I sit here in my creaky dining room chair amazed. I know I’ve only been alive for a score and four years, but I still can’t believe the Little Dallas Mavericks are about to tip-off in an NBA Finals game. Let me clarify my amazement: I was amazed by the Detroit Pistons two years ago because they came out of nowhere and beat better teams. I was taken aback by the Lakers of 2000-2002 because they were toying with opponents. And I was completely flabbergasted by Jordan’s Bulls because I really think other teams considered not showing up. The Mavericks now rank somwhere between the Lakers and the Bulls, and here’s why.
Growing up, the Mavericks were the NBA equivalent of Lima Beans. Lima beans are in the mixed vegetables but you wouldn’t realize if they left them out…they are completely irrelevant. And so were the Mavericks. Even two and three years ago, they weren’t really a top-tier team. They were good, but nobody was delusional enough to root for them in public. Last year’s heartbreaking loss to Steve "Benedict" Nash was the last game played in Maverick Irrelevance Land. This entire year belonged to the Mavericks. Through injuries, losing Michael Finley, Avery coaching his first full season, they were consistently a better team than anyone (yes, even my beloved Spurs). How in the world have they moved from Obscurity to PrimeTime?
Dirk = Unbelievable. Avery = Excellent Coach. JET / Josh Howard = Consistent and Necessary. But I don’t think any of these ingredients have led to the Mavericks’ success. Good players have been in Dallas (Rolando Blackman, 2-time MVP Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Michael Finley, Jamal Mashburn…ok that may not count). Dallas has also had good coaches. What Dallas has never had, however, was a winning culture. Like I said, they were irrelevant and they needed a spark to ignite some passion about that team. I truly believe that Dallas is in the Finals because of Mark Cuban. Which leads me to my conclusion that Dallas had better hope they lose this year.
In case you hadn’t heard, Mark Cuban is King Midas. It is amazing how much this guy has accomplished (and yet he still dresses like a 6th grader). Most notably he started MicroSolutions and sold it after it was huge, then he started Broadcast.com and then sold it to Yahoo! when it was huge. Logic seems to say that Mark loves to undertake some enormous task, become the best at it, then move on. If that really is the case, then he may not be the Mavericks owner for too much longer. Barring injuries and crazy circumstances, the Mavericks could emerge as one of the best teams for the next 5 years. And once his project is the best, Mark tends to look elsewhere.
Mark has never shot a basketball in an NBA game. For all of his complaining about officials, the Mavericks still have things called against them. But he has somehow made the Mavericks matter. The AAC is the best arena I’ve ever been to. The Mavs have tremendous players. They are a well-coached and respected, albeit nouveu-riche, franchise. This stuff doesn’t happen on it’s own: you need a catalyst.
Here’s hoping the Catalyst sticks around.