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How the 2005-06 Dallas Mavericks hooked me for life

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Sometimes basketball can mean a lot.

NBA Finals Game 6: Miami Heat v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Sometimes I ask myself why I follow the Dallas Mavericks so closely. After all, there’s more heartbreak than joy. It’s that way with most sports. And the Mavericks have a tendency to make frustrating decisions, again, and again, and again. It doesn’t take long to remember why I watch this team play so much, though.

There are certain times in your life where things line up almost perfectly, where there’s enough circumstances to make you believe in fate, destiny, and miracles. And when there’s a sports team involved, well, it’s even more magical.

I moved to Dallas in the summer of 2005, renting an apartment in Mesquite with my cousins Manuel and Danny. Some of our friends moved into an apartment complex a couple blocks away. We were all in that early 20s state of being, taking college classes and working part-time jobs. And we were all sports obsessed.

After years of following the Mavericks from East Texas, I was finally in the Metroplex. Now I could watch every game on TV, and almost everyone I knew followed the Mavericks. I’d come out of the basketball wilderness and found a home. Our lives consisted of watching the Mavericks and, when they weren’t on TV, playing basketball. Sure, we went to class and showed up to our jobs. But really, that year was about basketball.

Sometimes you can just tell a team is going to be special, and the 2005-06 Mavericks were that way. We knew something was cooking, and we were determined to watch as many games as possible. We all loved Dirk, of course. But there were so many other characters on that team that captured our attention. Jason Terry had only been on the team a couple years, but his oversized swagger was addicting. Jerry Stackhouse’s toughness was undeniable. Josh Howard’s sudden leap to an all-star was an unexpected surprise.

And of course, after watching ball for three hours, we had to go play. We had a steady group of five—me, Danny, Manuel, Seth, and Clint. We played on a covered court outside of First Baptist Sunnyvale. This court was heaven for the basketball obsessed. Covered by a high metal awning, with lights on a timer, and, most importantly, real basketball goals with glass backboards. None of those double rim types you find at parks.

We’d grab Chinese food from a place at Town East Mall for dinner, and watch the Mavericks if they were on, and if not, whatever teams were playing that night. When the games were over, we’d head to Sunnyvale to play basketball until the lights shut off at midnight. If there were plenty of people, the five of us would run as a unit. If the court was dead, we’d run whatever games we could get — 2-on-2, 3-on-3, whatever it took to play ball. Afterward we’d hit the drive thru at Wendy’s, loading up on burgers, chicken nuggets, and Frostys.

We lived and died with every win and loss. If the Mavericks won, it was a good night. We went to the court high on victory, expecting to beat anyone we played. If they lost, we were grumpy, and if we played against each other, things would get rough. No easy baskets, no blood, no foul, meatgrinder games.

The playoffs were a blast, a cleansing from all the previous years’ disappointments. A sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies set up a second round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, a familiar roadblock. But then the Mavericks went up 3-1, and it seemed like all the demons had been exorcised. But then the Spurs won games 5 and 6, and suddenly the playoffs were not so different. When the Mavericks went up 20 in the first half of Game 7, but then gave up the lead, down by three with less around 30 seconds left, things felt downright lost.

But then Manu Ginobli fouled Dirk on a layup, and Dirk hit the free throw to tie the game, sending the game to overtime. As all of us gathered around our 19” TV sitting precariously on a rickety entertainment center, we knew there was no way the Mavericks were losing. Dirk had that look. Dallas dominated the overtime period, punching a ticket to the Western Conference Finals, where they dispatched the Phoenix Suns in six games. The Mavericks were four wins away from a championship.

Before the Finals started, I bought an unlicensed shirt from a man with a tent outside of a gas station. It was navy blue and said “Witness Dallas Basketball” on the front. LeBron James’ “We Are All Witnesses” Nike campaign was going strong at the time, and it felt right. We were about to witness Dallas basketball history. We knew the Mavericks were going to win. It was destiny.

And it seemed like our instincts were right. The Mavericks went up 2-0 on the Miami Heat, and for once they seemed unstoppable. But then there were dubious calls by the refs, and the Mavericks lost their composure. By the time they were down 3-2 in the series, the Heat winning felt as inevitable as the Mavericks’ championship days before.

The night of Game 6 our apartment had the atmosphere of a funeral home. Manuel had been wanting to set me up with a woman he worked with, and somehow decided that was the night to invite her over so we could meet. I completely ignored her, instead yelling at the TV in what can only be described as desperate anger. She left at halftime and never called me. Probably a good decision on her part.

After the Mavericks lost, we all drifted to different portions of the apartment. I laid on my bed in the dark, muttering curses at Bennett Salvatore. Once we all cooled off, we regrouped in the living room, sitting around, not saying much. It was quiet. But then Danny said, “Let’s go shoot.” So we did, spending the next two hours playing off the hardest loss we’d ever been through.

That 2005-06 Mavericks team meant more to me than it should. But that’s okay, because it meant too much because of who I shared it with—my cousins and my friends. And for that reason, I’m still living and dying with every game.