Our long national grind is over. It ended where in many ways, it began - Miami, FLA - home of the best that money could buy, the master-plan, the decision. Superstars shelled into submission by a lanky bridesmaid who couldn’t spit in the ocean in the first half, supported by a gang of misfits who could. It’s how it should be, the basketball gods must have been smiling.
The knock on Nowitzki for years, has been that he’s soft, can’t or won’t play the interior, doesn’t come through when it really counts, in the playoffs, in the finals. This year was different - his Mavericks played like a recommitted team but the perception remained - they had failed too often and the public had turned away. Until they wound up in the finals, pitted against a team that had gone from media darling to pariah. Suddenly, the game had new meaning.
Somewhat lost in the drama and the loglines, was the fact that Dallas had been playing beautiful basketball, all season long. This wasn’t the old Dirk. This was a veteran seasoned by years of disappointment, by personal and public missteps, a guy who loved to play so completely, to whom loyalty and dedication meant everything. His game was more complete, his desire all the more evident.
Dallas beat Portland and the populace shrugged. They swept the Lakers and experts said it was just too hard to win three-in-a-row. They beat the team of the future, OKC, and headed to the finals for the first time since ‘06. The media at large, examined the situation and proclaimed the Mavs to be a very, very good team... who didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell against the three-headed monstrosity. A couple games in and the storyline began to change. Dallas won naturally, on the backs of a point guard older than Methuselah, a journeyman center, a reborn Matrix and Jason Terry - thrower of Heat-seeking missiles. I love his shooting philosophy, "I didn’t even see the basket, really."
You couldn’t have scripted a better ending to a long perplexing season, a serpentine trip. Meanwhile, dark clouds were gathering on the horizon. The league and ownership (i.e. the brain-trust) had acquired various bits of information suggesting that the game of basketball was alive and well, and expanding at a rather astonishing rate. Said knowledge firmly in hand and the Collective Bargaining Agreement about to expire, Stern-nation apparently decided that the proper course of action would be to shut it all down.
Bill Simmons wrote a piece recently, focusing on the negotiations and equating the owners’ purported $300 million shortfall to a cherry-picked clutch of bad player contracts. I’m not a Simmons hater, not part of that expanding crowd. I actually like his style, how he turns a phrase. But, he shoots from way outside and sometimes hits nothing but air. How do you come up with the solution of taking a player’s salary? Is that really how we want our league? Is this like mandated testing for schools? You lost your touch, your knees are broke. Give us back the money.
Later in the same inexorably long article, Simmons offers that ABC/Disney stood to make $110 billion dollars for a Game 7. Not sure where he got his figures but just rolling with it for a moment, let's take some other multiples of billions and times them by hundreds of nationally televised games and thousands of locally televised (and syndicated) games and give a nice cut to the owners and add in merchandising and tickets and concession sales and more ancillary markets than would fit on this page and the next logical conclusion is a player lockout. And all the children, are insane.
Pause for PSA - the Lakers still exist. Just thought I’d toss that in, considering this is supposed to be some version of a team blog. Mike Brown’s still putting together his staff. The draft’s about a week away. Ron Artest is working on a reality show. Steve Blake’s become addicted to Extreme Couponing (OK, I made that up).
Everyone’s likening Rick Carlisle to Jim Carrey these days. I always thought he looked like Dick York from "Bewitched" but then everyone’s always said Carrey looks like York. Regardless, Carlisle turned the bad news bears into true believers and it’s a testament to artful coaching, adaptability and communication. Erik Spoelstra’s talked about the difficulty of working collectively inside the fish bowl.
The season was long and bumpy and the next one could be far away. I’m reminded of what Shaq said in his last get-together with Phil Jackson, "I don’t understand why it had to come to this". Shaq and Phil are retired now and it somehow feels fitting that this year’s ring was won by a group of veterans who in fact, showed Phil the door. And if there’s a lesson for D-Wade and LeBron, it’s this - don’t clown your elders, they may just kick your ass.