Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why We Should All Be Rooting for the Dallas Mavericks

Sports are adored by fans because of those magical moments, those moments that grab your attention and freeze time. Movies best emulate this quality. All our childhood movies from Mighty Ducks to Hoosiers display that "Against All Odds" aspect we like about sports.

The 2011 Dallas Mavericks capture everything that captivates us towards sports. And on the contrary the Miami Heat, in my great humble opinion, highlight everything we do not like about sports. On one hand you have a Dallas team that has battled the "too soft" label for about a decade. To top it off they are lead by one of the most highly criticized players in the sports. Period. Dirk Nowitzki's past playoff shortcomings seem to suffocate any accomplishments that he has ever had in his career. Now rightfully so Nowitzki has earned some criticism, but overall I do feel the guy gets a worse bad rap than he deserves.

The 2011 NBA Finals is a prime opportunity for Nowitzki to prove to all doubters the legitimacy of his career and what better way to "slay the dragon" than defeat the very franchise that shattered his dream five years ago.

With a little over six minutes remaining in Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals the Dallas Mavericks held a 13 point lead. They were on the verge of going up 3-0; of being a mere one game away from a championship. But they slipped and Dwyane Wade rose up. Dallas lost Game 3. Then Game 4. And Game 5 and finally Game 6. In a week Dallas went up from 2-0, to losing 4-2. Despite the controversy that does exist when looking at the 2006 NBA Finals Dallas did choke and more importantly Nowitzki choked. Since the meltdown of 2006 Dallas and Nowitzki have carried that scar.

Rarely does a franchise and a player like Dirk Nowitzki get a second chance like the Mavericks have. That window of opportunity that opens and closes within a sports minute was thought to have been bolted shut for the Dallas Mavericks. But this postseason changed that. Dallas got by the first round and then bounced the two-defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in six games. And in a single four game sweep people started to believe in Dallas.

One of the things we admire about people in general is hard work. When someone continuously and frivolously works for something and finally gets what they desire, whether it be a co-worker or some athlete on television, it is human nature to feel a sense of happiness for them. Dirk Nowitzki fits this mold as well as 18 year veteran Jason Kidd.

In the Miami Heat you lose that feeling.

By all means I realize LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh work tirelessly at their craft to one day be champions, but for the Heat that lust that is so apparent in the Mavericks is, well, nonexistent. The best example of this is LeBron James. James had every right to leave Cleveland. He had every right to head elsewhere. The Cavs failed to develop enough talent around him among other things. Where LeBron James lost his appeal and solace from the fellow basketball fan is when he decided to air The Decision and when he decided to join the Miami Heat. In The Decision, for the first time I can recall, the public had an aggressive backlash (but warranted) response to a spoiled athlete who despite all the physical talents he possessed in the world, still did not have the brain capacity to understand the simple logic that it's not okay to humiliate the city you grew up with. Add in the fact that LeBron joined a team that already was in supply of someone who played his position (and was his rival) and you get the general outline as to why people like myself do not see the same appeal with LeBron winning a title as they do with Nowitzki.

In short, LeBron, Wade and Bosh all seem to have taken a "shortcut" in their pursuit of a title.

Through LeBron's decision, to Carmelo Anthony's push for New York, heck even through Kobe Bryant's push for a trade in the summer of 2007, Dirk Nowitzki has remained in Dallas loyal to his objective of winning a title as a Maverick. One of the best things about witnessing a player win a championship is seeing that player go from such a low, to such a high.

The Dallas Mavericks success this postseason has been the result of great team defense, an unstoppable Dirk Nowitzki and strong bench play. Despite the significance of these three factors in Dallas's first three rounds, they alone will not be enough to defeat the three-headed monster simply known as LeBrondwyanechrisosaurus. For Dallas to have a shot against Miami, Coach Rick Carlisle must devise a game plan that stops one Miami Heat player and not three. With a team as talented as Miami, Dallas is wasting it's energy, or better yet shooting for the impossible, if they plan on stopping LeBron, Wade and Bosh. The best option for Dallas is to choose one player they will put more focus on stopping.

My thoughts: Run a defensive game plan that constantly has Dwyane Wade or LeBron James being doubled. Create a situation where Miami will only win if Bosh is putting up 25 and LeBron or Wade is putting up 35 each night. Use Miami's weak bench to your advantage.

Easier said then done.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nowitzki Eyes Chance at Fairy Tale Ending

Sports are an absolute. Unlike politics, sports have a definite winner and loser. It's the one universal thing about sports that attracts fans. We, the fans, enjoy knowing that at the end of any sporting event there will be one team that's victorious, while another will soak in defeat. We enjoy knowing that with all the stats and variables taking place on the field of play, the only thing that matters is the final score.

The same can be said when looking back at a player's career. Whether right or wrong, we enjoy labeling a player "good" or "great" by whether or not he won a championship. Why is that? Why does a title, a championship, hold so much merit into how a player is viewed for the rest of time?

Simply put, a metal trophy signifies the purest example of someone being the best, of living up to their expectations.

As kids when we imagined ourselves playing in the NFL or NBA, we do not imagine scoring the winning touchdown in the NFC Championship Game or hitting the game winning three pointer in the Eastern Conference Finals. No, we imagined winning the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals.

We imagined being number one.

I mention all of this because of one current player still fighting in the NBA playoffs: Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki is a 10x NBA All-Star, a 4x All-NBA First Team member, the 2007 NBA MVP winner and someone who has averaged over 23 points and 8 rebounds for a career. With his 7'0" frame and his patented fadeaway he is as unique of a player as we have ever seen. His style of play has made him unstoppable and when he does hang it up he will probably be in the Top 15 of NBA Career Scoring Leaders.

In short, Nowitzki's career has been expectional. But through it all the one glaring omission is that Nowitzki has never won a title. And if Nowitzki never wins a title the only thing that will remain on his record is the note, "Can't Win the Big One."

This is what I like so much about the playoffs in any sport. I enjoy watching a cherished veteran, a future Hall-of-Famer put up absolutely everything in hopes of getting the one thing missing from his trophy case.

Since the debacle now known as the 2006 NBA Finals, Dallas has gagged in almost every way imaginable way. In 2007 they got bounced in six games in the first round to the 8th seeded Golden State Warriors. In 2008 they got knocked out again in the first round by the New Orleans Hornets and in 2009 Dallas lost in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs.

I like the Oklahoma City Thunder and what they have going on with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. I like the Chicago Bulls and Derek Rose, but neither of those teams have the intrigue or appeal that the Dallas Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki bring to the table.

We see it all the time in sports, but rarely does it happen where the veteran going for his last shot at a championship grabs that elusive ring. We saw guys like Charles Barkley fight valiantly to get another shot in the finals, but fall short in the postseason. We have seen the likes of players like Karl Malone lose three NBA Finals series (1997, 1998, 2001) with 1997 and 1998 ending in the most dramatic fashion.

You know what was one of the bigger things I enjoyed about the Saints winning the 2009 Super Bowl? I enjoyed seeing a 12 year veteran like Darren Sharper, who contemplated retirement, who was let go by the Minnesota Vikings because his playing days were long gone, who was a part of the Green Packers team that lost Super Bowl XXXII, stand up and fight through it all and win a championship. Those moments sell me sports. Those moments bring me back. The glitz and glamour are nice, but seeing that guy who has worked tirelessly his entire career finally get that moment where he can put one index finger in the air is what resonates the most.

On April 23rd the Dallas Mavericks coughed up an 18 point 4th quarter lead against the Portland Trailblazers. With the win the Blazers tied the series at 2-2. We all thought the Dallas Mavericks were on course for another postseason collapse. Fast forward 15 days to May 8th and the Dallas Mavericks were putting the finishing touches on the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers with a 122-86 thrashing.

Nowitzki's situation remains unique because that window we all thought was closed for his moment of glory still seems to be ajar. Here's a guy who has been with the Dallas Mavericks through thick and thin. How fitting would it be for Nowitzki, having been victimized countless times for his team's failures, to overcome it all and take home the title? Better yet how fitting would it be for Dirk Nowitzki, loyal Maverick and all, to take down the evil Miami Heat empire that took away his dream five years ago?

It would be nothing short of a fairy tale.