This one, unfortunately, is really obvious.
It's not that the Mavericks came so close to winning a championship in 2006.
It's that they---and no one will ever convince me otherwise--would easily have won a championship in 2006, if not for the worst officiating I have ever seen. To this day, if you go to youtube and search for "Dwyane Wade phantom foul", you get a ton of results. Y'all remember this, for example? Or this?
To this day, my dad, as big a sports fan as ever there was, who has watched the Mavericks every year the Mavericks have existed, can't really watch basketball, period. Because what's the point if that can happen?
I remember it all. I remember coming home from school just in time to watch Game 7 against the Spurs with my friends, possibly the greatest playoff game of all time and very likely the greatest Semifinal game. I remember the glee in watching the Suns series and just knowing that the Mavericks had more. I believe I watched game 6 at a Buffalo Wild Wings.
And I remember my mounting glee in games one and two against the Heat, and then my complete and utter agony.
It hurts less, now, obviously, though it will never stop hurting. Because it wasn't just the championship. It was the fact that:
1) The Mavericks were two games from validating all their promise, and instead, the greatest clutch player of his era got labelled a choker until he turned 32.
2) For five years, the Mavericks not only were routinely written off in the playoffs, they often rose to that sentiment--leading to 2011 in which a team that could easily have had the best record in the NBA (If they'd won only half the games that Dirk missed with his knee injury), that had beaten everybody important, was so underrated that not only did Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! predict a sweep against them every series until the Thunder series (where he thought they'd lose in 5), to this day, Ben, Skin and all those other yahoos continue to believe it was a complete fluke that could never have happened in real life.
But just imagine, friends. I know you don't want to go back there. I don't either.
Imagine a world in which the Mavericks' 2011 title was their second, not their first.
Imagine if starting in 2006, you had to talk about the Mavericks as champions. Imagine that it would do what it did last year--interest every big free agent, not from now, when Dirk is so old, but from then, when he was in the very middle of his prime.
Imagine if our history together wasn't one of disappointment and disappointment and finally unbelievable triumph, but of real respect, every year, spoken of in the same breath as the Lakers and the Spurs, as the old lions you can't fully count out.
Imagine if everyone knew how good Dirk was the whole time, instead of having to listen to Steve Kerr talk about how much better Pau was right up until 2011, then immediately start hearing how much better Kevin Love is.
I mean, my God. I've never seen anything like the surgical precision with which Dirk destroyed his opponents in the 2011 playoffs. And he outscored every scorer he faced until Dwyane Wade and that, probably, because of a torn ligament and a flu. But do you remember him then?
Imagine being able to believe, because it happened six years ago, not two.
All of that, my friends, was stolen from us by the referees---especially Bennett Salvatore. And it was, and is, easily the darkest day in Mavericks' history, and the greatest disappointment.