I’m a writer and editor by trade, and I devote a fair amount of my free time to reading. To put it another way: I spend most of my days thinking about stories. Given that, it is only natural that I have come to believe in the power of narrative more than most.
I believe in hero’s journeys. I believe in flashbacks and foreshadowing, tying off a loose end, the satisfaction that comes with closing a loop several years down the line. I believe in revenge!
I believe in all of this very strongly, especially as it relates to sports, and especially especially when it comes to professional basketball, objectively our best sport. There is almost always a storyline in play, and not just something that the league’s broadcast partners have cobbled together to sell this series or that Christmas day matchup. I’m talking about plots set in motion years before, dramas seemingly destined to occur.
Think about the Dallas Mavericks’ 2011 championship run. Didn’t it have to end in Miami, the site of such disappointment in 2006? I mean, Dirk Nowitzki breaking through to win his first Larry O’Brien Trophy against the Chicago Bulls would have been fine. Of course it would have. A championship is a championship. But doing it against Dwyane Wade, the foul-drawing villain of the 2006 Finals? That was what the story demanded.
It was almost too perfect. Even sports biopics rarely have endings that tidy. But it happens all the time with the NBA.
I started thinking about narratives Sunday night a little before 9 p.m., when I allowed myself to start thinking about the Western Conference finals, knowing there wasn’t any chance of jinxing the Mavericks as they closed out the Suns. And as soon as I shifted focus to the Golden State Warriors, the Mavs’ next opponent, something occurred to me.
By the end of the 2011 Finals, almost every member of the Mavericks’ rogues gallery had been dealt with at some point over the years. The style wars with Sacramento ended with a seven-game epic in 2003. The Spurs went down in 2006, on Dirk’s near-miraculous and-one layup. Even the Lakers, the final boss of Dallas’ nightmares going back to the 1988 Western Conference finals, were swept on the way to that 2011 title.
But there is still one out there on the loose: the 2007 “We Believe” Warriors.
I know. I know. It’s been 15 years. Dirk made his peace with the Mavs’ stunning first-round exit at the hands of former coach Don Nelson and his upstart Warriors squad a long time ago. He even wound up signing the wall at Oracle Arena next to the gash he made in the sheetrock after throwing a garbage can at it in a post-loss rage blackout. And, of course, neither team is the same. Dallas is Luka Doncic’s team now, while Golden State are not the underdog Warriors anymore. They’re the “Death Lineup” Warriors. The dynasty Warriors.
Which makes it a perfect time to pay them back.
Listen to me: the “We Believe” Warriors are still part of that franchise’s DNA. When the organization left Oracle after the 2019 season and moved across the bay to San Francisco, they cut out the piece of the wall that Dirk smashed, then later signed, and brought it with them. They wore the “We Believe” throwback jerseys for their final game at the arena and have worn them since. After the three-titles-in-four-years run, that team is arguably the biggest part of the Golden State identity, apart from the brief Run-TMC era at the end of the 1980s.
And you better believe that we are all going to hear a lot about that “We Believe” team over the next six or seven games. The crew at TNT has probably already got a highlights package cut together and ready to go. Fifteen years will melt away like that when you hear Reggie Miller stepping on his own punchline over a video of Matt Barnes scowling at Dirk against a sea of yellow. A championship takes away the pain but not the scar. I’ve been running a finger over mine for a couple of days now.
But this is all good. This is the way the story should go. This is what the narrative demands. It gave Dallas a 19-year-old kid from Central Europe who turned into one of the greatest players this league has ever seen, and then it gave us another one 20 years later. Now the second one, Luka, is in position to slay the last demon haunting the franchise, the only one Dirk let get away.
The satisfaction of closing a loop 15 years down the line.
I could give you plenty of basketball reasons why I think the Mavericks will beat the Warriors. But my man Iztok Franko can do that better than I can, and so can Jake Kemp, and Tim Cato, and the guys at Mavs Moneyball. After Game 1, we can talk about matchups and adjustments and whether Draymond Green should have been ejected for kicking Dwight Powell in the junk on a rebound in the third quarter.
All I can tell you right now is I believe in the power of narrative more than most. I believe in hero’s journeys. I believe in flashbacks and foreshadowing, tying off a loose end. I believe in revenge!
Mavs in six.