On Sunday evening, I had to work. I work at restaurant and such is life. But I knew I’d be getting out in time to at least catch the fourth quarter of Game 6, so I ran across the street to a sports bar to catch the closing minutes. Outside the bar were two Mavs fans. Or to be more honest, they were anti-Heat fans.
In fact, the entire bar seemed as though they were pulling for the Mavericks. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the Mavericks have plenty of fans strewn about the country, but clearly this bar encapsulated America’s thinking about the next NBA champ. We don’t care who it is, just don’t let it be them.
This league-wide mentality distracted from a lot of other storylines, but let’s be clear… the Miami Heat made this one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory.
I remember having a conversation with the Yachtsman a while back about the New York Yankees. The Yachtsman pointed out that the league does better when the Yankees are better. The reason for this is simple. When the Yankees are playing well and competing for titles, all of their fans are more likely to pay attention. And all of their detractors are even more likely to pay attention, just to root against them.
This phenomenon plays out in every sport. In football, you have the New England Patriots (the NY Giants will NEVER be more popular than the night they ended the perfect season). In college basketball, there is Duke. And now, in the NBA, we have the Miami Heat.
Part of this is due to a Yankee-like mentality. By that I mean, many of us don’t like teams that buy their way into success. It’s one thing to spend money to keep talent around your foundation, i.e. Los Angeles, but it’s another to go from several 1st round exits to title contender in one off-season. Still, just because it has created a lot of negativity, doesn’t make it all bad.
The biggest problem for the NBA in recent years is that the regular season has become nearly irrelevant. Sometime in late October the games begin and it isn’t until early June that you find out who the champion is. And teams like the San Antonio Spurs have proven that you don’t need to give it your all every night, during the regular season, to win a title. This has led to even big fans, such as myself, only glancing at games and standings until around April.
But this year was different. This year everyone was riveted, for reasons good and bad, to see what would become of this new conglomeration of talent in South Beach. Suddenly people who couldn’t stand the Lakers or Celtics were lauding them with praise for putting these punks in their place early in the regular season.
Still, the influence of the Miami Heat is undeniable. Attendance and viewership is way up. The level of play during the regular season was raised, if only against the Heat and only to put them in their place.
Obviously it’s not just on the court that their influence is found. After seeing what happened in Cleveland & Toronto, the Denver Nuggets were forced to deal Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks (although in the end, it looked like the other way around). Soon Orlando & New Orleans will need to make equally tough choices about their futures, or lack thereof, with Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, respectively. Orlando particularly knows all too well how far the drop-off can be when you let a superstar like Shaq just walk out the door and you’re left with nothing in return.
And yet, as I said before, all of this has distracted from something. And that something is Dirk Werner Nowitzki.
By his own admission, 6 years ago Dirk didn’t flourish in those big moments of the game when stars need to rise (are you listening, LeBron?). He was anxious with the ball in his hands and seemingly unable to figure out what he wanted to do with it. Not to mention, he was coached by men whose idea of a gameplan late in the 4th was ‘someone throw Dirk the ball at the top of the arch and let him go 1-on-1’ everytime.
This year, all that changed. Now Dirk will go down as one of the best 7-footers/jump-shooters/closers of his generation. And rightfully so. Looking back, no team had an answer for him. From almost any spot on the floor, he could find a way to generate a decent shot for himself, if not an easy lay-up at the rim.
But clearly, this was a total team effort. Jason Terry established himself in these playoffs as a far better jump-shooter than anyone gave him credit for. I’m sure more than a few eyes rolled when he said he didn’t think LeBron could guard him for 7 games. Turns out he couldn’t even guard him for 6. And not just Terry, but Barea and Kidd all shot extremely well overall in the playoffs and more importantly, got Dirk the ball when and where he wanted it, so when the time came, he could close it out.
Chandler has been the same player for a long time, but now has found his niche as the backbone of this Dallas team. When everyone else is shooting from 10, 15, 20-feet away, Chandler is banging his way to the rim for every rebound he can reach. Even when the game was pretty much sealed away in Game 6, he was leaping over white jerseys to pull down offensive rebounds and put the final nails in the coffin.
And in the end, hopefully that’s what this season proved. Even after all the hoopla over Miami buying the new Big 3, the Dallas Mavericks proved that teamwork and desire are still the two most important things in sports. And no, sorry Pat Riley, they are not available to be signed this off-season.