In this, my inaugural post for Mavs Moneyball, I’m going to make enemies and immediately throw away any goodwill that the honeymoon period may have otherwise afforded me. I do this knowing full well that many of you will think I’m incorrect, and I get that. But you’re wrong.
There are only a few hard and fast rules to be a Dallas Mavericks fan in 2019. Here are the most important: (1) Dirk Nowitzki is the end-all, be-all; (2) Luka Doncic is our boy king; and (3) You must hate Dwyane Wade.
I grew up in a land without a team. Cushing, Oklahoma: The Pipeline Crossroads of the World. We were hours and hours from any NBA arena, but my mom and her whole family are from Dallas, so my Mavs fandom came about honestly. At about 7 or 8 I got my first jersey; a shiny blue Jason Kidd that I’m pissed I don’t still have, MOM.
When the Hornets moved to Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina, we finally had the opportunity to see high quality professional basketball in our own backyard. I was so excited that I wrote two articles for our school newspaper and I wasn’t even on the staff. Just to prove my sporting knowledge bona fides (or complete lack thereof), the topic of one of those articles was essentially ‘This team will be trash. But Chris Paul will be fun. Enjoy watching him and the stars from opposing teams.’ Turns out they were incredibly competent and respectable for each of their seasons as the NOK Hornets.
One of the first NBA games I attended was a January 2006 game between the Hornets and the Heat. I don’t think anyone in the Ford Center had any idea we were watching the soon-to-be NBA Champions, because neither of these teams looked like Champs that night. The crowd was a little preoccupied by the frequent cut-ins in the arena to update everybody on the Vince Young Rose Bowl game that was also happening. My favorite part of the evening ended up in the box score as nothing more than a foul on Shaquille O’Neal: early in the game Desmond Mason went up for a dunk on Shaq that would still be talked about today if Shaq hadn’t taken Mason out of the air to prevent the embarrassment.
But then there was Wade. He was a bolt of lightning all night. He had 19, 10 & 10; his second career triple double. And SURE he threw the ball away a few times, and SURE he did all this in a 15-point loss that really wasn’t even that close, but that’s beside the point. The bones of a superstar were already there, and we got to see them get fleshed out a little that night.
We all know what happened next. By the time June rolled around, Wade’s superstardom was nearly complete. We don’t need to dive deep on the 2006 Finals, lest we all start crying at work. The seemingly endless trips to the free throw line disgusted Mavericks fans, and a few good folks in the national media as well. Dwyane Wade was a champion, and the NBA Finals MVP. And Dwyane Wade became public enemy number one for Mavericks fans.
The hatred intensified in 2011. The fake coughing has really tattooed itself onto the memories of Mavs fans, and understandably so. Anybody actually paying attention to Dirk Nowitzki knew that he was tough. Dirk played hurt, Dirk played sick, Dirk always came back early. Dirk Nowitzki would not fake sick. So, Wade and LeBron mocking Dirk in that situation was egregious. Who knows, maybe they were scared. The Finals were tied and maybe their hyper-masculinity made them feel like treating their opponents as a joke was a way to mask their fear of the inevitable. Regardless of the driving force behind it, it happened.
Looking back now, I bet they wish they hadn’t done it. It was childish, but Wade and LeBron weren’t children. I’m not giving Wade a pass for this. Not LeBron either. LeBron’s “Man. This weather, man. It’s hard to go from 85-degree weather and then go to 90.” is just as stupid as anything that Wade did in that moment. But this incident seemingly didn’t stick to LeBron like it did with Wade in the minds of Mav fans. Why? LeBron’s personality? Wade seems pretty jovial. LeBron’s social activism? Wade was standing right there with him at the ESPYS calling out the dangers of racial profiling and advocating for peace. Maybe we just knew LeBron was the best player of the era so we let him slide. Maybe that’s it.
Now I may not be the best person to talk about NBA villainy in the first place, as I don’t necessarily agree with the concept. There are bad players in the NBA, and most of them are easy to root against. There are also bad PEOPLE in the NBA, and they’re also easy to root against. And of course, there are some players you may just not like watching. I was never able to get to any of those places with Dwyane Wade. He was too talented and too fun. Why deprive yourself of enjoying a spectacular career just in the name of hating a player?
And it WAS spectacular. Dwyane Wade was a killer, man. Watching the James/Wade/Bosh-era Heat frantically skitter across both ends of the court was a wonder. We saw Wade hit game winners as recently as 6 months ago, but throughout his career he took, and made, many. Is there anybody reading this who didn’t think he would sink that three-point runner at the buzzer of game two of the 2011 Finals? He put fear in my heart in a lot of big moments.
But Dwyane Wade is more than just a great basketball player. There’s a regular person there too; a husband, a father. A couple months before losing to the Mavericks in the Finals, Wade got his win. I have a feeling he’d tell you that it was even more important to him than an NBA Championship. Wade and his first wife had been involved in an ugly divorce and custody case for more than two years at that point. The case was heavily covered at the time and many of the details were tough to hear. In March of 2011, Dwyane Wade was granted custody of his kids. A professional athlete — always training, always on the road -- fought for his children and won.
Reading about that case may have led to my soft spot for Wade. After that, I viewed everything he did through a more favorable lens. This summer I felt validated in my soft-spottedness for him when I saw Wade’s Instagram posts about his wife, Gabrielle Union, and sons attending a Miami Pride parade.
“We support each other with Pride!” Wade pasted over a photo of his wife with his son, Zion. On a photo of a larger group, Wade captioned, “Zion had his o[w]n cheering section today. Wish I was there to see you smile kid!”
Wade and his family received plenty of hateful messages and some stick-to-sports backlash after these posts hit Instagram. Wade addressed it with class, telling Variety, “I don’t really talk about it much because it’s Zion’s story to tell. I think as a family we should support each other. That’s our job. And my job as a father is to facilitate their lives and to be behind them in whatever they want to do.”
If there were a thousand different responses that Wade could’ve given to the backlash, he picked the perfect one. That is some A+ dad shit.
Dwyane Wade was a very good basketball player and he had a great career. He may have had his slip-ups, relationships may have gotten ‘frosty’, and sure maybe the Three Alphas didn’t work out. But Dwyane Wade is more than that.
I’m a die-hard Dallas Mavericks fan, and I don’t hate Dwyane Wade.
I like him.