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Savor this Dallas Mavericks season, no matter how it unfolds

This basketball year will be full of new memories

NHL: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

One of my earliest memories of my paternal grandmother is from a small gift she gave me in 1980 when I was five years old. The jeweler she worked for had sponsored a commemorative coin for the inaugural game (a stunning 103-92 win over the Spurs) of the new Dallas professional basketball team. Apparently, the new team was nearly dubbed the Dallas Wranglers or Express. Mercifully, the postcard voting campaign lifted another name to the top. The choice echoed a television show from two decades prior starring one of the members of the investment group, James Garner.

The pouch she handed me said “Dallas Mavericks”. Admittedly, the coin’s significance was lost on me at such a young age. I kept it for years on my “souvenir shelf” amongst seashells from South Padre Island and an antique music box that played Singin’ in the Rain.

The Mavericks vaulted into relevance and contender status under Dick Motta in the late 80s. My only connection to the Mavericks was the highlight package during Verne Lundquist’s sports segment on Channel 8’s 6 pm news. Watching the 1988 Western Conference Finals would have meant commandeering our family’s Magnavox and I simply would have been outvoted had I even attempted such a thing.

By the time I had a small TV in my bedroom, the Mavericks had devolved into a laughing stock. Years of bad basketball beamed into a small black-and-white screen forced me to view the sport differently. I started watching each telecast expecting a loss during the Richie Adubato years and the Quinn Buckner disaster. Instead, I learned to find small victories in a particular play that went the Mavericks’ way, a promising new player showing a flash of potential, or simply coming away from a game understanding a bit of basketball jargon.

The assembling of the three Js led to fleeting optimism but ultimately proved to be a combustible mix of personalities. Instead, the landmark moment that brought lasting change came in the 1998 draft. In one of the greatest trade outcomes in league history, the Mavericks parlayed Robert Traylor into two Hall of Famers. Few would have guessed at the time that the cool Canadian and lanky, bashful German would forever change what it felt like to watch a Mavericks game.

It was such a blast to watch those early Dirk Nowitzki years. Believing Dallas could win any game and witnessing the rapid maturation of our new star players was pure exhilaration. When the Mavericks returned to the postseason after spending the 90s in the wilderness, they found themselves pitted against a savvy, grizzled opponent with a wealth of playoff experience. Karl Malone, John Stockton, and the rest of the Utah Jazz were accustomed to deep playoff runs. It was set up for Dallas to get swept after the Jazz took a heartbreaker in Game 1 and cruised in Game 2. The young Mavericks showed resolve to even the series at home but few gave them much of a shot in the deciding Game 5 back in Utah. You know, the bad city.

Watching that game 5 in my mid-20s, alone and freshly divorced, was downright cathartic. It is dwarfed in our collective memories by all the Dirk moments that came after, but the end of Game 5 lives in my mind to this day. The local broadcast team was allowed to cover that series and I can still hear the unmistakable voice of Bob Ortegel extolling the Mavericks backup center with a hearty “Calvin Booth!” whose layup off a great pass from Michael Finley was perhaps the unlikeliest source of offense on the floor.

One of the most fun iterations of the Mavs came in the 2002-2003 season. A midseason trade for Nick Van Exel and Raef LaFrentz equally energized the fanbase and the Mavericks' offense. My lasting visual from that team is Walt Williams coming off the bench to drop threes and throw his hand gesture that eventually became commonplace - but wow, was it ever cool coming from The Wizard. Sure, Dallas didn’t win a title that year but what a ride it was taking the Spurs to six games in the Western Conference Finals.

I had the chance to attend the opener of the 2004-2005 season with my best friend of many years. We were so stoked when newly acquired starting center Erick Dampier put back a miss with a ferocious two-hand dunk that lit the AAC ablaze with glee. My buddy yelled, “That’s right! We have a Center now.” It didn’t matter that the totality of Dampier’s time with the Mavericks was a disappointment. That night, at that moment, he was our long sought-after answer to getting bullied in the post.

After questionable officiating turned a 2-0 lead in the 2006 NBA Finals into a level of heartbreak I had never experienced as a sports fan, I admit to being crestfallen.

So much had broken the Mavericks' way. The Spurs were laying there as a proverbial monster - slayed in a miraculous game 7. That series and the WCF against Phoenix were some of the very best games of Dirk’s career. Everything was lined up for Dallas. The '06 Finals outcome still hurts.

Enduring anguish that felt like theft, I learned that fandom-induced heartache can bleed over into the rest of my life, impact my mood, and cause me to question the wisdom in caring so much.

When the Warriors ended the Mavericks season the following year, I was resigned to it happening early in the series when it was clear Nellie had Avery and Dirk’s number. It was a shrill coda to a despondent concerto started a year before.

Redemption eventually came in the form of the 2011 NBA Championship but there was a moment late in Game 2 when that did not appear at all likely. The image of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James shadowboxing in front of our bench still makes me nauseous. Little did I know this was merely the preamble to the single greatest sports moment I would ever witness. Jason Terry just shook his head no. Dirk passed out of a double team beautifully to our current head coach for an open three. The Tyson Chandler pin down leaving Dirk open for what should have been the dagger. When we needed more heroics from 41 a few minutes later, he delivered. Oh, and that heave from Wade nearly went in. The series was on and when the bully was stood up to, the Heat faltered.

A couple of years later, with the championship vibes well in the rearview mirror, the Mavericks were smack dab in the OJ Mayo era. I received a call to meet up with some friends for a patio Tex-Mex lunch at a local eatery. While finding the table, I noticed the Mavericks game was on and didn’t think much of it. It looked like the Bulls were going to roll over the Mavericks early on. What started to transpire on the television captured my attention when I went back up to the bar to order a drink.

I found myself transfixed as a bearded bunch of Mavericks pushed back against Nate Robinson’s career game in a back-and-forth second half. Hearing Mark Followill exclaim, “they lead, they lead” and seeing Dirk yelling back at the crowd after he hit the deciding shot had me remembering something the Finals runs had caused me to forget.

Savor the moments. Relish each game.

The constant yearning for improvement - and ultimately championships - is absolutely part of fandom. Focusing only on the big picture, though, omits so much of the joy to be found in following a team closely. The game-to-game minutia, the great bench performances, the roller coaster ride we go on vicariously with each edition of the Mavs.

The Luka Doncic era has already brought us so many great memories. It has also manifested an inevitable “title or bust” thread running through how we think about the Mavericks. As much as I agree that Luka represents a golden opportunity to add banners at the AAC, my experience watching Mike Iuzzolino run the point back in the darkest of days has me appreciating every season of competitive basketball that graces our town.

Last season’s meteoric second half and playoff run were so much fun for two reasons. First, we saw one of the best stretches of Mavericks basketball in team history in the form of a 36-12 finish to the season. That is a staggering win rate. Even more importantly, this era of high competency buoyed by Luka Doncic is yolked with a team chemistry that makes this group so endearing, win or lose. These Mavericks showed us last year that they unabashedly enjoy playing for each other and in front of us. This is no small thing. Contenders in Golden State, Los Angeles, and Phoenix are all battling against a lack of cohesion - oftentimes out in the open for the world to see.

My grandmother had no idea that gifting me that coin over 40 years ago marked the start of what feels like a cosmic tether to this basketball team. It continues this year as I unexpectedly received an invite to be part of my favorite website, MavsMoneyBall. It is time to get the season started, do my level best to contribute here in a meaningful way, and most importantly, enjoy every single moment of what should be another memorable season.