SO, it came to pass that, in the 10th month of the 10th year since their last NBA title, the Los Angeles Lakers finally found a way to win another one.
Okay, let’s try and put it the other way.
So, it came to pass that in the 10th month, of the year since the legendary Kobe Bryant died in that helicopter crash, the Lakers ended a 10-year championship drought.
Okay, whichever way, I guess, the message has been delivered — the Lakers, their first NBA title in a decade and the absence, and the presence, of Kobe casting a huge spell over the whole show.
Kobe, who won five NBA titles with the Lakers, was killed, together with his daughter Gianni, and seven others, when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed in California on January 26, this year.
He spent all his 20-year professional career at the Lakers and, maybe, that explains why he derived a lot of inspiration from Lionel Messi, who has also spent 20 years at Barcelona.
That’s why, when it came to representing his country, the United States, Kobe wore the number 10 jersey.
“I wear number 10 for the US team in honour of the most amazing athlete I have ever seen, Messi,’’ Kobe once said. “He’s one of the greatest athletes of all time — his tenacity, intelligence with which he plays as well as his skill.
“It just puts him head and shoulders above the rest.’’
Kobe is the only NBA superstar to have two jerseys, the No. 8 and No. 24 which he used to wear at the Lakers, retired in his honour.
He was not there, at the NBA Bubble in Florida, when the Lakers ended their decade-long wait for a championship, on Monday morning.
But, what was undeniable, was that his spirit loomed large over the proceedings.
And, the Lakers, to their eternal credit, went out of their way to ensure that, in their moment of triumph, they would never forget the legend they lost.
As I watched the Lakers transform their 10-year wait for an NBA title, into a parade to honour Kobe, in the early hours of Monday morning, I really felt so proud of them.
But, in a way, it also really made me feel so ashamed of myself.
Feel so ashamed of our national game, ashamed of how we ill-treat those who served it with distinction, both the living and the dead, and ashamed of how — when it comes to our football — we have become a people allergic to our history.
A people seemingly desperate to erase the contribution of the Dream Team, in transforming the brand of the Warriors to appeal to its fans again and, more importantly, to gain the respect, across the continent, which we now enjoy.
We derive a lot of pleasure in dismissing them as a group of failures, basing our shallow arguments on the basis they didn’t qualify for the AFCON finals.
As if getting to a 24-team tournament, where half the CAF members now take part it has almost become an invitational, rather than a qualification event, is a bigger achievement, than coming within just one victory of reaching the World Cup finals.
As if qualifying for a 24-team AFCON finals, is a bigger achievement than coming within one win of making it to a World Cup finals, where only three African nations, were allowed to take part.
They even now want us to forget that there was a time, not so long ago, when our national team was under the leadership of a steely Warrior, whose dedication to the cause of his motherland was unquestionable.
A tower of strength, an oasis of calm, a symbol of honesty, he was a natural leader of men.
Born to be a Warrior, he played the game with a passion, the kind of which helped him overcome some of the technical flaws to his game, and earn the respect of both his teammates, and those they played against.
His name was Francis Shonhayi.
He would have been 52 years, eight months, old today.
CAPTAIN SANDURA, A REAL GEM IN A GAME BLIGHTED BY MAGUIRE’S MADNESS
He was born two years after football went home — England won the World Cup in ’66.
And, he was also born in the year club football came home — Manchester United became the first English club to be crowned European Champions, in May ’68.
Captain Sandura almost played in the United Kingdom, when he was invited for trials with some Scottish clubs but, in an era where it wasn’t as easy, to make such a breakthrough, as is the case now, he ended up in South Africa.
I have been thinking about Captain Sandura all week, after watching the Lakers give Kobe the respect, and honour he deserves, and after watching Harry Maguire create headlines, again for all the wrong reasons, on Wednesday.
For me, Maguire is a symbol of mediocrity, an apostle of rigidity and an effigy of instability who should, forever, thank his lucky stars he was born an Englishman.
Without his identity, as an Englishman, and the lucrative package it brings — glowing media coverage and pundits who always defend their own — Maguire would not have come this far in his football career.
His technical flaws, his one-dimensional type of play, his lack of pace, his lack of balance, his rigidity, his poor reading of the game — would all have combined, a long time ago, to bury him and end his adventure.
Just six years ago, when he arrived at Hull City, he did not make his Premiership debut until December 20, 2014, thrown into the final 13 minutes, for the home loss against Swansea City.
And, after only making just six appearances, at his new club, he was sent on loan to Championship side Wigan Athletic, for the rest of a season, which also ended with Hull being relegated from the Premiership.
Hull won their place back in the Premiership, on May 28, 2016, after defeating Sheffield United 1-0, in the play-off final, with Maguire being thrown into the fray in the final minute as a replacement for Mohamed Diame.
But, after featuring regularly for Hull, during the 2016/2017 season, the club were relegated after conceding 80 goals.
And, only Wolves (82) during the 2011/2012 season; Burnley (82) during the 2009/2010 season; Fulham (85) during the 2014/2015 season and Derby (89) during the 2007/2008 season have conceded more goals in the Premiership history
He arrived at Leicester City in 2017 and the Foxes, who had been champions the previous year, conceded 60 goals, with Maguire in the heart of their defence, the worst defensive performance among the clubs which finished in the top 11 places during that campaign.
Five of the six clubs, which occupied the six bottom places on the table — Brighton (54); Huddersfield (58); Southampton (56); Swansea (56) and West Bromwich Albion (56) — ended with better defensive records than Leicester City.
Only Stoke City (68 goals), among the three relegated clubs, with Swansea and West Brom being the other two who went down, had a worse record than the Foxes.
Still, Maguire arrived at Manchester United in August last year, for a world-record fee for a defender, not because he was worth that huge financial outlay but simply because he was an Englishman who can, on his day, defend decently.
It’s such characters like Maguire who remind me how unfair this game is and I end up feeling sorry for players like Captain Sandura, in particular, and scores of other African defenders, in general.
The talented players who found themselves being judged, not by their talent but by the colour of their skin and, their nationality, and found a number of obstacles being put in their path so that they would never reach where the likes of Maguire now parade their glaring shortcomings.
Others will argue what about Lucas Radebe, the one who rose to become the Leeds United captain and legend?
Captain Lucas deserved it, simply because he was brilliant, a fine footballer and a good leader of men.
But, it’s also important to understand the economics that also go with investment, into markets, where there is a possibility the transfer fee could be recouped by some shirt sales, as interest in those territories rise.
A player of the level of Quinton Fortune, coming from a country like Zimbabwe or Zambia, where there could be no economic benefit from such an investment would, certainly, not have signed for Manchester United.
The more I watch Maguire struggle, not because he isn’t trying but simply because he isn’t good enough, the more I feel pity for such guys like Captain Sandura, a real gem of a defender who, sadly, never got the chance to showcase his talent, on the grand stage.
Not because he didn’t deserve that chance but simply because it’s a cruel, and unfair world, out there.
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, THE GENTLE GIANT OUR FOOTBALL FORGOT
Just like what he had done for Harare, another of his adopted homes during his time here when he starred for both DeMbare and the Dream Team, Captain Sandura served Cape Town with the kind of distinction that became the DNA of his game.
This tribute, from one of his former teammates in South Africa, George Dearnaley, captured it all.
“I was fortunate, in my football career, to play with, and against, some of the best that South Africa has ever produced,’’ Dearnaley, wrote in The Sunday Mail.
“I scored against Kaizer Chiefs, when AmaZulu won the Coca-Cola Cup final in 1992 and, as the top scorer in the country that season, I was selected to play for Bafana Bafana.
“My teammates included all the South African stars, the likes of Shoes Mosheou, Fani Madida, Lucas Radebe, Chippa Masinga, Neil Tovey and Doctor Khumalo.
“I was also fortunate to play with, and against, some of the best African talent that was playing in South Africa during that time.
“We were blessed to have the likes of the Mugeyi twins, as well as John Mbidzo, Innocent Chikoya, Rabson Muchichwa, Edzai Kasinauyo, Alois Bunjira, Ian Gorowa, Tauya “Doctor’’ Murewa, the great Benjani Mwaruwari, the legendary Peter Ndlovu and a host of other Zimbabwe internationals plying their trade in our league.
“I also played with the likes of Charles Yohane, Stewart Murisa, Edelbert Dinha (he called me Mvuu, not sure it was a compliment), Liberty Masunda, Kaitano Tembo, also known as ‘Ngwenya’ and many others that made our league so competitive and added so much value to our football.
“But, of all the Zimbabwean players that I played with, and against, the one that impressed me the most, both on and off the field, was the late Francis Shonhayi.’’
Of course, Captain Sandura is not here with us today,
He died on March 31, 2006, at Cape Town’s Victoria Hospital, in South Africa’s Mother City.
So, why was I disappointed ZIFA didn’t try to remember, and honour Captain Sandura, ahead of the friendly international against Malawi, last weekend, the way the Lakers remembered, and honoured, Kobe on Monday morning?
Or, why do I believe ZIFA should remember, and honour Captain Sandura, when we play Algeria?
Well, for me, the significance, in the game against the Flames, would have come from the fact Captain Sandura’s final friendly international match, for the Warriors, was also a friendly showdown against the Flames, in Blantyre, on July 19, 1998.
That match, just like Sunday’s game, ended in a goalless draw.
The significance, from using the forthcoming match against Algeria, for me, will come from the fact Captain Sandura’s first competitive match, for his beloved Warriors, was also against the Desert Foxes, in a World Cup qualifier, which the Warriors lost 1-2 on June 6, 1989.
And, this year, marks a quarter-of-a-century since Captain Sandura’s finest moment, in club football, when he led Cape Town Spurs to the League and Cup Double in 1995.
In the Warriors’ colours, there were some great battles, for Captain Sandura.
Like that goalless draw against the Pharaohs, on the neutrals fields of Lyon, in that World Cup qualifier on April 15, 1993, where — together with his colleagues — they provided a new meaning to the value of defence, en-route to winning their group.
There were some unforgettable battles.
Like that 4-1 destruction of Bafana Bafana at the National Sports Stadium, in an AFCON qualifier, on August 16, 1992, where — together with his teammates — they found a way to parade the full colours of what’s probably a perfect Warriors’ performance.
And, there were some grand battles.
Like that 4-1 thrashing of the Indomitable Lions at the giant stadium, in an AFCON qualifier, on January 22, 1995, where — together with his teammates — they found a way to remind the globe their defeat in Yaounde, in that World Cup qualifier, was not played on a level playing field.
Captain Sandura’s international career, fighting in the trenches of African football, representing you and me, the blood, the sweat, the tears, the bruises, the injuries, the punches he took and the insults he endured, lasted exactly 10 years.
The very same period the Lakers took to win another NBA title.
But, while the Lakers didn’t forget Kobe, the man who inspired them to that last title, you can be assured we have already forgotten Captain Sandura because, no one cares anymore.
And, in our new world, it’s the rigidity of Maguire that matters.
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton and all the Chakariboys in the struggle.
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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