By Robert Scalice
After nearly 30 years of faithful and unwavering support, of raucous days and nights at the old Reunion Arena, of enduring the Roy Tarpley saga and the pain of watching Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper and James Donaldson chasing a championship that year after year belonged to the Showtime Lakers, of being teased by perennial 50-win teams in two different eras, of finally reaching the finals only to choke away a series that they had firmly in their grasp, of shouldering the frustration and embarrassment that comes with knowing your team is the poster child for “good regular-season team, folds in the playoffs”, the Dallas Mavericks- yes, your Mavs, y’all- accomplished the unthinkable and finally, remarkably, won the franchise’s first ever NBA championship in 2011.
And not only did they get that elusive ring, the title, the chip, but they did it in the most gut-wrenching, thrilling fashion imaginable, emphatically erasing their past history of postseason failures with some of the most clutch shot-making ever seen during a championship run by ANY team. The demons, the evil spirits of lost seasons past were not merely exorcised but obliterated, rendered meaningless and irrelevant by the greatness of this one team.
Led by Dirk Nowitzki, inarguably the greatest player ever to slip on the green and blue, the Mavs would no longer be synonymous with playoff ineptitude, of collapsing under the weight expectations or of a grittier, more determined opponent. No longer would ye faithful get that lump in your throat, waiting for the other shoe to drop, thinking “oh God no, not again” once the regular season ended.
No, those days were gone forever or at least for the foreseeable future, relegated to the dustbin of ancient history. Thanks to Dirk and the boys, Dallas Mavericks basketball would now be associated with a slew of very different images and terms like “heart,” “character” and “force.” When folks thought of the Mavs, they would now immediately see a team that never panicked no matter the deficit or time remaining to make it up, a squad that saved it’s best for last and owned crunch time, got every stop and hit every shot they needed to.
The fun was just beginning, right?
With the 2011 title safely in the bag and the new Mavs’ image fresh in everyones’ minds, the prevailing thinking HAD to be “this is only the beginning,” that this team had at least two or three more seasons left together to make a run at another crown or two while remaining one of the leagues’ top teams for years to come. I doubt anyone really imagined that the 2011 NBA World Champion Dallas Mavericks would never get the chance to to defend their hard-earned title; that during the summer of 2011, team owner Mark Cuban would allow the core of his team to walk out the free-agency door rather than determine that “come hell or high-water” he was going to meet whatever asking price, within reason, that he had to in order to prevent the mass exodus that followed.
What then happened must have been horrifying for Mavs’ fans to witness: one by one, core members of Dallas’ one and only NBA title team left to go play elsewhere. Lightning bug guard J.J. Barea took more years and money to give his services to the Minnesota Timberwolves, as did blue-collar big man and defensive stalwart Tyson Chandler, he going to the New York Knicks. DeShawn Stevenson, whose timely 3-point shooting, tough defense and ability to get inside the head of opponents were critical elements in helping the Mavs hoist the trophy, was also allowed to mosey on out of Big D.
In the lockout-shortened season that followed, the Mavs scuffled to go 36-30 for a No. 7 playoff seed, then commenced to getting snuffed out in a four-game, first-round sweep at the hands of the eventual conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder.
Title defense officially over.
Shortly following that debacle, the last major pieces from 2011 made their exit – the much beloved Jason Terry jetted his way to Boston and Jason Kidd ended his second stint in Dallas by accepting a free agent offer from the Knicks to join Chandler in the Big Apple.
And just like that, the championship team was no more.
Dirk was all alone.
Before I go any further, let me say that I don’t blame Mr. Cuban entirely, just as I believe nobody else should. Financial considerations are ALWAYS an integral part of player personnel decisions in any sport but especially so in light of the new constraints placed on team owners resulting from the CBA agreed to that ended the lockout. I’m not an NBA general manager (at least not yet) nor am I privy to the payroll numbers that GM Donnie Nelson had to work with. I get that.
But in spite of everything, I DO think Mr. Cuban and the management team did an admirable job of finding the best possible players available on short notice; O.J. Mayo, Elton Brand, Darren Collison and Chris Kaman were all excellent pick-ups and Nelson may have unearthed a gem in the draft in rookie forward Jae Crowder.
That being said, the destruction of the Mavericks championship team just felt… wrong.
This season, Dallas has had to tough out a season that’s seen Nowitzki miss most of it recovering from off-season knee surgery and the team stumble to a 14-23 record at the time of this writing. With the Western Conference stacked with dangerous teams, it appears highly unlikely that these re-vamped Mavericks have the firepower necessary to recover and make a run at a playoff spot.
Yes, 2011 was in actuality just two seasons ago but with each passing game in 2012-13, it’s beginning to feel like eons, like a story from a bygone era told to you while sitting on Grandpa’s lap.
And that, to me, is sad.
Mavericks fans deserved better.