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Dethroning the Kings: Game 7 vs. Sacramento in 2003

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A look back at one of the most exciting game sevens in Mavericks history.

Tom Pennington

There's always a moment when you can pinpoint where exactly you fell in love.

That doesn't just mean falling in love with another person. It could be when you fell in love with a movie, a song, an actor/actress, a dog, a spoon. Whatever floats your boat.

For me, I can remember exactly when I fell in love with basketball. It was the Mavericks' 2002-2003 season. Specifically, the Kings series from that year's playoffs.

It was my first year really diving into sports. During my pudgy elementary school days, I was more interested in Super Nintendo and flipping on Toonami after school than watching guys in shorts throw balls through hoops.

But around by 2002 I was 13 and I started to get obnoxiously tall. Tall enough that whether I liked it or not I was playing basketball and not being SOME SOFT COUCH POTATO. So I begrudgingly played basketball.

When you're a tall, awkward teenager playing basketball for the first time, coaches basically just tell you to stand in the paint and put your hands up. I don't know what it is about youth basketball, but getting your hands up is more important than making sure your shoelaces are tied.

"DAMNIT BOWE GET YOUR HANDS UP. BE READY FOR THE PASS. BLOCK SOME SHOTS." My life revolved around raising my hands for two hours a day. Basketball sucked, I thought.

But that year, my dad managed to get season tickets to the Mavs. I had no idea who the Mavs were, other than a basketball team that played basketball in Dallas. It was so bad that during my first preseason game, I asked my dad who the tall German guy with long, blonde hair was.

Over the course of the season, I started to fall in love with the team and how the played. It was Don Nelson "Nellie ball" at its finest -- run as much as possible and shoot as much as possible. Playing defense wasn't so much about stopping the other team from scoring, it was more "let's get the ball back so we can score again" type deals.

I fell in love with Dirk, Steve and Michael. And also Nick. And yes, to some degree, Raef. It was so much fun to watch. I realized there's way more to basketball than putting your hands up.

So the Kings series was like the pinnacle of my love formation. It was a fantastic series against a great rival. I was there at Game 2, when the Mavs scored ALL THE POINTS in the first half (83 to be exact).

I was in my new, barely lit home, having just moved for the first time in my life, sitting in an empty living room during Game 3. I watched Walt Williams drill some clutch three-pointers in a wild overtime win that left me prancing around the room for hours on end until my parents told me to shut up and go to sleep.

It felt like my heart was in my throat all day in leading up to Game 7. I went with my dad and there was just an uneasiness but excitement in the arena. You have to remember, this was probably the most exciting playoff run the Mavs had been in since 1988. There had been a lot of poopy Mavs basketball between then and these playoffs. The American Airlines Center was just ready to burst. We loved the Mavericks again.


The game somehow lived up to the hype. It was a back-and-forth first half, with the Kings jumping out ahead early before the Mavs rallied to close the half.

You have to realize, that there's a crazy feeling inside a building during a Game 7. The crowd realizes that it's perhaps the last chance to see their team. It's this weird mixture of happiness, excitement and dread.

So in the second half, and the fourth quarter, it was kinda crazy to see that balance of dread and ecstasy go full-tilt to ecstasy. Dirk just kept hitting, and hitting, and hitting. It was kinda of crazy to see how open Dirk was on some of those Nash-Dirk pick and pops.

Then in the middle of the fourth quarter run, Nick Van Exel just decided to top it off with a pull-up three pointer. He hit that shot and I remember just screaming as loud as I could. Just pure happiness.

The Mavs would go on to lose to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, but I feel like that was the year DFW really began to get behind these Mavs. It's when we realized they weren't pushovers and the Mavs were going to be a conference contender for as long as Dirk was around.

It's also when I fell in love with basketball, watching the best game I've ever seen.