The Dallas Mavericks have vanquished the Miami Heat to win the 2011 NBA Championship and a shiny championship trophy, the franchise's first. Dirk Nowitzki was named the NBA Finals MVP and was clearly the series' top player. But because of the national (and global) image of the Heat -- a collection of three superstars with spare bits tossed in -- and the Mavericks -- a team in the truest sense of the word -- some observers might get it twisted and consider this a victory for balanced, team basketball over a superstar-focused roster.
That would be 100 percent wrong.
The narrative actually popped up immediately after the Heat's loss, as a reporter asked Dwyane Wade whether the Mavericks' win was an indictment of Miami's "top-heavy" payroll. Wade smartly shot this down immediately, noting that the Heat have three evenly-paid players at the top of the roster, while the Mavericks are unbalanced with one huge salary (Nowitzki) and smaller ones for the others. The Mavericks, of course, had one of the highest payrolls in basketball for a 10 straight seasons; we remarked before the Finals that only the New York Knicks have spent more in player salary than Mavericks since 2001. Dallas' payroll has been more than $240 million more than that of the Heat over that span.
In fact, the Mavericks' win not only isn't an indictment of the NBA's superstar paradigm. It's actually a perfect illustration of why superstars rule the Earth, and why teams ought to chase superstars as hard as they chased LeBron James and Wade last summer.
Think about the Mavericks, and what got them here. It can be summed up in two lovely words: Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks have won at least 50 games in each of the past 11 seasons because Nowitzki is such an incredible player, because GM Donnie Nelson has consistently surrounded Dirk with solid players and because Mark Cuban has been willing to spend more than any other owner not named James Dolan.
It all started with Nowitzki, and this title starts with Nowitzki. Without him, there's no dream of a title in Dallas, let alone an actual parade. Consider that in those 11 great years for the Mavericks, Dallas has made two NBA Finals series. LeBron and Wade made a combined two in a combined 14 years of action pre-Decision. They made the Finals in their first year together. In the context of their careers to this point and the Mavericks' experience in the new millennium, that's a rousing success. Imagine how unstoppable the Mavericks would be if they had Kobe Bryant or Derrick Rose or Wade instead of Jason Terry!
The Mavericks are anomalous in one very important respect: they did it with just one obvious superstar and a host of really good roleplayers. Most teams -- the L.A. Lakers of five championships since 2000, specifically, but also the 2006 Heat -- have two All-NBA players. Many title teams (Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs) have three capable of that honor. The Detroit Pistons of 2004 famously had none, just the best defender in basketball in Ben Wallace and a few hugely underrated players in Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace.
But look how hard it is to do it that way. Dallas made two Finals and won one championship going the "one megastar and a deep roster" route. The Pistons had the same results. The Lakers won three titles as a duopoly, traded one of the superstars (Shaquille O'Neal) to create a deeper, more harmonious team. They didn't make another championship series until they traded for another superstar in Pau Gasol. Stars run this league. The Mavericks didn't win because Jason Terry is the team's second-best player, or because Jason Kidd is a consummate professional, or because J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson were selfless.
They won the title because they have one of the best players in the NBA, and a defense that was able to shut down two of the game's top scorers. The world would love to pin this on a triumph of good team ball over evil, selfish superstars, but that's just not what happened. The biggest superstar of the series -- of the playoffs -- won. The sun rises in the East, and the league is still run by superstars. Embrace it.