I was fortunate, then very unfortunate, to attend the only other NBA Finals Game 6 the Dallas Mavericks had ever played. Back in 2006, I had half-season tickets — Section 319, Row E, Seats 10 & 11 — and so I had tickets to every other home Â game in the playoffs. So I was there. I saw Dwyane Wade throw the ball up toward the rafters, after the final rebound of the series. I saw Antoine Walker run out onto the court, the Mavs’ court, and taunt the crowd. That was worse than just about anything. Walker was little more than a human bobblehead during his season with the Mavericks, with decent-looking rebound stats only because of his propensity to miss easy layups. Seeing him celebrate here was — you know what? In the past. All over. Five years later, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry and everyone else conspired to delete that from my memory for good.
The symmetry is almost too good. It’s a sort of movie script ending and that would be the part you’d roll your eyes at. “Really? What are the chances they have to face THAT team?” And yet it had to be this way. No matter what anyone tries to tell you, this was a rematch. As long as Miami has Wade, the Heat are the Heat. So it was perfect that the Mavericks’ first championship in franchise history came against the Heat, and it was perfect that they did it in Miami. Making Wade walk off his own court, hanging his head, just like he forced Dirk to do. Winning against anyone would have been enough. Of course. But I guarantee you every Mavs fan wanted to do it like this, and because the team did, it’s just a little bit sweeter.
I’ve said this over and over, but I love these guys. This was a special team from the beginning, and even after it got derailed slightly when Caron Butler got knocked out with a shredded knee, it still felt different from every other edition of the Dirk-led Mavs. Part of it is what you get from a veteran-laden team that no one is really paying attention to. Brendan Haywood got a big contract over the summer and expected to start. Then the team went out and got Tyson Chandler, and Haywood was a backup almost all season. On another team, that might have become a thing, a scab constantly picked at, a festering problem. It never seemed like a big deal. Just one example.
So much of it has to do with Dirk, obviously, but it’s more than just what he does on the court. It’s more than that videogame finishing move he calls a jumper, the degree of difficulty rising each time like he’s become bored with the game and has to make it harder on himself. Being around them a little bit, he has a presence that transcends “best player on the team.” He is friends with everyone in the organization and seems more like the goofy older brother than anything else. The star player is rarely the one who holds everything together, the glue guy. You have Zach Randolph and you have Shane Battier, and they have separate roles. But on the Mavericks? Both those guys are Dirk Nowitzki. He is a leader in every way possible. The other Mavs carry themselves a certain way because he does.
But they all deserve a moment. Jason Kidd reinvented himself as a spot-up shooter, and willed himself — at 38 — into stopping, in order: Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. He didn’t shut them down, but did enough. Shawn Marion, an All-Star just a few years ago, took on a reduced role (he only became a permanent part of the starting rotation late) and gave the team exactly what it needed and whatever it asked for every night. DeShawn Stevenson gave the team the toughness it sometimes lacked and the insane bravado it maybe didn’t always need (and his tattoo artist gave Terry that championship trophy tattoo that somehow we all forgot about all season). Tyson Chandler anchored the defense, making that position a strength instead of a sinkhole with a headband and pan hands. JJ Barea was a folk hero here before he took his act national, like Rudy with actual skill and a white-hot girlfriend.
And Jason Terry. The crazy partner in the buddy cop movie he and Dirk have been starring in for most of the decade. God bless him. Dirk is the captain of the ship, but JET is often the star they sail by, not always effective but never backing down.
Just about everyone else — Ian Mahinmi, Brian Cardinal, Peja Stojakovic, Corey Brewer — they all got some shine, a moment where they came through. It really is a rag-tag cast — Donnie Nelson calls them “the Castaways” — and in that, they remind me of my second-favorite Mavs team, the 2002-2003 squad, headed by Dirk/Steve Nash/Michael Finley, but also featuring NICK VAN EXEL (needs the all-caps), and guys like Walt Williams, Raja Bell, and Adrian Griffin. That was the team that almost knocked off the San Antonio Spurs, even after Dirk went down with a knee injury.
They were my favorite, but they have been usurped. Not least of all because the 2010-11 season culminated in this.
I love these guys.