Jun 21, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
This is a story you won’t hear about too much in the days, weeks and months ahead.
On the night of June 12, the Dallas Mavericks lay claim to the NBA championship for the first time. After three decades of real ups and downs, the Mavs finally ascended to the summit simply by having the better team on the court than the Miami Heat.
But why waste time talking about something positive? Better, I suppose, to kick LeBron while he’s down, over and over, for sins real and imagined. Keep doing it, though, and you end up missing the larger point, the one about how patience, loyalty and humility offer its own rewards.
Start with the Mavericks’ fans, who have seen plenty. From their birth at the start of the 1980s, Dallas steadily climbed the NBA ladder. The likes of Rolando Blackman and Mark Agguire helped the Mavs become playoff regulars, even though Pat Riley and his Showtime Lakers always got in the way out West.
Instead of getting to the top of the ladder, though, the Mavs, in the 90s, fell hard to the pavement, to the tune of 10 straight years missing the playoffs and consecutive seasons where it lost 67 and 69 times, respectively. Bad ownership, bad coaches, bad players – and Reunion Arena went empty.
Enter Mark Cuban, the young, brash, talkative and energetic billionaire who cashed in before the dot-com bust and, in January 2000, bought the Mavericks. Within six years, Cuban upgraded everything for the organization and its players and, led by a supernatural German named Dirk Nowitzki, made the championship series and went up 2-0 on the Miami Heat.
And that’s where the trouble began again. The Mavs blew that series, lost in six, and Cuban, never one to take anything quietly, fumed against the world, David Stern included, and the fines piled up. Meanwhile, Nowitzki, Jason Terry and friends received the ‘soft’ label, and worse, as in ensuing years Dallas had great regular seasons and first-round playoff flameouts.
Now let’s fast-forward to the start of this year’s playoffs. Dallas is a forgotten man. With the Celtics, Heat and Bulls in the East, and the Lakers, Spurs and fast-rising Oklahoma City in the West, no one takes the aging Mavs seriously. And when they blow a 23-point lead to Portland in Game 4 of the first round, the epitaphs are written again.
Given all that, how did Dallas pull this off?
Start with a determined, smart coach in Rick Carlisle, who perfectly blended in role players like J.J. Barea and Brian Cardinal with tough front-line players like DeShawn Stevenson and Tyson Chandler. Together, they compensated for the mid-season loss of All-Star Caron Butler. Carlisle even got Cuban to pipe down, no small feat.
Meanwhile, the four most accomplished veterans – Nowitzki, Terry, Shawn Marion and 39-year-old Jason Kidd – understood that individual glory meant nothing without the ultimate team accomplishment, a championship, which had eluded them all, one way or another.
Together, they rebounded to close out Portland in six, sweep the Lakers and humble the Thunder. About the only thing they got credit for was the Oklahoma part, because an obscene amount of time was spent ignoring the Blazers and bashing L.A. And even the West final was a back-handed complement, experts saying the Thunder just wasn’t ready yet.
The same is true with the Finals, too. Instead of crediting Dallas for sticking it out and making all the big plays when it counted, you’re going to get all-Heat bashing all the time, and very little praise for what the Mavs pulled off.
Yet you can’t ignore the symbolism. On July 5, 2010, Nowitzki, a free agent with every reason to believe that Dallas had seen its best chance at championship glory come and go, chose to stay anyway, with little fanfare given to his decision. Then he went back to work.
Three days later, another free agent who started out in Cleveland made his “Decision” with obscene fanfare, and chose a different path. Worse yet, before going to work, he and his new Miami Heat teammates took a pyrotechnics-filled victory lap in American Airlines Arena, loudly proclaiming multiple championships, only adding to the obscenity.
So it only figured that, on that very same arena floor in Miami 11 months later, the presumptuous Heat stalked off the floor while the determined Mavericks, who never assumed anything and were never given any chance, held the Larry O’Brien Trophy aloft.