Dear Dallas Mavericks,
I confess that I picked you to lose to Portland two months ago. I thought you were a washed up, disjointed mess of not-so-gently-used parts that Coach Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki had bundled together and awkwardly lugged through the regular season. You had lost your last nine games against Western Conference opponents entering the playoffs. The present and future looked bleak.
Then you swiftly, comprehensively dismantled the Los Angeles Dynasty and snuffed out Oklahoma City, a yawning colossus just waking to its own potential. Perhaps I should have known you would be too much for the Heat as well.
Like a skilled and confident boxer, the Heat could swallow a team in one flurry. They dropped their hands at times–could be staggered by a stiff jab–but always Miami had the knockout punch cocked. Always they were a threat to unleash a devastating combination of unmatched speed and power.
I wonder if you knew, after limping into the playoffs, that your greatest quality would be your ability to weather any and all onslaughts—even from the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? We sure didn’t.
But that doesn’t much matter now, because you did it and did it all together, with exceptional grace and skill.
So thank you for the kind of basketball you play. It was a joy to see each player in his right place, performing his role to perfection. There’s so much to be said for just not making mistakes, and for the intelligence and preparation it takes to take full advantage of the mistakes of your opponents. So much to love about your discipline and execution, the trust that was evident in each pass whipped crosscourt to an open shooter. Or maybe he wouldn’t shoot it, and keep it moving to the next, more open player. Carlisle calls it trusting the pass. I’m not sure it’s any different than trusting each other.
And you proved once again that trust and belief aren’t buzzwords to attach to the victor simply because he won. They are real principles that have a tangible effect on how many open shots you find, and how many opportunities you deny your opponent.
It’s a thread that ties together team sport champions through the years. But what people may not realize is how difficult it is to trust J.J. Barea to dribble for 14 seconds, or Jason Terry to launch fastbreak 3′s, or Shawn Marion to consistently finish his trademarked alligator-armed hook shot (copyright infringement on that shot is exceedingly rare). When it didn’t work, it was ugly. But you stayed together and kept the faith.
This isn’t faith in a higher power, or some mystical mantra that inspired the Mavericks players to new heights. It was more simple, attainable and rare than that.
Like acid, The Heat had burned through the bonds of every other team. Young and hopeful Chicago came undone, the Boston bullies dissolved into backbiting, but you were different. You always played the game your way: “on the ground,” according to your coach. You never broke down. You never lost belief in the style affectionately, but perhaps not reverently, referred to by witnesses as “old man game.”
With only one or two players capable of driving for points on the floor at the same time, you countered with precision passing and shooting. We called it old man game not just because you are mostly old men by pro hoops standards, but because it takes many years to develop those shared instincts, and to hone those shooting strokes. It’s a wise brand of ball.
This is not a backhanded compliment! Your skill, from Jason Kidd’s expertly weighted skip and hit-ahead passes, to Jason Terry’s incredible balance as he popped out of a full sprint to loft a pull-up jumper, to J.J. Barea’s subtle mastery of the pick and roll and conspicuous ability to finish amongst and over giants, should not be overlooked or undersold.
Then of course there was Dirk. A constant, bright source of buckets and wins around which the entire Dallas franchise’s plans, decisions and personnel orbit. An exemplary individual talent, you repeatedly cited your teammates belief in you as the bulwark against self-doubt. That’s what this Maverick team was all about: giving your all for each other. What a special and powerful principle to play by and to live by.
Basketball is best when all five players are maximizing their capabilities within a framework of sharing, selflessness and confidence. Passing up a good shot can be more egotistical than taking a tough one. In it’s purest form, a basketball team is a kind of hive mind. There are different roles, positions of power or responsibility, but also an unwavering and merciless sense of purpose amongst the group.
It was an immense pleasure to see how successful the pure game can be in the correct hands. Thanks for a brilliant two months of basketball. It feels good to see you win. Congratulations.