So now that we know why we hate the Heat, how’s about why we love the Mavericks? It’s more than just ‘the team that beat the Heat’ (well, that’s part of it, and I’m dang proud of that, too), it’s the kind of team they are that made them so well loved.
And yes, Cuban. We know who to thank for all this.
Just to be clear, this isn’t about small money beating big money; it’s about knowing what to do with your money and the spirit you inject into the team. Dallas has them some cash. Their payroll was like $9 million larger than Miami’s this year (second only to the Lakers). It’s good to remember that owners should be commended for sticking with their superstars as much as their stars sticking with them. Cuban shelled out the dollars for Dirk year after year. He was just as bought and paid for as any other hoops star. He may not end up coming out with more than one ring for all that loyalty, but he does have a loyal fan base. Dallas has been in love with the man for twelve years and counting. That his long, respectable tenure in the NBA only just resulted in a championship is immaterial. He’s proven himself over and over, and the ring (it will be a ring, right?) is representative of years of dedicated service. Dirk may very well enjoy a spot in the hall of fame, and he’ll always have a home in Dallas.
A word on Cuban. He’s perceived as something of a clown around these parts (Chicago, that is) and while I concede that he could act the tool, especially in front of the cameras, the man deserves some recognition. I still remember when he bought the Mavs. He turned a dull team into a party every night. For a young kid not totally into sports, he made Mavs games worth going to and made you proud to be a Dallas fan no matter how attached you felt to the game of basketball. Seeing him celebrate on the sidelines as game 6’s final seconds ticked away, his head locked into Brendan Haywood’s massive armpit reminded me who he is: a fan with a lot of money and good business smarts. He’s doing what any of us would do if we owned our own sports team. I was grateful for his media silence this season, but happy to see him cut loose. The guy knows how to party and he’s brought a great accessible community spirit to the Mavs.
As for the gameplay itself, it’s already been analyzed and cross-analyzed. I’ll just point out my favorite things about this team.
1. Kidd’s generalship was so inspiring to watch. I love watching players play so unselfishly, being content with their supporting role and playing it to its fullest. His masterminding freed the team’s ball movement up considerably which was the key to breaking into Miami’s staunch defense. He’s also the only player I’ve ever seen who I believe is perpetually in the zone. His features never change, he’s almost inhuman. I swear he had all emotion surgically removed from his body. Even his big smile seems put on in the team roster picture. Secretly, he’s two steps ahead of you.
2. J.J. Barea, as my buddy Robert told me is “an inspiration to guys like me”. On the court he looks tiny (in reality, he’s a respectable 6 feet), but he was quick and controlled, beating the big boys and pissing off some key players in the process. He was battered mercilessly by angry Lakers during that legendary series. The face-palming from Ron Artest was the scariest. Who knows what that guy’s gonna do next? The Heat defense did a good job of shutting down his drives, but then he came alive from downtown in game 6 of the Finals, hitting 3 after 3. He’s our swiss army knife.
3. And finally Dirk’s sharpshooting captured my attention. I thought it fitting that the final game of the series was Dirk’s worst. It just showed how versatile the team was and how able to step up and fill the gap they are (particularly Terry). They’re a solid team and Dirk is as much a part of the synergy as any of them. In fact, my one criticism of him was that he gave up the ball too much. The championship did not rest on Dirk’s shoulders but it’s clear who to hand the trophy to when it’s all over. He’s been such a workhorse over the years it was so wonderful to see him finally revel in the fruits of his labor.
Mike Rhyner of Sportsradio 1310 the ticket summed it up best after game 4. “Win lose or draw, I’m damn proud of this team. Even if the Heat go on to win the next 6 championships, everybody’s going to remember that little Maverick team that stood up to them so well. Deshawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakovic and….(incredulously) J.J. Barea all the people nobody wanted. And they were coached by one of the toughest sons of a ***** to come through this town.”
There was a commercial that ran during the finals shuffled in with D. Wade’s multiple endorsements, Derrick Rose’s kind of cool shoe ad, that awful T-Mobile girl and that bizarrely unfunny LeBron James/Aldis Hodge (who?) State Farm spot. (I won’t embed it, it’s too horrible: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZcMIx2JcLw). Anyway, the ad was so unassuming that I can’t even remember what it was for. Nike? Under Armour? I think it was for the NBA. I haven’t been able to find it yet (when I do I’ll put it up). But it showed various NBA players whose teams were defeated in the playoffs training in their respective gyms, working hard. Pulling drive sleds, dribbling two balls at once, doing agility moves. At the end it said “Not everyone’s focused on this year’s finals”. I loved it. It’s exactly what the Mavericks represented. Hard work over easy fame. I think it’s what the NBA needs, to have individual starpower frustrated from time to time, to remind everyone that there’s a great thrill in winning a game as a team, to allow each player the chance to step into the spotlight. If the nation was dying for James to lose, then there wasn’t a better team to lose to. No better team to answer against the NBA’s (and America’s) lust for superstardom.
I maintain my theory that LeBron isn’t too haughty for a guy in his position. The way he sought out the camaraderie of Bosh and Wade, though superficial, I think shows a longing to be a part of a team as tight-knit as Dallas. But being the most famous person in America has its own requirements and he has a franchise to maintain: himself, and if that comes with more State Farm commercials playing a tiny violin, so be it.
Meanwhile we can celebrate a righteous victory. Even if it is a one-time thing, they’ve spread sportsmanship and team play to a league fraught with egos and fame-intoxication. The reality that every player in the league, famous or not, is now aware of, to win next year’s title, they’ll need to play more like the Mavericks.