The 2011 Mavs and the Value of Suffering

dirktrophy Note: I know that on the surface this post may seem like a departure from the baby-related content this website is supposed to be pushing. But I promise it ties in so give a read anyway. Also, this is my website and I'll write about whatever I want and if you don't like it, you can leave. But also, please don't leave. I need you now.

Two years ago yesterday, the Dallas Mavericks clinched their first NBA Championship with a Game 6 win over the hated Miami Heat. It was, without question, the best sports/pop-culture related moment of my life and probably a top five day in my life, period. (Okay, it’s definitely a top five moment and probably top three but I don’t want all of you to judge me too harshly for this.) It is highly unlikely that any sports moment will EVER mean more to me than that win did unless Cooper realizes his sports potential and leads the Mavs to a title in, like, 2035 or something. When the final buzzer rang and the team ran onto the court to celebrate, I wept and that feeling of absolute elation carried on for, literally, MONTHS afterward. I still get chills (and maybe some leaky eyes) when I think about that series. There are a number of reasons why this particular title run was so special but here are three of them:

1.)    Because of Dirk. There are any number of athletes that hold a special place in my Sports Heart for one reason or another but none of them have ever been as important to me as a fan as Dirk is. Even in my youth, when Derek Harper was my role model, the level of devotion I had was less than it is toward Dirk. If any athlete ever truly deserved to win a title, it was him;

2.)    Because it was Good triumphing over Evil. Miami was built in a day through collusion and (I assume) witchcraft with Lebron James infamously joining forces with Dwyane Wade the summer before and bringing Chris Bosh along with him. They were a gaudy collection of superstars who, in the minds of many, essentially cheated the system in order to create an easier road to championships. Dallas, meanwhile, was built over time, a true team that gelled together perfectly when everyone thought their window was closed. The Mavs did it the right way and for once, were rewarded for their efforts;

3.)    Because it took 20 years. This is the biggest factor in my love for this team and for the championship they earned. It’s something that not everyone can truly understand and it’s what this piece is all about.

I went to my first Mavericks’ game in early 1992. It was, I believe, the second professional sporting event I’d ever been to and to that point I couldn’t have cared less about any sport, let alone basketball. But those three hours spent in Reunion Arena completely changed my life. I was hooked on the sport almost immediately and became obsessed with all things relating to this game that I’d known nothing about previously. (This love was cemented a few weeks later when Christian Laettner hit “The Shot”, illustrating to me how incredible winning basketball could really be.) I watched or listened to just about every game the following season and before long, I lived and breathed Maverick basketball.

It should be noted, then, that living and breathing Maverick basketball in 1992 was akin to willingly allowing someone to stab you with a rusty knife and then coming back the next night for another stabbing. That first year (92-93), the Mavs won 11 games. Total. The next year they got all the way up to 13 and traded my hero, Derek Harper, at mid-season (I cried all night and could barely hold myself together at school the next day). The next year they drafted Jason Kidd and things started to look up (36 wins) but everything fell apart again in ‘95 and before long I found myself a devout, zealous fan of a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in a decade. Everyone I knew was a fan of the team of the day (either the Bulls, the Rockets, or the Lakers) but I steadfastly returned to the Mavs year after year, bad draft after bad draft, losing season after losing season, always hopeful that the new group would be better while knowing deep down that Cherokee Parks and Chris Gatling were not the saviors I so desperately needed them to be.


The next decade, however, was pretty incredible. With Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash on the floor and a brash new owner, Mark Cuban, running the team, the Mavs became a perennial powerhouse. In 2001, they made the playoffs and even managed to advance to the second round by beating the favored Utah Jazz in five games. I was at that first home playoff game and it is, to this day, the best sporting event I’ve ever been at in person. The place was BONKERS. The next few years were filled with tremendous highs (an incredible series with Sacramento in ’03, Dirk dropping 50 on the Suns in ’06, an unlikely first round upset of the Spurs in ’09, and this) and heart-wrenching lows (first round exits in ’04, ’07, ’08, and ’10, the loss of Nash in ’04, and of course the gut-punch Finals loss in ’06) but always the team was competitive. After the loss in ’06 and the complete collapse in ’07, I convinced myself that I had to be content with the Mavs fielding a competitive team year after year that would never win the big one but each year, almost unwillingly, I talked myself into that particular squad’s merits and felt a severe sting when they were inevitably bounced out of the playoffs (usually by the bloody Spurs, whom I hate with the passion of a thousand suns).

Then came 2011. I’m not going to lie, I was completely unenthused about that team. In a summer that saw Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, and a number of other big name free agents find new homes, the Mavs came away with only Tyson Chandler whose value I didn’t truly understand. But as the season wore on, it became apparent that there was something special about that team. They grinded out games like few teams do these days. A veteran team, every guy on the roster understood his role and filled it consistently. Chandler shored up the defense the way no other teammate of Dirk’s had ever done before and everything else fell into line perfectly. By the time they reached the Finals, the whole thing was starting to feel like destiny, a sensation I had seen other teams’ fans go through but had never experienced myself. In the closing seconds of that clinching Game 6, Dirk raised his arms above his head and looked around in complete shock, a feeling that I sympathized with given that I genuinely never thought that day would come.


And that’s what makes it so special. I had been a true, ardent, diehard fan of this franchise for 20 years when that title finally came to fruition. I had watched somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 games. I had put in countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears. I had considered giving up a few dozen times. I had come to the conclusion that it was never going to happen and yet I continually came back with half a hope. I had spent an embarrassing amount of time thinking up trades or free agency solutions that would solve the team’s problems. (I don’t even want to tell you how many spreadsheets on my computer have been dedicated to various trade scenarios and salary cap-related formulas. Sometimes I don’t know how I’m married to be honest with you.) In short, and this is what I’m getting at, I had struggled. Struggled with the tremendous number of losses early on, struggled with the playoff exits later, struggled with the departure of players I loved, struggled to find a way to come back for the next game, the next season, the next decade. I struggled for 20 years and 2011 was my reward. When it was all over, I felt like my life’s work had been completed and while I’m not sure I’ll ever capture that exact feeling again, it’s one that I believe I will never, ever forget.

I hope that this is something my son has occasion to experience. Not just the win, which is undoubtedly the cherry on the top of the very strange yet extremely satisfying sundae, but the struggle as well. That struggle bought me ownership in one of the greatest moments of my life and while it may just be a silly game to some people, the lessons I have learned through the experiences of those 20 years bleed through every facet of my life. So while I hope Cooper’s team of choice never hits rock bottom the way the early ‘90s Mavs did, I hope he’ll have the heart to ride out the bad times that will inevitably come his way in order to fully appreciate the good times down the road. Unless he somehow becomes a Spurs fan, in which case I hope they hit rock bottom and stink so badly for so long that he gives up and comes back to the Mavs where he belongs. Old wounds die hard.

Dirk for President 2024, Brian

P.S. Two years later and this video the Mavs played before their home Finals games still chokes me up.