I debated between 3 titles for this write-up before finally deciding on a broad name with emphasis on all three of my thesii.
(Alternate Title: The Movie Starring the 2011 Dallas Mavericks)
1. The so-called Basketball Gods DO exist
2. This team saved Basketball
3. This was the greatest NBA Playoffs and Finals of all-time
(Bare in mind that I've already waxed poetic about the man, the myth, the legend: Dirk Nowitzki)
1. The Miami Heat winning this 2011 NBA title just wouldn't have been right. Not after how they circumnavigated the system. Not after the 2006 NBA Finals. Not after those has-beens mocked the best player in the series after he just got done kicking their ass at 50%.
If these so-called "Basketball Gods" did exist, they certainly wouldn't be doing their job if they did the Dallas Mavericks in like that once again. However, after witnessing the 2011 NBA Finals, I'm ready to fully embrace their existence.
In case you're wondering just why I feel the Mavs were the team deserving of such justice, look no further than 2006. The Mavs got screwed (however, they remain at fault because of how terribly they handled it). So maybe the better proclamation is that the Miami Heat were so undeserving of that title that it hurt me as a sports fan.
Although it wasn't just that the right team won the 2011 NBA Championship, but how they won. It was almost an exact role reversal from 2006, except that the Mavs didn't need David Stern's intervention. Big lead in the series (although it was more pronounced than it actually was). Huge comeback planting seeds of doubt. Superstar crumbling in front of a nation. The way it all unfolded was like a movie. It was poetic justice at its finest. And it was beautiful.
2. The NBA would not be a beautiful sight if the Miami Heat won the 2011 NBA Finals, which was the biggest and best case of a pure team vs. a group of individuals that I have ever seen.
The Dallas Mavericks play a beautiful brand of basketball. Their passing abilities are brilliant enough to impress even Brazilian soccer fans. Their biggest strength was their belief in each other, and their collective drive towards one goal. Each and every player was ready to go to war because they believed their leaders deserved an NBA Championship. Most of the players made individual sacrifices for the betterment of the team (DeShawn and Marion come to mind first). None of them ever doubted Rick Carlisle, despite his deployed tactics that made little sense on the surface (Barea's promotion despite struggles). They believed in him. They were ready to sacrifice. And they wanted to win. As a team.
And now a word of wisdom on each of the Mavericks:
Kidd's calming presence
The Custodian's scrappiness
Haywood's free throws
DeShawn's N**** please 3's
Myanmar's silky smooth J
Unidentified hype guy's fistpumps
Cuban's "Doesn't matter"s
And then you have the Miami pieces of sHeat. Their idea of a good offense was to sit around until the shot clock got low and then isolate 1 of their 3 studs to go 1-on-1. It wasn't basketball. In fact, it might have been the death of basketball. Professional sports leagues are full of copycats. When a team wins a Championship, everybody else looks at them to see how they did it. Then they try do that themselves. Can you imagine 28 other teams adopting that style of basketball?
I'm glad we don't have to. While some people might enjoy their chase at a repeat, I'd much rather see them face the pressure of trying to capture their first title once again. However, as great as next season might be....
3. We will never see another season quite like the NBA's 2010-11 season. LeBron's Decision may have been the biggest image boost combined with the biggest reputation hit we've ever seen. The act itself was as polarizing as the result. Never has something seemed so poorly thought out, only to turn out to be pure genius.
LeBron's wild ride of a season is something we will never forget. Suddenly everybody cared about the NBA again. Only they cared because they wanted to watch LeBron lose (or perhaps more importantly, see him fail). Yes, the Heat will be right back in the thick of the race next year, but it won't be the same. There's no way. Hatred tends to die down when given time, especially when there's reason to sympathize (and eventually he'll play a few of his cards correctly...right?). People wanted to see him fail right now. I think people are fine with him winning the next 8 titles as long as he lost this year. They wanted instant retribution.
Then you combine that with America's adopted hero, who happens to hail from a country most recognized by one of the world's biggest catastrophes ever. Talk about a redemption story. But people embraced Dirk. They sympathized with his past failures (see?). They could see how much it meant to him. They wanted him to win. There was a defiant good guy and a defiant bad guy (no matter how unlikely the casted roles seemed just 12 months ago) in the NBA Finals. That's what people want.
And then you have the actual games. Every one of them was undecided going into the 4th quarter. Games 2, 3, and 4 all came down to the last and final shot (Dirk make/Wade miss, Dirk miss, Miller miss) and will all be shown on ESPN Classic someday. Game 5 was the pinnacle of professional basketball in terms of hype and quality of play, with both teams playing well enough to win any other game of the series. Game 6 saw an underdog close out on the road to win their first NBA title of all time.
Plus, there was an actual dislike between the teams. Dirk and the Mavs despising Wade and the Heat because of the 2006 NBA Finals. Wade and LeBron mad like little school girls because everybody hated them. There was a stargazed feud that witnessed (!) LeBron's second fiddle act reach an all time high. And there was Dirk working on the proper pronunciation of "ig'nant." And there was (finally) a fight!
We saw the birth of a superstar, who gave us the "Genuine sports moment of 2011" (Sports Guy) with his escape act celebration. We saw many start to question The Unquestioned One, including a media member who may have swung the series (God bless Gregg Doyel). We saw His Dirkness become a legitimate fan of Chris Bosh (UnlikeABosh). We saw (but will soon forget) Juwan Howard and The Custodian playing crucial NBA Finals minutes. We saw Mario's Miracle versions II and III. We saw a Puerto Rican 5'8 NBA Finals difference maker. We saw an effective zone defense (first time in NBA Playoffs history?). We saw Jason Terry flash many skills, none more impressive than his prophetic tattoo. And we saw the Miami Heat wave the white (out) flag with time still on the clock in what was supposed to be their coronation.
Combine the great Finals with the beginning of a Golden Age in the NBA, and that's how you arrive at the best NBA Playoffs of all time. There were upsets like an 8 seed beating a 1. There were ahead-of-schedule contenders (Thunder) and enjoyable pretenders (Lakers). There was a series between two small market teams that people actually cared about. There was an undressing of an MVP, followed by an undressing of the world's best player. There was the antagonist juggernaut that seemed as dominant as advertised until the last act. And there were the protagonist underdogs who prevailed in the end. It all played out like it was a part of Hollywood.
Hollywood as hell.