In the hierarchy of NBA physical specimens, LeBron James probably sits alone as the most impressive athlete to ever play in the league. Yet there is one blotch on his resume that rightly or wrongly will always be held against him.
And Jason Terry is a large reason why.
It wasn't a vintage three game start to the 2011 NBA Finals for Jason Terry or the Dallas Mavericks against the newly formed super team, Miami Heat.
So much so that Terry drew the public criticism of Dirk Nowitzki. Terry responded with his trademark confidence questioning whether James would be able to continue to chase him around for the remainder of the series.
Terry’s words proved prophetic as he dominated the rest of the NBA finals while the best player in the world largely disappeared.
Jason Terry is a winner. Period.
Despite arriving in Tucson as a last second recruit from Seattle, it took Terry about 18 months to establish himself as possibly the most selfless superstar in school history.
The offer by Terry to come off the bench, despite the individual and team success that had occurred while he was in the starting lineup, when Miles Simon returned from academic suspension is a story stamped into the legacy of the 1996-97 Arizona championship run.
Perhaps the most overlooked part is that Terry never voiced displeasure when the team largely disappointed in the second half of the regular season after the return of Simon.
Terry would see his patience lead to individual glory two seasons later when he authored one of the five best seasons in UA history on his way to being named 1999 Sports Illustrated College Basketball Player of the year.
Almost instant individual success followed Terry to the NBA. While he flirted with 20 points per game for multiple seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, he wasn’t winning many games. Not exactly his fault however, as no player was winning games for one of the league’s most forgettable franchises.
Brought in before the 2004-05 season via trade by the Dallas Mavericks to replace the recently departed Steve Nash, Terry’s scoring and competitive streak brought about quick dividends, including a finals appearance in his second year with the franchise.
Because of his 2011 NBA Finals performance, Maverick power forward Dirk Nowitzki is honored as a clutch competitor and an all-time great.
But that Dirk didn't show up in the 2006 finals. Flustered and clearly not ready for the biggest stage against a Dwyane Wade and, to a lesser extent Shaquille O’Neal-led Miami Heat team, Nowitzki averaged 22 points a game, but shot only 39 percent and generally didn’t convert clutch opportunities throughout the series.
The same could not be said about Terry, who averaged 22 points per game while shooting nearly 48 percent from the field. The Mavericks lost four straight after jumping out to 2-0 series lead, but it’s impossible to make the case that other than series MVP Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade, Jason Terry wasn’t the best player in the series.
In subsequent years, Terry moved to the bench, yet still averaged between 15 to 19 points per game and, not surprisingly, reeled in the 2009 NBA 6th Man of the Year award in the process.
But his big stage reputation will forever be remembered in the 2011 NBA Finals. These finals are notable for two reasons: LeBron James’ dominant act wilting on the grandest stage and Dirk Nowitzki raining one legged mid range jumpers over any and all Heat defenders.
Jason Terry was the turning point in the series. With the Heat leading 2-1 after three games and Terry averaging less than 14 points per game on less than 40 percent shooting, the former UA great was called out publicly by Nowitzki.
Terry responded publicly and on the court.
Whether is was off screens or isolation situations, Terry dropped jumpers over the skeptical league MVP James to the tune of 21 points per game on 58 percent shooting, including 27 points in the close out game.
These points were all needed as Nowitzki averaged 27 points per game, but on 37 percent shooting the remaining four games
Unlike in 2006, Nowitzki converted huge buckets in the closing minutes on his way to the Finals MVP, but Terry was right there and along with Dwyane Wade, one of the three best players in the finals.
Where Andre Iguodala claims the mantle of the only Arizona Wildcat ever to win a finals MVP, it says here considering supporting casts and impact, Jason Terry authored the two best finals performances of any UA alum.
The 2011 back and forth with LeBron James is probably the seminal moment in UA NBA alum history.
Just completing his 18th season in the NBA, Terry is now a spot player, but still possesses the flair for the dramatic as his 8 point closing minutes outburst demonstrated in the Bucks last postseason game against the Raptors.
Currently at 18,715 career points, it’s highly unlikely Terry joins the 20,000 point club, but he will still finish as far and away the U of A’s all-time leading regular and postseason NBA scorer.
Terry has stated he wants to play into his 40’s and there is little doubt that a team will pick him up for next season.
Being the first UA pro to play into his 40’s will be only one of many Terry-orchestrated UA NBA firsts, which might be the most telling statement for his case as the best UA NBA pro ever.