The year was 2006, a good year to be a 20-something male who liked the NBA in Dallas. “College” up to that point had been a breeze, mostly because it was of the community variety, and the Dallas Mavericks were in the NBA Finals for the first time. They had swept the Grizzlies, gotten by the Spurs in an absolutely epic series, and then finished off the Suns in a somewhat anti-climatic Western Conference Finals. Then came the NBA Finals. After the first two games, I was as happy as I usually was when I finished an English paper at the literal last minute. Nothing could stop the Mavericks.
The only thing I remember about that series, aside from the outcome and the subsequent celebration was listening to sports talk radio after Game 2, ESPN or the Ticket, I can't remember which, and feeling like this was a waking dream for the team and its fans.
That was five years ago, when everything was a lot less jaded, when I could remember important happenings in my life 5 years prior, when I thought that everything balances out. I rationalized the loss every way possible. The refs were the reason, Mark Cuban was the reason, Laura Miller was the reason, Avery Johnson and his voice was the reason. I didn't come to a conclusion because thinking about that series hurts. Even now, when I desperately think of something positive that came from those playoffs, I can't. I know that their road to the finals was inspirational, and groundbreaking for the team, but over the past 5 years, it's left as a hollow memory in my mind, one that's only substantiated by how I felt when the series seemed over after two games.
I'm the first one to say to someone, “never forget 2006” when talking about the Mavericks, and the playoffs, not because I remember every detail of it, but because of how it impacted my dedication to this team. In some ways, it has been weakened. The Mavs have been in the playoffs every year since then, have been labeled by everyone and their uneducated sister as choke artists and every variation of the term imaginable, and I bought in to some of it unfortunately.
This year's team has been through a lot of ups and downs. Typical of many NBA squads, injuries have occurred to just about every starter, but the team has fought through them and ended up here, the ultimate goal of any sports franchise, with a chance to win a championship. That's all we can ask for as fans. Honestly, I didn't expect this to happen. I thought they'd get burned by the Blazers or eventually put down by the Lakers, but they didn't, and I'm happy that they didn't.
That happiness is tempered, however, as it has been for half of a decade. We can't assume one way or another how this series is going to go unless we're prepared for the emotional toll that a defeat will bring. A loss will be crippling for those of us who have been with this team for a significant period of time, who felt the maturation of Dirk in 2006, but who've also felt the pain that he's endured every year since then. This is what being a fan of the Mavericks is. It's watching them go through the best and worst of their professional careers, and investing in every emotion that they're feeling as if it's our own. “Bandwagoners,” “Reunion's Rowdies, “diehards,” all of those labels are immaterial. We're Mavs fans.
As for me, I expect the Mavericks to win.
I'll deal with the consequences 5 years from now.