clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How the Mavericks gained (and nearly lost) my fandom in 2006

New, comments

I fell in love with basketball and the Mavericks during the 2006 season, only to be tested with the heartbreaking Finals defeat.

This week and next, we'll be publishing stories about the 2006 and 2011 Finals in honor of their 5-year and 10-year anniversaries. Both are important, even if one is significantly easier to celebrate. Finals Week might mean something else to students, but for us, this will be a nostalgic look back.

I wasn't always a rabid NBA fan.  A lot of us grew up learning sports from a parent, and I was no different. My dad's fandom was limited to the Cowboys and Rangers. He gave almost no attention to the Mavericks, even after Mark Cuban bought the team and empowered Don Nelson to build a flashy experiment around Steve Nash, Michael Finley, and Dirk Nowitzki that was wildly successful and gave DFW fans all kinds of basketball fervor. In hindsight, I'm not really sure why my dad so enjoyed the hapless mediocrity of the early-aughts Cowboys and Rangers over those fun Mavs squads that kept making deep playoff runs, but hey, that's on him.

I think my dad's only real basketball interest was the '80s Lakers with Magic and Kareem. The only time I remember watching basketball together as a child was a couple of the Shaq-Kobe Finals. So I have to admit for all the world that that I missed out enjoying the early 2000s Mavericks. I was aware of them, but I had no idea at the time that basketball was a glorious marvel of fun and beauty. In hindsight, it hurts a lot that I didn't get to fan out over a team that made the second round of the playoffs in 2000 and 2001 and was then a Dirk injury away from the Finals in 2002. I watched a few games at the time and had a strong connection with Nash, but basketball simply wasn't on my radar.

In any event, something changed for me in that 2005-06 season. I was a junior in high school, and my interests--including my sports-watching habits--were now largely independent of my parents. I honestly can't recall exactly what led me to the Mavs that year, but I do remember what happened once I found them. I fell head over heels in love. Go ahead and tell me that's being dramatic; I don't care. Basketball was the first fandom that was mine. It wasn't inherited from my family, nor was it something that I got into because I played it myself. It just became my favorite sport.

That 2005-06 Dallas squad was something unique and weird and special. I know now that it was something of an odd bunch, and looking back, I'm not really sure how a team starting a second-year point guard and DeSagana Diop managed to be so dominant. Maybe it was just a different time. Regardless, I didn't have enough NBA context to realize how unusual and honestly somewhat underwhelming that roster was. I just knew that they were fun to watch.

Once I was in, I was IN. I watched every game I could that season. I became a huge fan of Marquis Daniels. (I think probably I was intrigued by his changing hair styles, but I also appreciated that he was one of the few players on that team who was more about grit than gaudy offense.) Jerry Stackhouse made me a believe in the power of a flame-throwing sixth man scorer, a mantle Jason Terry would take up when Stack left. And of course there was Dirk. I hadn't yet discovered stats, but Dirk averaged 26.6 points and nine rebounds, falling just short of 50-40-90. I didn't know enough to be able to explain why, but I just knew that Dirk was transcendent. He was just so different from all the other players I saw him playing with and against.

The more I watched, the more obsessive I became. Rivalries began to set in. By the time the playoffs rolled around, I had a visceral hatred for the Spurs and incredibly conflicted feelings about the Suns. (I still loved Steve Nash, and holy hell was "seven seconds or less" fun to watch.) I even followed all the NBA rumor mongering. I remember reading about the Shaq trade rumors in a newspaper (yes, an actual damn newspaper). It was my first existential basketball crisis, because I was falling in love with Dirk, but I still remembered how dominant Shaq was in those Lakers Finals I watched with my dad.

I didn't miss a single Mavs playoff game in their run to the '06 Finals, and I haven't missed one since either. I watched a couple of the games in the Memphis sweep while on a college visit. The Spurs series remains one of the best playoff series in which I've ever seen the Mavericks participate. Game 7 of those semis was the first time I'd ever watched a sporting event with my heart in my through the entire game -- a feeling that only escalated in those final minutes of regulation. When Dirk pulled off the three-point play to force overtime in San Antonio, I began to believe Dallas was fated to do something special.

The Western Conference Finals against Phoenix was a good deal less stressful and more fun. Even in the losses, I enjoyed the offensive fireworks, and I had a gut feeling the Mavs would find their way to their first ever NBA Finals. When they finished off the Suns, I wasn't quite sure how to feel. I was overjoyed, but also very aware that my fandom was in its infancy. I hadn't suffered through the '90s. I didn't know the pain of having Dirk get injured in the '02 West Finals. But dammit, I was excited, and I was convinced the Mavs were going to win.

I wasn't yet a fully-fledged NBA fan. My knowledge of the game and the league was narrowly focused on the Mavs. As a result, I didn't have any idea what to expect from the Finals because I didn't know much about the Heat. I knew that everyone talked about Wade like he was the next Kobe, but honestly I was more afraid of Shaq. I still remembered his play in previous Finals. Little did I know I would leave the series with Wade firmly seared into my psyche, with Shaq a complete afterthought.

I remember watching the Finals alone on the couch of my childhood home. Games 1 and 2 only served to confirm my giddy belief that Dallas was fated for a championship. I wouldn't begin talking about the basketball gods until years later, but I clearly believed they were on the side of the Mavericks that year. Then Game 3 happened. Going into that fourth quarter, I was beginning to think about a sweep. But the fourth shook me. I didn't have enough experience yet to get what was going on, but I could tell something suddenly was wrong. The Dallas offense fell off a cliff. Wade seemed to hit every shot he took. Shaq hit two free throws while Dirk missed one that would've tied the game right at the end. It was a perfect storm of awfulness.

It was also just one really weird, really bad quarter. Dallas still looked like the better team and still had a 2-1 lead. I still had hope.

Game 4 was so disparaging. It felt like Dallas was a completely different team, and it shook my belief that the Mavs were destined for glory. They showed signs of dominance again in the second quarter of Game 5. JET was on fire throughout that game, and Dirk worked his ass off at the end to try to pull the win off in regulation. But as things got tight in the fourth and into overtime, I remember feeling first outraged, then frustrated, then defeated, as Wade was sent to the line over and over and over. As we all know, he shot more free throws in that game than the entire Mavericks team. After the loss, all hope was gone--fate had been thwarted.

I fed off of Mark Cuban's and Avery Johnson's anger. I watched Game 6 in sullen fear, knowing it was the end. LIke a lot of fans at the time, I felt cheated and betrayed by the NBA. This team I had grown to love went from talk about sweeping the Heat to be swept by them in the final four games of the series. I was crushed.

Ultimately, the 2005-06 season, and especially the Finals, shaped my NBA fandom for years to come. To this day, the two teams I love to root against most are the Spurs and the Heat. Even though I get that Wade is a legitimately great NBA player, I will never be able to look at him through anything but rage-colored glasses. I don't know if those Finals were rigged, but I've looked at the NBA leadership with a modicum of doubt ever since. And on a happier note, the love I developed for Dirk that season has only blossomed and grown each year since.

That season cemented my Mavs fandom. I've branched out since then and developed a genuine passion for basketball as a whole, but it all started there. The following year, I enjoyed the thrilling ride of rooting for a 67-win team, but I also spent the last couple of weeks of the season with my eyes glued to the standings in fear. I knew Golden State was a terrifyingly bad matchup, and the '07 first round is right up there with the '06 Finals as the most haunting sports heartbreaks for me.

But I've rambled on enough. In the end, I can draw a direct line from the 2005-06 season through my growth as a Mavs superfan, all the way to becoming a writer for this, the best Mavericks blog on the Internet. As much as those Finals haunt me, they were an integral part of my fandom. And for that, I will always love-hate them, and will certainly never forget them.

Ten years ago, I learned to love basketball, and it broke my heart in return. I've just enjoyed the ride ever since.