Being a fan of a team who comes up short, year-after-year, will give a fan plenty of opportunities to test their loyalty and character. In a world that can take loyalty for granted in just about any other avenue and sector, when it comes to being a fan, loyalty is not only a pre-requisite, but it’s something that you must maintain.
When a fan roots for a particular team, they are to display it proudly and stick with them to the end. Sure, they can jump off the wagon and, to a logical and reasonable person, why they choose to jump off the wagon can be seen as legitimate, but fans are, if nothing else, rarely logical and reasonable. Therefore, it doesn’t really matter if your team doesn’t win the ultimate prize; the organization suffers when it comes to losing and, in turn, fans suffer as well. That’s just how it is.
When the Dallas Mavericks opened up their 2011 playoff run, a large contingent of fans, including the one writing this piece, had little concerns about their opening round matchup. The Mavs were better than the Portland Trailblazers; simply put, if the Mavs played their game, they would move onto Round Two, but Game Four happened, the warning signs were there, and Mavs fans, especially this one, were fed up.
Something also can be said for the effect it had on the team. It’s as if they realized that if they really wanted to win a championship, they would have to push themselves to limits they never had before. If so, the Basketball Gods would do the rest. They would have to go for broke, though. This was non-negotiable, and once the Mavericks committed to that, the most daunting playoff run in my lifetime officially began.
The Mavs eventually dispatched of a gutty Blazers team and moved onto play against the Los Angeles Lakers, the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavericks had, as they did in recent playoff teams past,the personnel to beat anyone in the West, the Lakers included. However, did the Mavericks have what can’t be measured on a roster, on a stat sheet, or by any combination of numbers? Did the Mavericks have the heart, the brain and, in the words of The Great Louis Farrakhan, the testicular fortitude to do whatever it took to beat LA? If so, it would be done. If not, they would go home early...again.
Four games, six days, 144 hours later, the Los Angeles Lakers were heading back home with no games left to play and the Dallas Mavericks were moving onto the Western Conference Finals. Each game had its own identity. Game One featured an up-and-down affair early, with the Lakers going on a run that looked like they would put the Mavs away, only for Dallas to storm back and seize home court advantage from the Lake Show. Game Two was Dallas pretty much beating LA convincingly. Game Three was LA looking to take control of the game and regain some semblance of a pulse in the series, only for the Mavs bench to come through, Dirk to do work, and for the Mavs to prevail. As for Game Four, that was simply one of the funnier close-out games in recent memory, a beat-down for the ages, a mental, emotional and psychological drubbing of epic proportions with the Mavs looking like a team even the most loyal of fans had never seen before.
For their next opponent, The Oklahoma City Thunder, the Western Conference Finals are remembered over here for one big reason: Dirk.
The man had the most remarkably efficient offensive performance I've ever seen in my life. The man scored 48 points, but it isn’t the number of points that did it; it's more of how he did it. Dirk did not take one single bad shot the entire night. The man had 15 field goal attempts and made 12. The man took zero, ZERO, threes.
Let that sink in again.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 48 points. Of those 48 points, he made 12 of 15 attempts from the field. Of those makes, none were threes, and of those 15 attempts, none were from the three-point line. He did it with an assortment of jumpers and drives to the rim. He used non-dribble moves, created space, isolated his defenders; the man did it all. On top of that, he went to the free throw line 24 times and made every single one. As the game progressed, and I saw Dirk’s demeanor, there was no doubt in my mind that they would beat Oklahoma City in the Western Finals. It was simply a question of how many games it would take…
…it ended in five.
The most daunting playoff run in my lifetime erased a demon, in regards to the Game Four collapse against the Blazers, swept the defending champs, and dominated the most up-and-coming team in the entire conference and, arguably, the entire League. The last test to complete this run was none other than the newly-formed evil empire of the NBA, the Miami Heat.
Dare say, if a writer wrote about basketball last season, they wrote about the Miami Heat. They wrote about what they did well and what they did wrong. They told stories about how they would win the ‘chip and how they would lose the ‘chip. They railed against LeBron and they rode for The King. They bashed Chris Bosh and they praised him. They gave Wade the benefit of the doubt and they grilled him when they felt it necessary.
Something told me that all of the attention they got was perfect for the Mavericks. It took the attention away from everything they did and it allowed them to simply go out and do whatever it took to win four games and secure an NBA championship. For the Dallas Mavericks to complete the final stretch of this run, it would take a supreme effort, unmatched concentration and a refusal to lose. We saw the latter in Game Two and we saw the former two throughout the series. In the end, the Mavericks prevailed.
With the start of a new season, the talk will predictably, and lazily, return to the usual suspects; the teams people constantly talk about, which gives them little-to-no reason to be creative or challenge themselves to analyze the game in written or verbal form. It’s a tried-and-true method to remain involved in the game of basketball.
While the folks who choose to take that stance do so, there will be others who will use their wealth of basketball knowledge and love for the game to explore other sub-plots that will make our abbreviated NBA season come to life. It’s part of what makes the game so beautiful, such a part of our lives and what drove us crazy this off-season when there was no NBA-affiliated basketball action (on and off-the-court) taking place.
While all of that is happening, this fan will continue to be appreciative for the team who brought the city of Dallas not only an NBA championship, but also the distinction of looking up at the most daunting mountain to a championship in over 20 years, scaling that mountain and standing on top as the champs.