Manager's note: This week, we will be publishing trial posts from our MMB finalists. With almost 100 applicants, thanks to those who sent an email. This piece is by James Park; enjoy!
Let me start off with a confession: I have not always been a Mavs fan. In 2006 I wanted to see Alonzo Mourning get a ring and in turn cheered for the Heat. In 2007 I was a happy-go-lucky teenager who was ecstatic (#webelieve) that his Golden State over Dallas prediction came to fruition.
It was in 2008 that I converted to the Church of Cuban. I had been an Eddie Jones fan for quite some time, enjoyed cheering for undersized players with heart like Brandon Bass, and appreciated sneakily good players like Josh Howard. Also, I may have been the only person in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada) to own and proudly don a Dirk Nowitzki jersey to the YMCA with regularity. Once basketball savant and Top-5 point guard in NBA history Jason Kidd was acquired by the Mavs post All-Star break, I was committed.
Unfortunately my enthusiasm was not proportionate to the Mavs success that season. It was obvious that Kidd and Avery Johnson were not the most compatible coach-point guard duo as the Little General's offense was ill suited for Kidd's skill set. Unlike years past the Mavs entered the playoffs with little fanfare and the lack of momentum led to a familiar result as they lost 4-1 to a Hornets team led by a young Chris Paul, David West and Tyson Chandler. As a fan, this loss gave me plenty of doubts. Watching Kidd get obliterated by Paul planted seeds of doubt about the Mavs moving forward. Seeing Dirk allow David West to condescendingly "pat" his face made me wonder if the German Moses was indeed "soft." Witnessing Josh Howard shoot less than 30% for the series while hearing rumours of his infamous birthday party invites following a loss made me wonder if the one time All-Star's best days were behind him. Ultimately, I wondered if I had picked the wrong time to become a Mavs fan.
The 2008/2009 season was year one of Rick Carlisle's tenure with the team. Although I didn't realize it at the time, Carlisle's roster management and adeptness at maximizing talent by making the whole greater than the sum of its parts was on full display. Seriously, he managed to win 50 games with a team that started Antoine Wright for 53 games, and at various points of the season trotted out Ryan Hollins, James Singleton and Devean George as starters. Despite having obvious flaws such as the inability to contain penetration on the defensive end, and overall lack of athleticism, this was a fun team to watch. Whether it was a monster dunk by Singleton, alley oops to start the game from Kidd to Hollins, or the sparkplug that was JJ Barea, this was the beginning of the "Be Ready" mantra that has since been entrenched in the Mavs locker room. More than anything though, this was the first year that I came to truly appreciate the one and only Dirk Nowitzki. This was the first year that I fell in love with the Mavericks.
After coming across arguably the weakest rendition of the Spurs in the past decade, especially considering Manu's absence, the Mavs rolled into the second round in 5 games. If you're wondering how little help Duncan and Parker had that series, Erick Dampier who averaged 8.4 points per game against the Spurs would have been their 3rd highest scorer had he been in black and silver. (Quick aside: remember when Carlisle had hair?)
The second round loss against the Nuggets was a tough one to swallow. Sure, there was the controversial no-call at the end of Game 3 when Wright tried to intentionally foul Carmelo prior to him burying the game winning three, but truth be told the Nuggets were the superior team. That said, watching Dirk fight like hell in trying to will his team to victory was nothing short of inspirational. Through hard and flagrant fouls, multiple skilled defenders such as Kenyon Martin and a young Birdman Chris Andersen, and a lack of help on the offensive end, Dirk fought his way to 5 games of averaging 34.4 ppg on over 50% from the field, 11.6 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 block. However, it wasn't just the on-court performance that won my respect; it was everything else that accompanied it. During the series, news surfaced that Dirk's fiancé had turned out to be a fraud and had been arrested. Being the private man that he is, Dirk largely kept that to himself and still put forth a dominant performance for his team and his city. Also, I'll never forget Dirk being asked by a reporter about how Denver was defending him. Dirk gave possibly one of the most honest answers that you'll ever hear from a professional athlete: he complimented both Martin and Andersen and noted that their defensive styles are effective in frustrating his offensive game and making things difficult for him.
The guys over at TNT, specifically Charles Barkley killed Dirk for this. I remember Barkley saying something to the tune of how he would never offer such a compliment and would never let anyone think that they could guard him. Analysts piled this into the house of cards that represented Dirk's "soft factor" and supposed lack of superstar mentality. I couldn't have disagreed more. As a fan, Dirk's comments were extremely refreshing. Although I can understand the need for athletes to have supreme confidence, to believe that the next shot is always going in, etc., any inference that Dirk lacked what it took to win because he paid an honest and respectful compliment to his opponents was unwarranted, especially considering the monster numbers he put up against them. The troubling developments in his personal life, the respect for his opponents, and his die-hard effort to try to will his team to victory: all of this made Dirk more human to me, more relatable. All of this made me want to support him and his Mavericks that much more.
Since that season, my fandom with the Mavs has never wavered but like all relationships, its had its ups and downs. I was supremely excited when we traded for Butler, Haywood and Stevenson in 2009/2010, only to almost get in a fist-fight with one of my closest friends as he taunted me following their loss to the Spurs in the first round. Obviously the 2011 championship brought me to the highest of highs as a fan, while the year of Mike James and Darren Collison reminded me that fandom is like a roller coaster with its highs and just as if not more frequent lows. Over the years, I've been won over by Dirk's professionalism, loyalty and commitment to his craft and franchise. I've been impressed by Carlisle's ability to adapt, his willingness to accept responsibility and fearless leadership. I've been comfortable with Mark Cuban's unwillingness to settle, even if it means striking out in free agency and having to re-tool on the fly. Through all of these experiences, I've been sold, and am ultimately proud to call myself a Mavs Fan For Life.