Michael Jordan remains in the eyes of many the greatest basketball player that ever lived because of his ability to defy gravity all while time after time manipulating games with his pure basketball skill. Sports are an unknown. They do not follow the rules of mathematics or basic science, but rather chaos theory. We can not predict the outcome of a game with absolute certainty because we do not know. With Jordan we knew. We knew he would take the game over and we knew he would win. The reason being was his drive.
Michael Jordan's drive was not nearly as flashy as his free throw lines dunks, or his patented fadeaways. For much of his career Jordan's drive was on the back burner to his physical abilities. One of the more remarkable things about him as a player is when his abilities did start to erode and he could no longer glide, Jordan and the Bulls were still winning. This was most prevalent during the Chicago Bulls' last championship run. In the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals the Chicago Bulls were facing a younger, bigger Indiana Pacers team. Despite Game 7 being in Chicago, some people did think this was the end of the Jordan era.
Chicago won the game in a hard fought defensive slugfest 88-83, but more importantly was the fact that Chicago outrebounded Indiana by a staggering 16 rebounds. Quantifying something as vague as drive is difficult to say the least, but the number 16 gave us a clearer picture on just how much this game meant to Jordan and the Bulls. And how they were not going to fall.
I bring up Jordan and his drive because in some ways Dirk Nowitzki's performance during these 2011 NBA Playoffs (and especially the 2011 NBA Finals) was very similar to Jordan and his Bulls during that 1998 NBA Playoff season. Countless times this postseason Dallas was faced with a dire situation in which a loss seemed imminent and countless times Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks gathered themselves, rallied and won.
How ironic is it that a player like Dirk Nowitzki, who has remain driven to bring Dallas a championship since 1998, beat LeBron James of the Miami Heat, a player who deserted Cleveland after he, himself, could not bring the city a championship?
I have always talked about how the one thing separating a champion from the rest of the pack is the X factor. There is something inside of a handful of players that when the odds are stacked against them, they can still will their team to victory. Bird did it. Jordan did it. Kobe does it and now Dirk does it. Since 1995 I have watched every NBA Finals. This year marks the first time where I have ever witnessed a team with little or no momentum, switch and turn the tide. In the first four games it is safe to say that Miami was outplaying Dallas the majority of the time, but on two separate occasions Dallas still prevailed. Dallas was hanging on to life by a thread. In Game 2 trailing by 15 with a little over six minutes remaining and a 2-0 deficit staring them in the face, Dallas rallied. In Game 4 with Dirk battling a sinus infection, Dallas rallied from nine down in the fourth quarter.
Great players seize that opportunity when it's prime for the taking. They step up when the stakes are the highest. They can take something like a game of basketball where so many variables are occurring on and off the court and manipulate and control the outcome. They can win. It did not matter that from a talent stand point Miami had more star players. Dallas felt they could win having a better team. It did not matter that outside of Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas's only other real reliable scorer was 6th man Jason Terry, who at the time was struggling. All of that was irrelevant because for Nowitzki he HAD to win this series. Losing another NBA Finals series was too painful. 2006 was too painful. This series was not everything to No. 41, it was the only thing. He HAD to overcome the sinus infection, the struggling teammates, the juggernaut opponent because he HAD to be a champion.
The Dallas Mavericks run to an NBA Championship proved so fulfilling on so many fronts because it boldly underlined why a team is more important than a three guys, but it also showcased in the purest form one individual's over-the-top drive and dedication to do whatever it took to stand on top of the mountain with one index raised in great pride.