Because I couldn’t be more of a fan of anything PG-rated than I am of the Dallas Mavericks, to say that I felt roughly the same way about Game 6 vs. the Detroit Tigers as I did about Game 4 against the Lakers would be a massive overstatement. Granted, also, it was Game 6 and not Game 4, but the Rangers were the favorites in the series, not the underdogs or, if you’re Adrian Wojnarowski, the unthinkable underdogs.
(Speaking of, my man Wojnarowski has never printed a word of retraction about picking the Mavs to get swept in both the first and second round, and to win one game in the third round, as far as I know. That’s sports writing for you, I reckon.)
Everything had gone well for the Rangers, they appeared to have far more firepower from more places than the Tigers and, though starting pitching had been a problem the relievers were just cranking. But anybody can lose a game 7—and, on the other side of the field, if you let the Champs off the mat a golden opportunity can turn into a blown series quicker than you can say "Phil Jackson retires".
It turned out nobody had anything to worry about. Nelson Cruz hit every three-pointer he attempted, or whatever.
After that it turned downright eerie.
Each team, a team of destiny, come back to get what was rightfully theirs, dropped game one for their first deficit of the playoffs. Each time was absolutely, dead-to-rights about to go into a presumably insuperable 0-2 hole.
Then Jason Terry scored six points in a minute, and Ian Kinsler hit a single. Then Marion hit a layup, Kidd made a three, Terry made a jumper and Ian stole 2nd. Then Dirk hit a jumper and Andrus hit a single. Then Dirk hit a layup and Hambone hit a sac fly, scoring Kinsler. Then Dirk made a three-pointer and Young hit a sac fly to score Andrus.
Neftali Feliz walked Yadier Molina and Terry lost Mario Chalmers, who drained a three to tie it back up.
Then Neftali sent ‘em home, and so did Dirk, again.
Each team gave up the next one, but a 2-1 deficit is better than a 3-0 deficit. Each team won the next two.
And each team went into the final frame with that Game 6, series-winning lead.
Then Dirk happened. And Adams-Feliz-Oliver-Feldman-Lowe did not.
It was painful, but it was also a reminder.
After I gave up on basketball forever, for five minutes, after what I felt was a wind-aided Brandon Roy miracle—that is, the Mavericks entirely deserved to lose that game for failing to make a shot or a stop, but the borderline calls did mostly go the other way—a German friend of mine consoled me by suggesting that it was common knowledge over there that Stern knew he owed us a championship, after stealing one in ’06. And yes, for anyone who thinks I should give up on ’06 because the Mavs have one now should bite me in the posterior region. It doesn’t hurt like it hurt, but I didn’t think it was stolen just because the Mavs lost when I was kind of hoping they would win—and I still don’t.
After what happened, you could almost feel my German friend was right, and not just Stern, but the basketball gods. It wasn’t just that it happened, but that it happened in the best possible way. Dirk got to look his peers—your Kobes, your Durants, your Aldridges, Gasols, LeBrons and Wades—and say blink first. I belong right here. He did.
The Mavericks got to beat not only the Heat, but THIS Heat, this mega-talented Heat that stirred up so much emotion. They got to be America’s sweethearts and Dirk—long-suffering, long-deserving—got to be the most beloved athlete in America and reverse literally every slight upon him, all these years, in the most dramatic way possible.
Jason Terry got to tattoo the Larry O’Brien on his arm and actually GET it. Terry, whose postseason disappearances have played a prominent, and not always fair role in the narrative of the Mavericks’postseason disappointments, got to say that LeBron James of all people couldn’t cover him for seven games and turn out to be completely accurate.
All those guys—Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Kidd—who had come so close when they were young stars got it all at once, together, by playing a beautiful brand of team basketball.
For the Rangers, the wait continues. I can remember going to Rangers games when I was too small to need my own ticket. I never thought they’d be this good, and it’s deeply painful that they are, that they came so close twice, and now I know how long you can wait for Lady Fortune, which I didn’t in those days.
It is, as I say, a reminder.
Championships are, after all, NOT fate. Nobody made it so that nothing short of an asteroid could keep Dirk from scoring 10 points every fourth quarter, just like nobody made Tyson Chandler not pick up that 6th foul in the 4th quarter of game 6. Nothing guaranteed two fourth quarter comebacks from fifteen point deficits.
I remember watching Game Two of the NBA Finals at my sister’s apartment in DC. I remember thinking that nothing could be worse than this. The Mavericks had come so far, but here it was again, not only were they about to go two down in the Finals but Dirk, who was battling a torn ligament in his finger, was fizzling against the Heat defense. I’ve always said that, for the last ten years, I’ve had two rooting interests; whether the Mavs won, and whether Dirk played well.
I needed my team and my star to come through, and one more time both of them were going down. One more time, Jon Barry was preparing to say snotty things for the next half-decade. To do this to me again, on this public a stage, with the whole world behind us—it was unthinkable. Better, I remember thinking, to have lost in the first round than to have our shame paraded in front of the world one more time.
Then something else happened, and we got our championship. An old man dies, a young girl lives. Two roads diverge, etc. The Mavs are your world champions, and always will be, the Rangers, this time, didn’t get it done.
The fact that, at any moment, it could have gone the other way--that's what makes it all the sweeter. Raise a glass for our Rangers brothers. May they have their day.