Tuesday, June 14, 2011

NBA Finals Reflection

     This 2011 NBA finals is the ending of a cycle for me. Events have come full circle in more ways than one. When basketball wrestled a hold in my heart, the Lakers were the undisputed champs at the end of a dynasty. They were talented and enjoyable, but nobody cheers for goliath. When the Pistons collectively beat the Lakers, with the sum greater than their parts in the 2004 NBA finals, and I first bought SLAM magazine, my love of the game took off and has developed exponentially ever since. The Pistons won with heart, they were a solid team that took down a loved yet hated star duo in Shaq and Kobe. This years' Mavericks were similarly positioned with a team compiled from journeymen and veterans determined to win their first championship through teamwork. By knocking off the Miami Heat and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Mavericks proved that talent wins games, but it takes something more to win the NBA championship.

     This season's championship also marks the full circle return to the 2006 finals when I loved Wade. He was my second favourite player in the NBA next to Shawn Marion at the time, who oddly enough met in this finals. Marion was a 20-10 guy, led the league in steals, tops in fantasy, intangibles off the board, had an exciting nickname "The Matrix," caught alley-oops from Steve Nash, and was underrated enough for it to be cool enough to like him. Wade, however, was the young Flash, backed up my a still-(more than)-serviceable Shaquille O'Neal. I cheered for the Heat to beat the Marion-less Mavericks in their original finals meeting in 2006, but look how things changed in 5 years. I used to loathe Dirk, for many reasons, but have very recently come to appreciate him. This Finals, I, like most of the world, seemed to believe Dirk was the lesser of two evils with the hatred surrounding LeBron James and the Heat, but what I didn't expect was to genuinely cheer for Dirk's jumpers to snap twine every time he kicked the leg on that goose-step fade. Dirk was different than he was in 2006, and virtually unguardable. In 2011 he showed poise, composure and clutch, going on scoring runs at the ends of games to secure wins, where choking was the expected norm in the past. Management and coaching put their faith in Dirk and he delivered time and time again. Dirk truly earned Finals MVP.

     Some people will say Mavs coach Rick Carlisle outcoached Heat bench boss Erik Spoelstra, which is true, but Spoelstra relied on a tried and true recipe of LeBron ball-domination which let everybody down. I would try to let Bron off easy, but he wasn't the proven team strategy, and devastating closing machine that made the Heat unbeatable against the Celtics and Bulls in late stretches of games. The media uproar has been cacophonous following the Heat defeat, and I won't dwell on LeBron's failure, but some things irk me. His "Chosen 1" persona led him to tweet following the game "The Greater Man upstairs knows when it's my time, right now isn't the time." LEBRON!, you have to make it your time. I said in my blog response to his initial "decision" last year,

"The court should be LeBron’s sanctuary, free from the media and the hate, where he can just play. “What should I do?” LeBron asks. He should rise to the occasion, play, win and let his game speak for itself. Titles and legacy are within his reach, but he must be clutch amid the pressure. His cage is not permanent, he can free himself if only he roars and really lets the league have it. Then he will be free."

     LeBron failed. And he can't accept criticism, only point fingers even if that means pointing them straight up. Using God as a crutch won't endear you to anybody, nor will the cocksure attitude of simultaneously re-affirming his uninterrupted, self-imposed destiny to win multiple titles and be called The Greatest Of All Time. LeBron averaged just 2.2 points in the 4th quarters of this series and clearly shrunk from the moment. Still, LeBron gets his way in the end; everybody will make this series and this season about him and what he did or didn't do, rather than give the Mavs the credit they deserve. It's just a better story.

     When Mark Jackson said at the mid-way point of the third quarter, "you look at the body language [of this Heat team] and it looks like a heavy weight champ that realizes he's held on too long, he's in trouble," I too realized that it was too late for a comeback, and a Mavs 2011 title was a reality. The Heat were against the ropes. The Heat were done. The only reason I would have wanted the Heat to win this series was so that we didn't all have to go through this, the questioning, the doubting, the LeBron having to awkwardly explain himself, but here we are. And it all kind of does feel like a rite of passage, a bump on the way to a dynasty which we can reluctantly agree with LeBron still seems probable, but it is one that will have to be rightly earned.

     Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry, JJ Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal and Peja Stojacovic all deserved this championship. None of the players on the Mavs roster had ever won a championship ring before. And Rick Carlisle and Mark Cuban deserved this championship. And Miami didn't.

     Miami will be back. They'll come knockin' next year (lockout pending), and the next year and the year after that. Isn't it fair that they had to wait a bit? The Mavs were an aging team, that came together and meshed at the right moment to provide titles to many players who deserved it and may never get this close to another opportunity. The Heat can lick their wounds, and restock their arsenal, but they remain the walking drama machine that they have made themselves into for the foreseeable future of professional basketball. 'Beat the Heat' will be a fun phase of the NBA. It will be an evil dynasty, periodically interrupted, with every other team striving to keep up with the Jones'. And it'll be alot of fun. See you there.

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