It took the Dallas Mavericks franchise 31 years to win their first NBA Championship. That tenure trails only the Detroit Pistons (41 years) for the most NBA seasons played before winning their first title (of note, there are still several teams without rings that would usurp Dallas’ record with a win).
These Mavs fittingly won their first title in a season filled with turmoil. There were obstacles to overcome, and there were injuries that could have derailed the bus. Yet the Mavs persevered.
They were considered too old, to mentally weak, not athletic enough, not physically strong enough to win this year. Everybody (including myself) recalled the collapse in 2006 as a definitive sign that Dirk Nowitzki, in particular, was a soft player mentally and physically. And each year since 2006, it seemed like the Mavs underachieved come playoff time.
But Dirk ascended from All Star, to leader, to champion right before our eyes this season. He was mentally tough. Consequently, the team became the most mentally tough, resilient group of guys in the league.
With that poise and leadership, Dallas was able to overcome injuries to several key components. Starters Caron Butler and Rodrigue Beaubois missed 107 combined games, plus the entire playoff run. After Butler’s injury, rookie Dominique Jones was called up from the D-League, but injuries ultimately cost him a majority of the year too. In the middle of the season, as the Mavs were playing better than any team in the league, both Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler sustained injuries, and the team stumbled for a period of three weeks, losing 10 of 13 games.
Instead of throwing up their collective hands and saying “it’s not our year,” the Mavs fought and endured. They got increasingly great contributions from diminutive point guard J.J. Barea, and timely play from cast-offs like Brian Cardinal and Corey Brewer. In a move dismissed by many, the Mavs also brought in veteran sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic. And even Peja proved that he had a little left in the tank.
These Mavs trusted each other, and it showed directly in their passing. Dallas was the best passing team in the league this season, with each guy confident in the next’s ability to make the right play.
That trust also showed in the sacrifices made by certain players. For instance, Brendan Haywood signed a long term deal to stay in Dallas last summer, only to have his starting spot snatched by Chandler after a trade. But instead of pouting or bringing the team down, Haywood played his part to perfection, averaging 4.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.03 blocks per game in 18.5 minutes. Marion, too, was in and out of the starting lineup due to injuries or acquisitions, yet he played whatever role he was asked to play. And of course the Mavs have the best bench scorer in the game in Jason Terry. The JET, as he is known, could start for a majority of teams in this league. But his role in Dallas is vital, and he plays it as well as anybody, even becoming a more complete player over the last few years.
Every time they were knocked down, they got back up. Ironically, it brings to mind the old Dwyane Wade commercial where he preaches that return effort after each literal or figurative knockdown. Only this time, it was Wade and his Heat who were the final victims of Dallas’ comeback mentality. Down big in games, and trailing in the series, the Mavericks rallied around each other, and then rallied on the court on the way to victory.
They went from a defensive sieve, to a defensive stalwart in just a few seasons. Dallas finished the regular season in the top 10 in points, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage allowed. Compare that to 2008-2009, when they were no better than 12th in any of those categories. Rick Carlisle’s scheme, and the additions of defensive minded players like Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson changed the culture in Dallas. Chandler, especially, allowed Carlisle’s zone defensive schemes to work. Without him anchoring the middle, Dallas would have been incapable of rotating and recovering as swiftly as they did in that strategy.
And Carlisle, along with 17 year veteran Jason Kidd deserve a ton of credit for setting the proper championship tone. They are two of the more even keel guys the game has seen, and that confidence and calm spread throughout the roster.
The Mavs do have a few guys that like to talk. DeShawn Stevenson has gone back and forth, quite comically at times, with LeBron James, and he predictably got in his jab during the Finals. Jason Terry’s swagger was so big that he got the Larry O’Brien Trophy tattooed on his arm prior to the season, and it appears to have aided in his motivation to win it all. Tattoo removal is a hassle after all. But despite the trash talk, it never got personal with this team. They always composed themselves with class. Not even outspoken owner Mark Cuban seized the opportunity to crow after his team hoisted the trophy.
So for Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and the rest of the Dallas Mavericks, the long awaited goal has finally been reached. Sit back, relax, and enjoy it for a few days, because next season (assuming there is a next season), the targets will be on your backs.