In the midst of the season, it's a little hard to remember a few months ago (also known as the dark ages) where basketball was not on television every night, where blogs lay naked of content and NBA rumors turned into gossip.
What happens when there's no basketball on television? There are a few routes you can take. First, you can go to bed at a reasonable time and be well-rested for work the next day. Truly a preposterous idea...seriously, who does that? Second, you can watch YouTube videos over and over, starting with Maverick highlights from their 2011 championship run, somehow finding your way to Peja Stojakovic highlights from 2003, and finally ending up with cat videos. Because somehow, someway, YouTube always leads to cats.
Third: you can pop in your favorite basketball movie, nuke some popcorn real quick, and curl up on the couch. There are some great options: Hoosiers, Glory Road, Semi-Pro, Gladiator.
Wait, what was the last one, you ask? Perhaps you meant "Teen Wolf", you ask?
No offense to Teen Wolf, but I sure as hell did not mean that. I'm most definitely talking about Gladiator. In fact, let me quote myself: "Gladiator is perhaps the greatest basketball movie ever made."
Okay, you're right, reader-who's-taking-this-way-too-seriously-and-is-saying-it's-about-Rome. Fine. You win. Maximus Decimus Meridius is a Roman general-turned-gladiator who gets his revenge on the unjust Caesar, but if you paid any attention at all, it's also an obvious analogy to the 2011 Mavericks championship run.
First scene of the movie shows Maximus leading his army against the German horde, decimating his opposition. Why would Dirk Nowitzki kill his own people, you ask? Let's not get too cocky, this isn't a flaw. He's not actually killing anyone; don't be dumb. This is obvious symbolism of Dirk's early days when he became the best German basketball player, destroying any competition in his way. Now, stop interrupting and listen to the rest of the beautiful story.
Emperor Marcus Aurelius, ruler of the Roman Empire, is dying. Instead of passing power onto his son, Commodus, he decrees that power to be given to Maximus, who he trusts to return Rome to a Senate.
But alas! Treachery strikes when Commodus does not take kindly to the plan, and with help from a general and others, he kills his own father and assumes control of the throne. Maximus is sentenced to death.
If you've been paying attention, it is clear Marcus Aurelius was giving a well-deserved NBA Championship to the Mavericks, and it is an evil plot by Commodus/David Stern that prevents the proper order and things and began the darkest of timelines. Stern kills his father with his own hand, but trusted his legendary, battle-tested referees to do his dirty work.
At his execution, Dirk escapes (unbeknownst to Commodus), but is unable to save his family and is captured by slavers. They make him into a gladiator, and even though he showed transcendent skill on the court (even winning 67 matches one year) he could not win one crucial victory: his freedom (also known as Golden State, but that's beside the point).
Meanwhile, all of the power was controlling Commodus in a fearsome, awful way. He began selling the grain storages of Rome, just like the Supersonics were sold to Oklahoma City to please the mob. Next, he starts the great games of 2011, bringing feared gladiators from around the world to compete and die. One gladiator superteam is created, nicknamed the "Holy Roman Triumvirate", or in Simple English, the "Big Three". The mob, mostly comprised of bandwagon fans with exposed boxers and Laker snapbacks, love the violence and blood and rally around the "Big Three".
Meanwhile, Dirk is among one of the foreign gladiators who is called to attend the great games, or "playoffs" as some called them. With him were a few fellow gladiators who he had befriended over the years, and though none of them were as talented a fighter, they worked cohesively in a group under his leadership. One even tattooed "freedom" on his arm, symbolic of what all the gladiators were striving for.
Commodus and his posse swept through the playoffs with tough defense and hot shooting, but stayed relatively unknown with the massive attention that the Big Three were receiving. In all honesty, neither team could be stopped. Destiny was drawing them together like two yet-to-be-invented freight trains on the same track.
The Finals came. It was time, and like the mob expected, the Big Three started by just crushing the Maximus-led gladiators, nicknamed the "Mavericks" thanks to the horse hair adorning many of their helmets. But facing a fifteen-point deficit at a crucial juncture, the Mavericks bonded together and returned the favor, routing the Big 3 for a historical victory.
Up to this point, Maximus had worn a helmet concealing his head (think Rip Hamilton), and thus his identity, from all of Rome. The disguise no longer worked when Commodyus came onto the court himself and demanded Dirk reveal himself.
I'll never forget Russell Crowe's memorable quote: "My name is Dirk Werner Nowitzki, 11-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA team member, 2007 NBA MVP. Victim to a stolen championship. The coldest German mf'er alive. And I will have my ring, in this life or the next..."
Commodyus (yes, he just changed from Stern to Wade; deal with it) trembled with fear. He thought his treachery in 2006 had permanently defeated Dirk. But the mob was fickle, and after his heroics to bring his team back in Game 2, they were on Maximus' side.
Obviously, there was only one way to settle this: on the battlefield. The two groups regrouped, and Commodyus took charge over the Big 3, who were shrinking in the spotlight. And then they fought.
It was a brutal struggle with casualties on each side, but it came down to Maximus and Commodyus dueling it out surrounded by the carnage. And, despite injuries, fatigue, and illness, Dirk dealt the killing blow. His ring had been found.
The mob sung his praises. The analysts swiftly second thought their stances. The history books were written. But alas, Maximus' injuries were too severe, and he perished on the battlefield.
Whoa, whoa, calm down there. Dirk's alive and kicking, even if his recent injury seems like death just a little bit. That part of the analogy doesn't quite work. But the rest? How has no one ever seen it before? Dirk embodies the German Gladiator.
Just wait. "Shut it down, let's go home" is great, but next time he's on mic, it's going to sound a little different...