You never forget your first time.
I've attended Mavericks games. I have attended them close up, when rich relatives had season tickets. I have attended them in the rafters, when I was paying. I have attended them with hope, and with--as tonight--the near certainty of loss. I have done it for two decades, or nearly that long, at least since George McCloud and Cherokee Parks.
I have never before attended a game as a member of the fourth estate. And it was terrific. Terrific in a way wholly detached from the fact that this was a pathetic loss at the end of a chain of six of 'em. Terrific in a way completely removed from the fact that the box for the unimportant press is so high up, an eagle tried to have sex with my hair.
I was probably the only Mavs' fan who had fun tonight, unless that eagle had a rooting interest. But man, did I. Observations:
--You're going to read a lot about Rick Carlisle's "suspension" comments. Here they are, I wrote them down, "I gotta be inveinted and find ways (to get points across). The last week I've had to literally scream in the face of two guys in practices and shootarounds to get the point across. And I will do that, and I will continue to do that. If I have to start suspending guys for not doing the things they're supposed to do on the court, I'll do it...and Mark and I will get into it about that."
To me, this sounds pretty innocuous. He didn't say he was going to suspend guys. He didn't say he was thinking of suspending guys. He said he'll do that if he HAS to, and at the same moment seemed to be aware that Mark Cuban wouldn't be a big fan. Dirk Nowitzki was also not a big fan, calling the idea "a tad aggressive". But on a day when there wasn't much Rick could (or did) say, that was the best most reporters were going to get.
Me, I'm more curious about who he screamed at. I would bet a good deal of money that the suspensions never happen.
--I sat next to an Australian guy doing a story on Patty Mills. Extremely, extremely knowledgeable about basketball. We talked about how the Spurs have been able to rely on the same three guys for a long time, but, more than that, they get players to fill the roles they need to make the whole thing work. They need three-point shooting to get the middle of the court for Tony, the post for Tim and the lanes and line for Manu. They need guys who can close out. They get them. This is a luxury available to you when you don't try to build a team from scratch every year.
--You know what's amazing? For most of the game, the Mavs had significantly more rebounds than the Spurs, and ended with a couple more. They got twelve more o-boards. More assists. More blocks. Both teams had the same, low number of turnovers, 11. They got six more points in the paint and four more fast-break points. And they lost by 25. 25! How are all of these things possible at once? The answer is mostly horrible, horrible shooting. 1-16 from three. 1-7 from Beaubois, 1-4 from CDR, 2-6 from Crowder, 3-9 from Dirk, 0-4 from Marion, 4-14 from Mayo. The sad news is, given that shooting percentages will eventually revert to mean, this is probably progress.
--The guys and gals who cover the games are by and large a friendly, helpful group, and they seem to really like each other.
--Seeing Rick Carlisle at the press conference was shocking. He seems much taller than you'd think, and suffice it to say if he was using that same facial expression in the huddle, I'd have been scared to go near it. The guy is not having fun right now. I believe him when he says he believes the talent is there, but I also believe that people falling short of his expectations are not going to have a good week or two.
--The locker room? It's like a zoo, or an animal preserve. These huge beings, doing their thing completely unconscious of you. Nothing prepares you for how tall Dirk and Kaman really are, and it's very strange to see them up close, getting dressed, eating food, not talking to each other and somehow ignoring the 20 people standing in the middle of the room until some hidden signal occurs and those 20 people shove recorders in their faces.
--They all talk super quietly. Having no recorder, I was taking notes on my phone, but it wasn't easy. Luckily, they didn't say anything much unexpected. I have no idea how it was decided who would have to talk to us, but it's clear that everyone was waiting for Dirk and left immediately after.
--Dom Jones is terrifyingly buff and a lot taller than I figured. I'm going to stop writing bad things about Dom Jones. I'm serious. I'm terrified.
--They asked Elton about how he felt, having joined the Mavericks and not getting "The Mavericks". He said it's not on the coaches and it's not on the management, who he thinks brought enough talent together. I believe him, and believe that his intent was to be a good soldier and show solidarity. Since he wasn't asked whose fault it was, however, I have to believe that questioning the coach, questioning an approach that has let talented players leave without a fight two seasons in a row is not actually foreign to the locker room. It isn't surprising, and I'm sure it's also not a major issue. But I do wonder how Dirk feels.
--I'm not sure I've ever seen a player shoot as poorly and get as many minutes as Jae Crowder. That doesn't mean I don't think Crowder has a future, but it's pretty shocking. Since Nov. 17, he has had games of 0-1 shooting, 1-5, 1-7, 1-8, 0-6, 0-2, 2-7, 0-2, 0-3, 1-9, 1-7, and tonight, 2-6. He's shooting 20% from three and 26% from the field in December. Tonight, he had a play where he had basically an open layup, jump-stopped, landed three feet from the hoop, went up, realized he wasn't going to get near the hoop, and threw the ball off the side of the court with one arm. It was the worst thing I've ever seen a basketball player do and I lived through the Antoine Walker years.
--Dirk Nowitzki has a Ravens jersey in his locker. It starts with the #5, and is therefore either Flacco, Lewis, or Suggs. I bet Ray.
--There was one play tonight where Dirk fouled Manu hard, on a Manu dunk attempt. And I couldn't help but think of Manu fouling Dirk on a dunk attempt---oh, seven years ago or so. And I felt old, and sad, and happy, too, that something was slowly coming to an end, that something wasn't what it once was--but still was, and still will always be in my memory. And, for now, six game losing streak or winning streak, I can still turn on my TV and see Dirk Nowitzki do his thing. And any of you who want us to trade him, or sit him so we can tank, as if these alternatives guaranteed better results than letting him play out his string as comfortably as possible, I will literally fight you. I will knife fight you.
This--Dirk--- is the best thing that's going to happen to the Mavericks, probably ever. Do not turn out the lights before you have stayed up as long as you possibly can. I can't remember all the times I've tried to tell myself to hold on to these moments as they pass. Which reminds me:
--It's been a Long December--and there's reason to believe--maybe this year will be better than the last.
--Happy New Year, everybody. Take some time out from deciding how best to tank, draft, or trade our way out of this mess and just try to enjoy some basketball for a little bit, eh?