As spare time becomes sparse and complacency teeters on the edge of becoming commonplace, very infrequently do I find myself inspired to blog. Truth be told, the indiscriminate culprit is probably more a haphazard concoction of apathy and ambivalence than anything else.
Like I said, recently, I’ve needed great inspiration to fuel any ambition of mine to blog. That inspiration would be the Dallas Mavericks winning the NBA title…and, more importantly, Dirk Nowitzki finally validating himself as one of the great power forwards of all time. Back in 2006, when the Dallas Mavericks gakked up a title that they appeared destined to win, I was out of the country and wasn’t able to catch up with the NBA Finals until weeks later. I was pulling heavily for Nowitzki and his Mavs in 2006. Ironically enough, I saw the Dallas Mavericks finally extinguish those irrepressibly dark memories of 2006…outside of the country. While my friends and I were tonguing down the mistress of debauchery and shenanigans in DR, we caught Game 6 at a sports bar at our resort. I’ve NEVER seen so much hate directed towards one player like I saw that day against LeBron James. Mind you this, Kobe “The Black Mamba” Bryant is my favorite NBA player…so I’m more than accustomed to the vitriol and hate that’s often spewed at one of the game’s best players…and yet, I was absolutely shocked at the level of venomous contempt that folks had for LeBron. “Ova-rated!” chants resonated throughout the bar. Every camera shot of him was greeted by a crescendo of ear deafening boos. It was ridiculous. I’ve never seen any athlete hated THAT much. I mean, folks who didn’t know diddley poo about basketball chose to invest their Sunday evening watching that game just to see LeBron fail. I don’t think I’ve ever hated any team or player that much to tune in just to watch them lose (and believe you me, I hate the Skankees).
Needless to say, I was ecstatic that the Mavericks won. Seeing Dirk hurdle over the scoreboard and into the locker room immediately after the game to get a hold of his emotions was a special moment. Any other athlete would’ve wanted to celebrate and be adored in front of the camera; in front of millions of his fans. However, Dirk chose to steal a few private moments to gather himself and steady his emotions. Dirk is as humble a sports superstar as I’ve ever seen. Besides Heat fans and the Jews, who could root against Nowitzki? Who wasn’t happy to see him hold up that championship trophy?
You have to admire the path that Nowitzki has taken from that fateful Game 6 loss in the 2006 NBA Finals to winning his first title last Sunday. Dirk and his 67-win Mavs truly hit rock bottom the next year when they were bounced out of the 1st round of the playoffs by the 8th seeded Golden State Albas…I mean Warriors. Regardless, every year thereafter, Dirk committed himself to becoming a better player in the off-season and strengthening any weak points in his game. Even with his constant progression as an elite NBA player, Dirk’s Mavericks continued to disappoint in the NBA playoffs. You couldn’t really blame Dirk for his team’s underwhelming performances though because Dirk performed exceptionally throughout all of his team’s postseason failures. Regardless, the target is always larger and more freshly painted on the back of the superstar and Dirk continued to be fueled by that burden going into this year’s playoffs (where a majority of pundits had them being defeated in the 1st round by the lower-seeded Trail Blazers). This entire playoffs just felt like we were witnessing a different Mavericks team. Time again, they overcame big deficits to win games. It appeared as though the moxie and resiliency of their German superstar had finally rubbed off onto his teammates. Going into the NBA Finals, I was skeptical of their chances to beat The Heat, but…I kept telling folks that I believed in the Mavericks because there was something about them that just wouldn’t allow them to lose. They repeatedly fabricated wins from the cloth of despair. We may not see a true “team” like the Mavericks to win an NBA Finals like this again for years. Look back in history folks, there haven’t been many NBA championship teams that only had 1 superstar. Seriously…their 2nd best player this series was Jason Terry…who comes off their bench. It’d be a great disservice if I didn’t mention 38 year-old Jason Kidd winning his 1st NBA championship after 2 unsuccessful tries with the New Jersey Nets. It was great seeing him finally win a title as well. He will probably go down as a top 5 (probably higher) all-time point guard – and deservedly so.
Dirk has always been one of my favorite NBA players. I’ve always had a soft spot for European players that were…well…deemed soft. You know…the Nowitzkis, Gasols, and Stojakovics of the world (all of whom have won titles in the last 2 NBA Finals). Maybe some of it may have had to do with the fact that I grew up hoopin’ as one of the only minorities on the blacktop back in CKT. Back in those days, I always felt like I had to prove how tough I was and that I wasn’t afraid of anyone. I would always box-out and try to out-rebound everyone, regardless of their size. I was never afraid to drive to the hoop and I rarely called a foul. Unless I was jackhammered into the ground, I played on. So…maybe I see some of who I was on the court in these unfairly-maligned European players. Either way, I was rooting hard for the Mavericks in the NBA Finals (even though they dismantled my LA Lakers in the 2nd round this year). Plus, I’m not exactly an emotional investor in the Miami Heat. Separately, I’m a fan of D-Wade, LeBron, and Chris Bosh (GT, son!)…but together? There’s just something about them that makes me dislike them…well…honestly…borderline hate them. I probably would’ve rooted for any team that went up against the Heat. A sense of entitlement feels like it emanates from the Heat – like they deserve to be treated like champions even though they’ve yet to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. Maybe they’re just the perfect villain all basketball fans have been waiting for – and ratings show that folks are tuning in in numbers seen rarely this millennium. Every sport needs a villain…and the NBA has theirs.
Anyways, back to Dirk. As I mentioned before, Kobe Bryant is my favorite player in the league and has been since he’s come into the league…however…I’m going to have to cede over the title as the game’s best closer/clutch player to Dirk Nowitzki. Time and time again, against all opponents in all rounds of the NBA playoffs, Dirk came up large. Even in Game 3 of the NBA finals when Dirk missed the last shot, he had scored the team’s last 12 points of the game – nearly fueling another semi-miraculous comeback. In the 2011 NBA Finals, Dirk NEVER missed a single 4th quarter free throw. Dirk himself averaged the same amount of points in the 4th quarter (10.3) in the series that Wade and LeBron averaged combined. He didn’t shoot as spectacularly as he did in the first 3 rounds of the playoffs and much of that can be attributed to the Heat’s defense, but he seemingly made all the big shots when the Mavs needed them most. Take Game 6 for example. Dirk easily could’ve shot his own team out of the game with his 1-for-12 1st half performance, but his teammates (especially Jason Terry) bailed him out and kept his team in contention. Rather than dwelling on his morbid 1st half and becoming reticent and trigger hesitant, Dirk kept shooting the ball and finished 8-for-15 in the 2nd half. More importantly, like almost every other game in the NBA playoffs this year, he made big shot after huge shot time and time again in the 4th quarter to seal the victory and Dallas’ first NBA title. What an NBA Playoffs for Dirk. How quickly his legacy has transformed – maybe more than any other player’s that I can remember in the last decade (at least). Finally, folks can stop calling him “soft” and a “choker” and all other unintelligible jibberish that isn’t true now nor never really was. I have very little doubt in my mind that the better team won. The Heat had 2 of the series best players, but the better team was the Mavericks. They had greater depth, better resilience, superior coaching, and the best crunch-time player. All the Heat had in their favor was their suffocating defense and the brilliance of D-Wade. LeBron pretty much shat all over his team’s chances at an NBA championship with his inexplicably mind-boggling performance (or lack thereof). Kobe had a forgettable Game 7 last year shooting 6-for-24, but he never stopped competing and found ways to contribute on the boards and on defense. LeBron…well…just seemed disinterested. It’s baffling. I mean…he averaged 17.8 pts/game in the NBA Finals. Are you kidding me? He averaged 26.7 in the regular season and not too many seasons ago, he averaged over 30. Something had to have given. In all honesty, it’s probably better for the NBA that the Heat lost. All the haters (myself included) would’ve lost the motivational juice to justifiably hate The Heat had they won.