Editor's Note: Front Paged For More Post-Finals Ego Stroking
Wow...just wow! It is difficult to remember a more compelling postseason run than the one that your boys pulled off this year. If Hoosiers were set in the NBA playoffs, then this was the script...the underdogs came together...picked each other up every time it looked bleak...and came through to shock (and please) the world. As you know by now, at least 90% of the basketball world was on your side. What you may not know is how the reason for this support changed as we watched Los Mabs climb the summit...here's my take.
If any of you read my post after Game 2, then you know how I felt about the Miami Heat. They behaved like petulant children often. They acted like they were owed the title instead of being willing to earn it. They brought AAU ego to the NBA hardwood to an extent not yet seen before. The ire of those of us that have hit puberty was raised to levels not yet developed by a season of games before. The reasons are clear...they do not need to be restated.
Fans of every team in the NBA came to your side...not to your rescue though, as this team needed nothing but each other to attain their ultimate goal. We came out of the woodwork in righteous indignation to rail against the same sense of entitlement that makes me understand why some hate my beloved Blue Devils. This was the impetus for our unity with the Mavs faithful...but something far more profound happened along the way. Our love for this special Dallas squad rapidly overtook our hatred for the Heat. We started rooting for all the right reasons, discounting the rest of the nonsense that, in a perfect world, never should have entered the fray.
So forget the Heat. Here's why we loved the Mavs...if only for this brief moment in time:
Jason Kidd - For my money, he is the greatest pure Point Guard to ever play the game. He has been a dominant force in that regard since his days at Cal, but has refused to rest on his otherworldly laurels. I remember watching a young Jason Kidd dominate his competition before he could ever even score. It seemed like he would record a triple-double once a week over the first ten years in the league...and twice as often would miss out on one with a line of 14 assists, 12 boards...and 6 points. However, he transformed himself to the extent that he is now 3rd all-time on the career 3 pointers made list...no one thought that possible. At the age of 38, his dedication, skill, caginess, and unrivaled desire have finally catapulted him to the promised land. I can think of no one more deserving of this ultimate payoff. He truly has earned his spot among the all-time greats.
Dirk Nowitzki - Too often, armchair PFs define a player less by their unique talents and more by their perceived weaknesses. Dirk, among the most humble basketball gods that have lit upon our unworthy soil, was labeled as "soft". He didn't rebound like Rodman. He didn't block shots like Dikembe. He didn't destroy opponents in the paint like Oakley. He was a "finesse player". Well, I can tell you this much...there's nothing soft about his heart, his effort, his loyalty to his teammates, his love for his loyal fans, his workmanlike approach to the game, his bravery in crunchtime, or his willingness to battle through everything from long odds to sinus infections. Is he a top 10 player all-time? Decide for yourself...I guarantee he doesn't care. Will he ever be Larry Legend? Hell no...and Bird will never be Dirk. He did it the right way, and he got it done. No one should ever question that.
Jason Eugene Terry - It takes a special man to have the self-confidence of knowing he's amongst the best players in the league...to be one of two elder statesmen on a battle-hardened and oft-maligned team...and happily come off the bench without allowing ego or complacency to diminish his indisposable and irrefutable contributions to a team and an ultimate goal that never once wavered. No matter your personal belief in God, JET's faith underscored a dedication to something larger than himself that we should all mirror in our daily lives. He is the epitome of a team player. After Game 6...in which Dirk struggled through most of the game...JET picked his squad up on his relatively narrow shoulders and refused to let them fall. In sharp contrast to an opposing squad that constantly struggled to stuff their collective egos onto one court, JET...in the greatest solo performance of his life, referred to himself as the "sidekick" to Dirk...eschewing individual honor for the greater good. It's impressive when a player like Roger Mason Jr. does this. It's ethereal when a man of Terry's talents does so.
Tyson Chandler - Game 4 alone underscores the contribution TC provided to this championship. There is no way the Finals go to Dallas without Cleophus' grandson in the middle. He provided a defensive presence which allowed perimeter players to defend with confidence and enough offensive threat to keep Miami honest at the other end. I never questioned his abilities, but if you had told me that the championship hinged upon Chandler's ability to play smart and stay out of foul trouble after Haywood's injury, then I would have thought all was lost...that is if I hadn't watched. The acquisition of Tyson is the example other teams should follow in trying to craft a contender...in sharp contrast to the moves made by the runner-ups.
JJ Barea - I don't care what anyone says...this guy is 5'9". Even many of his own fans questioned his ability to contribute to a championship. But time and time again...on the biggest stage...he made miracles happen. When Coach Carlisle decided to insert the diminutive dynamo into the starting lineup, many of even the most ardent Mavs believers questioned the move...yet he never shrank from the responsibility. This inspired move allowed Matrix and D-Steve to have fresh legs in their yeoman's task of defending two of the most prolific offensive threats in the game's history. Barea's ability to stretch the floor and embarass his opposition came as an ultimately necessary bonus that rattled the impetuous opponents and drove a dagger through their hearts time and time again.
Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson - Point blank...defense wins championships. Unfortunately, the storyline of the series was the inability of the Heat, specifically LeBron James, to close out games. It should have been the ability of the Mavs, specifically Matrix and Abe, to shut them down. At the offensive end, when Matrix stopped chucking up T-Rex jumpers and went to the rack, the tide turned. 3venson's uncanny ability to knock down the outside shot picked up his squad when others could not. They rose above their perceived ceilings like the rest of the Mavs to get the job done.
Bobby C and Mahinmi - Sounds like a great buddy cop movie, right? Significant minutes by these two was enough for many to write off the chances of Dallas in the Finals. However, their ability to rise to the occasion...from taking charges to hitting timely shots was as necessary as any other factor in the team effort that led to the promised land.
Coach Rick Carlisle - For my money, Coach Carlisle displayed an acumen that Phil Jackson himself has never rivaled in his illustrious career. Unorthodox moves proved ingenious time and time again. Could he have succeeded without the trust of his players? No...and he earned that trust. Give him a lifetime contract.
Caron Butler - Anyone that doesn't think Caron's fingerprints are on the Larry O'Brien trophy, has missed the lessons taught by this Mavs team. He helped put them in position to do what they have done, and he supported them throughout his personal time of tribulation more than we can ever know. I had the honor of watching Caron comport himself admirably in one of the most dysfunctional chapters in Washington basketball history (no small statement there). He is a class act all the way. I am as happy for him as I could be for any player.
Everybody else - Whether it's Peja's willingness to get benched and not defy the team dynamic, Haywood's contribution throughout the year, or the efforts of guys like Beaubois, Jones, and Brewer to test their team in practice, contribute when called upon throughout the season, and keep their mouths shut when they must have been frustrated by sitting on the bench...they all contributed.
Mavs fans - It has been my honor to watch history made at your side. Your willingness to accept all of us Johnny-come-latelys into your time of triumph is exceptional. You kept the faith. You have been a sharp contrast to the 14 year old bandwagon fans of the pre-anointed ones, and your team saw this. They fought for each other, and they fought for you. The Mavs Moneyball crew are great. I can't kiss LJ's ass anymore, because she gets a little uppity when I do...but thanks for being there for your fans and your team.
I came on board late to this epic run. I was motivated by a negative, though justifiable, reaction to your opponents. I stayed due to my respect and admiration for your true team effort and class in the face of so much nonsense. I was raised on Cal Ripken, Jr. and Darrell Green. This team lived up to the examples those pantheons of humility and work ethic set. I can not give a higher compliment.
I no longer care about the Heat or harbor any hatred toward them. If they can be humbled by recent events and learn to sacrifice their egos for each other (not bloody likely), I may even root for them one day (less bloody likely). For now, they are inconsequential.
Thank you for showing another generation what team sports is really all about.
Congratulations to the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks!
Jim America and the Rest of Us