interested to learn more: Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #22: Movies

30 at 30 Lists #21: Food

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

If food and I were in a relationship on Facebook, it would probably be labeled “it’s complicated.” It was only a few months ago that the leading digit on the scale was a 2 for the first time in my life. I was always a skinny, athletic kid. In my brief high school basketball career, my struggle was trying to bulk up and add weight. 200 pounds was my wake up call.

When I first started a relationship with Jessie, I developed a notorious nickname: “The Picky Eater.” However, over time, my openness to trying new foods increased as did my ability to consume them. By the time we were married, I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 185 pounds—nowhere near the skinny kid I was in high school but still in pretty good shape.

Although I still managed to frequent the gym on a fairly regular schedule throughout the past several years, my workout regiment apparently did not increase as much as my appetite did. Or perhaps my now 30-something-year-old metabolism did not burn calories as efficiently as it did 10 or 20 years ago.

Regardless of how it happened, it happened. As the late Owen Hart said, “Enough is enough and it’s time for a change!” Of course, I’m not one for radical change. I have seen too many people dive headfirst into diets only to return to bad habits again once the diet ended. Instead, I prefer to institute more subtle, more sustainable changes. I don’t need to get back to my high school weight. And I don’t even need to get back to 185 right away. It took years to put the weight on; it may take as long or longer to shed the excess pounds. Rather than focus on the result, I am heeding my wife’s words of wisdom and focusing on the process. So after having some conversations with Jessie over the past month or so about making some dietary changes, I am optimistic that my future will be a healthier one. She is much more nutritionally educated than me, and anyone who saw her rock her pregnancy knows this.

Now that I have a son to care for, I realize that I also need to take better care of myself, which includes being more mindful of the food I eat. I am not buying into a specific diet. I am not doing a 30-day cleanse. I am not eliminating all fats, or all sweets, or all carbs. I am not going vegetarian or vegan. All of those are fine options for other people, but I am opting for a simpler, less stringent change that feels both manageable and helpful. I am making small changes like not eating a kids cereal every day for breakfast and a bologna sandwich for lunch, or not eating a processed, salty snack every single night before bed. The truth is I am not an entirely unhealthy person, but I can work to be a healthier person.

Having said all of that, the following list of my favorite foods is probably the answer to the question, “How did I end up reaching 200 pounds?” This is a list of my favorite things to eat. It is not nutritionist-approved. I know that I cannot all of the items on this list all of the time, and that I should probably reign in my portion size when I do eat them. But these are 30 foods that I am definitely not ready to quit just yet. Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #21: Food

30 at 30 Lists #20: What I’ve Learned in My First 30 Days as a Dad

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

IMG_3291The most significant days in our lives usually represent something bigger than the day itself. Some major life events compel us to look back in time. A graduation day ceremony, for example, commemorates four years of academic progress and marks the end of a certain period in our life. Other major life events function rather as a new beginning representing lifestyle changes that will continue to impact us every day thereafter. A wedding, for example, marks the beginning of a couple’s life together with each spouse vowing to love the other for all the days of their life. When asked to name the most significant events that happened in their life, many people put the birth of their child(ren) at or near the top of the list. After only 30 days of being a dad, I am already starting to understand why. Having and raising a child simultaneously forces us to reflect on our past and contemplate our future, perhaps more so than any other life event.

I am amazed at how much I have learned during my short time as a parent, so much so that I felt called to write about it. Without further ado, here is my list of things I’ve learned in my first 30 days as a dad: Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #20: What I’ve Learned in My First 30 Days as a Dad

Checking in on the 30 at 30 Project as a Newly Minted 31-Year-Old

Two years ago, when I turned 29, I knew that I wanted to commemorate turning 30 in a special way. The concept of the 30 at 30 project was born. The initial idea was a music project: compiling 30 CDs, each consisting of my favorite tracks from my 30 favorite musical artists. Thanks to the suggestion of my wonderful wife Jessie, I also decided to write about each of the CD mixes that I created, which I would post periodically on the site. The final one (Counting Crows) was posted two days ago. However, the 30 at 30 project is not over.

As much as I enjoyed writing about my favorite musical artists, I felt like I was leaving out important pieces of my personal story. So I expanded the 30 at 30 project and decided that I would write 30 lists with the musical artists counting as one of them. My first list was published in June of 2014, counting down my favorite student comments left for me on my end-of-the-year survey. Since then, I’ve published an additional 18 lists covering a wide variety of topics. I still have 11 more to go to achieve 30 at 30 status though, so I think I’m going to let this project extend into overtime and continue writing at age 31. I still have plenty of fun topics to cover, including my favorite movies, books, and foods.

More than anything, I’m grateful that the 30 at 30 project has provided me with a creative outlet to write again. MattHubert.com sat dormant for more than five years between posts before I launched the 30 at 30 project. Altogether, I’ve written more than 95,000 words since that introductory post a year and a half ago. With my list articles averaging nearly 3,500 words, I’ll be well over the 100,000 words before all is said and done.

As the calendar shows September 7, I am officially 31 years old today. Age 30 proved to be a very good year, and I hope that the rest of my thirties will follow suit. A year ago I wrote my list of “Things I Want to Do in My 30s.” The good news is I still have nine years to go, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to check in and assess my progress after one year being a thirtysomething. Continue reading Checking in on the 30 at 30 Project as a Newly Minted 31-Year-Old

The first key to writing is to write.