I wrote this one, folks, so ... uhh ... when it comes to the playoffs, GO MAVS!
Confession: I'm not really a Dallas Mavericks fan. I'm a Washington Wizards fan first, and then I'm a fan of the NBA at large. Among this year's playoff teams, though, there are none I admire more than the Dallas Mavericks, which is why I'm here trying to convince you to pull for them this spring.
Part of the reason I admire these guys is because they employ three of my favorite players in the league: former Wizards Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. All three gave me some great memories in DC both on and off the court. Plus, Stevenson and Haywood had the balls to call out LeBron James when nobody else would, which raises them about 10 levels in my book.
But it's not about the former Wizards, it's about the Mavericks. Specifically, it's about how they keep winning and always seems to make the right decision. Since 2004, can you honestly point to one bad move the organization has made? Trading for Jason Kidd? How's Devin Harris working out for you, Nets fans? Trading Antawn Jamison to get Harris and Jerry Stackhouse? Those guys helped carry Dallas to the Finals.
Every other move has worked. They traded Antoine Walker for Jason Terry, turned a disgruntled Josh Howard and spare parts into Butler and Haywood, signed Shawn Marion, plucked J.J. Barea off the scrap heap and, in their latest coup, drafted the unknown, but electrifying Rodrigue Beaubois. Sure, they have a lot of money to spend, but so do the Knicks, and that hasn't worked out for them.
Seriously, the Mavericks have had unprecedented success this decade. They've won at least 50 games every season since 2001, and have three 60-win seasons in that stretch. In case you aren't counting, that's ten straight seasons of at least 50 wins. The last time the Mavericks failed to win 50 games was before Shaq and Kobe hated each other. And the Mavericks have kept succeeding through several iterations of the club, winning during the Don Nelson run-and-gun era, the Avery Johnson tough-as-nails era and the Rick Carlisle halfcourt-execution era. The style might change, the players might change and the coach might change, but the Mavericks keep on chugging.
But of course, they have no championships, and that's the name of the game. Nevermind that they got robbed in 2006. No championships=no respect. And that leads us to the one constant of the last ten years: Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki, like his team, remains the most underrated player of his generation. For ten years, he's been the best player on one of the best teams in the league, doing it in three completely different systems. Just when we think he's finally slowing down, he turns in a season that really should put him higher in the MVP chase than he will be. He rarely misses games, shows up to play every night and has transformed a fanbase that was once dormant and apathetic. He's also stayed out of trouble (with one notable exception) and has mastered the art of connecting with the fans and making himself seem human. (Just ask David Hasselhoff).
In other words, nobody this decade, with the exception of Kobe and Tim Duncan, has been a better "franchise player" for longer than Dirk. And yet, all we remember about Dirk is that he and his team haven't won any titles. We remember his failure in 2006, even though the only reason the Mavericks even got to the Finals is because Dirk played out of his mind against San Antonio and Phoenix. We remember how he shouldn't have won MVP in 2007, even though he was the best player on the best team. We remember how he was stymied by the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs that year, even though it was his coach that cost them the series by not making any tactical adjustments. Much like his team, Dirk's consistent excellence has been ignored because of a few snapshots where he wasn't at his best.
Essentially, Dirk is this generation's Karl Malone. Both have been remembered for all the wrong reasons, their moment of falling short carrying more weight than their entire career of consistent excellence. It was unfair to Malone, and now, it's unfair to Dirk. He's been too good and too likable for too long to suffer Malone's fate.
So this spring, get behind Dirk and the Dallas Mavericks. Cheer for them as they attempt to secure their legacy as champions, and not just runner-ups.