In sports and life in general, we observe points of data and create narratives. Some make sense, have basis in tangible reality. But those aren’t as fun as the narratives based in emotion and psychology. As much as we love the chess match between coaches, the technical virtuosity of the players, it’s the personal, sentimental stories that really sink the hook in the casual fan.
This yearning can inspire people, from writers to the guy at the local sports bar, to impose storylines where they don’t belong. But sometimes the sport provides the most compelling narratives all on its own.
The story arc of last night’s Dallas victory was straight out of Disney, or Rocky, or any number of highly conventional hero tales. Example: Cinderella (via sivers.org).
On Thursday night, the scene was set perfectly: the Mavericks had their backs to the wall, it was all or nothing, do or die, win or go home with a 2-0 deficit, cliché, cliché, clichéd cliché. And things did look bleak after Game 1, in which the Mavericks did little of note other than convince us of their underdog status. Columnists’ keyboards clicked with proclamations of the impending Miami dynasty.
And then this:
Act I: Our heroes prove they belong
We find the Dallas Mavericks in a low state. They got kicked around at the end of Game 1, and few, if any, are giving them a chance to get back in the series. The game begins and the Mavericks and Heat trade jabs. They remain deadlocked a fast and loose first half. The score is tied, but even that is a win for the downtrodden Mavericks. They are officially back on the horse after been so rudely bucked to the dirt in the 4th quarter of Game 1. The audience is engaged, there may be hope after all.
Act II: Tragedy befalls our heroes
The third and 3rd of the 4th quarter belong to Miami. Dallas looks old, a little unnerved by Miami’s swarming, reaching defense. Jason Kidd throws the ball away. Dirk Nowitzki can’t get on track. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are making it look easy in the open court with alley oops and full throttle dunks. After Wade splashes a corner 3 right in front of the Mavericks’ bench, he holds his hand in the goose-neck pose. On the brink, Dallas has no answers, and we wonder if there exists a way to hold back these two superlative talents. There’s a sadness about the apparent inevitability of it all.
Act III: Unexpected glory
All of the sudden the Mavericks dam the levee, the tide of Miami fastbreak points slackens. Now everything is flowing the other way. The signature moves: Jason Kidd spots up for a 3, Marion hits an awkward quasi-layup, Jason Terry dribbles hard to his right and pulls up for a 12-footer. The points are coming faster now, Dirk Nowitzki looked tired just minutes before but now he’s taken the lead on fastbreaks and a 3-pointer!
But the Heat won’t die that easily. Mario Chalmers gets wide, wide, wide open triple and calmly ties the game from directly in front of the hollering Mavericks bench. Thus the scene is set for The Final Showdown.
Everything is as it should be. Dirk accomplishes two worthy feats: further distancing himself from the soft stigmata and winning the game by powering past Chris Bosh and deftly rolling the ball home off the splinted finger, torn tendon and all.
Sometimes the narrative does not require adornment. We were thrilled by Game 2′s conventional hero story, a satisfying structure we know and love. And as the series shifts back to Dallas, we now have something even better in the world of athletics and competition: no clue what will happen next.