HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — That’s the thing about shortcuts.
Sometimes they can get you to the destination faster. Other times they can drop you off the freeway ramp into the wrong kind of neighborhood.
The Mavericks are celebrating the first NBA championship in franchise history because they stuck with perseverance over panic, prudence over haste.
No one in the free agent class of 2010 – LeBron James included – had more reason to fly the coop than Dirk Nowitzki. Not after all the years, all the frustration, all the derision that had been heaped upon him.
James and Chris Bosh bolted to beaches of Miami. Carlos Boozer headed off to the Windy City. Amar’e Stoudemire fled to the bright lights of New York.
Yet Nowitzki never really considered setting one foot outside of Dallas.
Longevity and loyalty, it turns out, are a difficult combination to beat.
So, too, it turns out, is the process of building a champion brick by brick.
It is too simplistic to label the Mavericks beating the Heat as good over evil or egalitarian over egos. It is, more accurately, a return to the roots of the game, as noted by our Rocky Mountain friend Benjamin Hochman in the Denver Post:
The 2011 NBA Finals had a deeper meaning to basketball, for the Mavericks’ ascension showed that a team can’t just align stars and assume the title already is won. Dallas reminded all of us about what is right about the game — dedication, teamwork, the importance of role players and class.
Yes, with the power of the Creative Arts Agency, which represents numerous A-listers in the NBA, there will be more superteams created. Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire will make one more run with Denver native Chauncey Billups next season for the New York Knicks and then, possibly, add an all-star point guard in his 20s. (Chris Paul ? Deron Williams ?) And the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard will be a free agent a summer from now.
The NBA is changing, but the Mavericks showed that old-school values and an invaluable leader can send you to the jeweler.
“I think it comes from your veteran leadership,” Dallas guard Jason Terry said recently. “Guys realizing that the opportunity is now, guys realizing that this opportunity doesn’t come very often. The team we put together this season has been a special group.”
The Mavericks are, indeed, a special collection of long-suffering toilers who deserved the ultimate payoff. In addition to the previously star-crossed Nowitzki, there is the loquacious and bodacious Terry, who had also lived through the heartbreak of 2006. There is Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic and DeShawn Stevenson and all the rest who have the scars of past failure, even coach Rick Carlisle.
Perhaps most surprising, it was normally hyperventilating team owner Mark Cuban, who stopped tilting at windmills all through the magical playoff run long enough to let the players have the spotlight and the stage. He acknowledged the process by allowing the franchise founder Donald Carter to accept the Larry O’Brien Trophy from commissioner David Stern.
This is the way that teams had traditionally been assembled until the Celtics went the add-Kevin-Garnett-Ray-Allen-water-and-stir route to hang a banner in 2008. This was a touchstone to the Pistons’ surprising win in 2004, to their Bad Boys predecessors, to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets in the mid-1990s, even to the transcendent Bulls of Michael Jordan. It is the arduous climb that earns respect, not one giant leap to the top. Old school.
That’s why perhaps the most poignant image was seeing Nowitzki walk off the court at the start of the celebration to take a moment of quiet, private reflection on the journey.
So give Carlisle his flash of pique in trying to break through the noise and audacity of the Miami circus to finally call attention to the Mavericks’ achievement.
“Come on, how often do we have to hear about the LeBron James reality show and what he is or isn’t doing?” he said. “When are people going to talk about the purity of our game and what these guys accomplished? That’s what’s special.”
They made it look easy when nothing really was. They managed to shine when the so-called stars were flickering out. They chose to pull the rope together at a time when the trend is to yank the ripcord while bailing out.
All of which makes the Mavericks’ championship not only not only a tie to the past, but hope for the future.