All-Access Friday: The Start Of Redemption
MAVS LOOKAROUND: Let's take a DB.com Mavs Video Lookaround. You know, just to get you in the mood:
DeSHAWN VS. LeBRON: It's hard to imagine that LeBron really still cares about DeShawn in that way. But LeBron, as we know, ‘makes lists.' So yes, LeBron-vs.-DeShawn is a Mavs practice theme. Jay-Z and Soulja Boy aren't in on it. But DB.com is. And so is D-Steve – and we've got the Video Visit, as I sic Kevin Brolan on the job:
This NBA Finals matchup between the Mavs and the Heat is absolutely overflowing with storylines: A 2006 Finals rematch, Dirk vs. national perception, the Heat vs. America, a veteran group of players all looking for their first ring, Redemption, Quiet Cuban, and Chris Bosh vs. a terrible goatee, just to name a few.
If you remember, despite an obvious difference in league stature, LeBron James and DeShawn Stevenson had quite a feud going during the 2007-2008 season that was sparked by a few heated meetings between the Cavs and Wizards in the playoffs. It's time to revisit that beef. It all started when Stevenson, who was regularly assigned by the Wizards to guard LeBron along with then and current teammate Caron Butler, referred to James as "overrated." LeBron and his ego didn't like that too much.
Then it got REAL.
Rapper Soulja Boy (no idea if that's spelled right, but looks good to us) was a friend of DeShawn Stevenson and openly claimed his allegiance to Stevenson, so LeBron decided to go to his rapper buddy, Jay-Z, for a little revenge in the club scene. In a Washington D.C. nightclub, a free-style recording from Jay-Z was played that disrespected DeShawn and the Wizards.
Then it got REALLY REAL, right?
Well, when they met in the playoffs that year, not much came of it. Stevenson did get a Flagrant-1 foul in a game for hitting James in the head, as well as received a $25,000 fine for doing a "throat slash" motion after LeBron goaltended one of DeShawn's layup attempts. After the Cavs won that series 4-2, not much was heard from the feud again as the Wizards' quality of play eroded and they distanced themselves from the playoffs. Soon, they regularly found themselves in the draft lottery and traded away most of their players from that era, which led to Stevenson, Butler, and Brendan Haywood finding their way to Dallas.
While these kinds of "beefs" seem to pop up between high profile characters all the time (Fish surely has dozens of them all over town), they're usually just macho gestures that don't amount to much. ... Though that didn't stop DeShawn from getting thoroughly questioned about it after practice:
Well, maybe it's not completely out of mind because as DeShawn puts it, "Sometimes people don't forget things."
Which leads to the questions:
*LeBron won't press just to get back at innocuous ol' DeShawn Stevenson, will he?
*And if he does, will that little break in concentration while trying to get revenge make any kind of difference in the series?
*And if LeBron makes "lists,'' can we be on it?
THINGS CHANGE: Only Jet and Dirk were Mavs then. Only Haslem and Wade were Heat then.
I'm talking about 2006. But things change even from month to month in the NBA, which is why Rick Carlisle is noting that the clubs have even been altered from their regular-season clashes.
"We had Butler those two games," Carlisle said, adding that Miller was "rusty'' and Haslem absent in this year's two meetings, both won by Dallas (106-95 at home on Nov. 27 and 98-96 in Miami on Dec. 20). "So, both teams have changed significantly in those ways, and the regular season is really insignificant at this point.
AMERICA'S TEAM?: They will be "America's Team.'' And the moniker won't come as a result of a league PR machine, as was the case years ago with the originators of the phrase, their brothers-down-the-street Dallas Cowboys. And it won't be the creation of the players themselves, who are too busy following Dirk Nowitzki's unblinking lead to the ultimate prize. And it won't come from oft-quotable owner Mark Cuban, who's volunteered to tape a "silence-is-golden'' sticker over his mouth.
No, the Dallas Mavericks will be positioned as "America's Team'' because the Miami Heat leaves America no other choice.
The Mavs players and coaches have their endearing tales that will be told. Nowitzki, 32, stands for everything America traditionally loves in its athletes – humility and hard work and loyalty and such. His oh-so-American story is so easy for us to embrace that it doesn't even matter than he's German. Jason Kidd has been to the Finals twice and is going to the Hall of Fame some day. But at 38, if he wants a ring (and he does) he'd better hurry. Shawn Marion is in his 30's and has All-Star appearances and two Western Conference Finals berths but no title. Tyson Chandler's decorated, too, and has been in the league for a decade, but has no title. Peja Stojakovic made serious runs in Sacramento but never got over the top. Jason Terry is the holdover from the Dirk-led Mavs team that lost the 2006 Finals to Miami – and lost a two-and-seven-eighths-game lead, too.
"All of us have unique stories that bond us together," Terry said. "Marion, Peja, Coach Carlisle, Jason Kidd being there twice and not getting it done. So, I think that's what is driving us and that is why we're going to try to get it done this year for all of those guys. … Our goal now is to win four more games ... This time around it's even going to be more special. We're going to leave it all out there on the floor and this is what you play for."
All these guys and all this talent. But among the 15 men on the roster, not an NBA title among them. And Carlisle does indeed belong in this grouping as well. He has guided a third different franchise to its Conference Finals –Detroit and Indiana before this – but now goes one step beyond. "This is our time to move on,'' Carlisle said after eliminating Oklahoma City this week.
And he added at practice today: "I think we are all humbled and respectful of the position we are in right now.''
More from Rick's (many) meetings with the media here:
To an audience looking for someone to be the protagonist and someone to be the antagonist, Carlisle's words and Dirk's style create the framework. … because "humility'' hasn't exactly been the hallmark of a Miami Heat team that staged a sort of "victory parade'' … before the season even started. It was in the fall, when Dwyane Wade's team added Chris Bosh and LeBron James and James, in a glitzy presentation that looked borrowed from Broadway, pledged not to win "one championship … or two …or three … or four … or five … or six …'' And as he kept counting, the public seemed to be adding up all the reasons to not like LeBron James and the Miami Heat. How long had slick Miami boss Pat Riley plotted the acquisitions? Why did LeBron have to turn "The Decision'' into a network soap opera? Where was his loyalty to Cleveland, and Bosh's to Toronto? Passionate NBA fans turned on LeBron then. When the NBA Finals click on, more casual followers of the sport will follow suit. If you want to boo LeBron, then you must want to cheer for Dirk.
DIRK'S NOT BOTHERED: Nowitzki himself is showing nothing but respect for his foes, and for their behavior.
"I think it was a big move for them. They were excited and rightfully so," said Dirk today. "Obviously, they're in the NBA Finals now. They ultimately made those moves to win championships and so we'll see if they can get one this first year."
Initially, Dirk was going to skip media today and let Jason Kidd do the deed. Yes, I hung out near the backdoor and had a lovely exchange with the Escapee Dirk.
But then The UberMan returned to the floor and met the media:
Is Dirk pals with LeBron and Wade?
"No,'' he said, "not really.''
And good. That's just the way we like it, isn't it?
At the same time, Dirk also said, "It's the game of basketball. There's no good guys, bad guys. There's two good teams that made it to this stage and both want to win.''
Dang it, Dirk. Must you be so reasonable?
QUIET CUBAN: I've noted before than Mark Cuban NOT talking is a bigger story than anything he could possibly say now. And it seems his players also believe "Silence is Golden.''
"It's fine with me," Nowitzki says. "It should be about the players. That's what this league is."
Adds Rick: "Mark has been a huge positive. He's the most unique owner in the league. I love having him around because it lets players know how much he cares."
And that's all that's needed right now. There is no move to make, no ticket to sell. Cuban has done his job. And his voluntary gag order is newsy enough.
TYSON TALKS: A cool customer, this TY. At least in his hangin' out after practice, as you see here:
Man, when TY puts it into works, handling LeBron and Wade actually sounds do-able, eh?
MAVSELLANEOUS: J-Kidd. Dark-blue shoes. Low-cut. Old-school. ... Last two guys on the floor: French-speaking free-throw shootin' Ian Mahinmi and Roddy Beaubois ... A group putting itself through extra work -- windsprints at this time of the season?! -- featured DoJo, Roddy B, Corey Brewer and Shawn Marion. Yes, 'Trix was running with the scrubs. And there is probably a bonding tale in there ... As usual, most of the guys paired up during their free-throw work. But not Big Wood. He worked alone with FT coach Gary Boren, trying to fine-tune a touch that was at a season-best in G5 vs. OKC ... A major topic of Mavs coaches' discussion? Trying to keep Miami from parading to the line ... Charles Barkley is picking Dallas. "This ain't the same Mavs team; they got beat by a better team then. I think the Mavs got a really good chance. I think they are going to win this series.'' ... Not much bravado from the boys today. But Jason Terry is likely to change that on Saturday. ... Dirk did a sitdown with Channel 8's Dale Hansen and Kidd did one with Ch. 4's Mike Doocy ... I know Mavs fans care that it's the Heat. And I know Jet does. But Dirk? "It doesn't really matter that much to me,'' he says. "We had a huge chance in '06 and let it slip away. So, we got another crack at it. We were able to get to this stage again, and it feels good. Now, we've just gotta go for it and do all the things that got us here.''
THE CARON QUESTION: The No. 1 question I'm getting? 'Who ya pickin'?'
No. 2? 'Is Caron coming back?' And I keep giving the same answer, and y'all aren't listening, so I'll let Rick do it.
"We're not there yet, and we're not close to being there,'' Rick said of the rehabbing Butler, who wasn't at practice during the media session because, of course, he didn't practice.
THE FINAL WORD: The Heat's season has been an ongoing celebration of their presumed greatness. LeBron and Wade recently posed on the floor in prayer and fell to the floor in happy exhaustion, respectively – and this was after winning a Round 2 series with Boston, leaving them two series and eight wins shy of actually accomplishing anything.
That's in sharp contrast to what occurred in Dallas after the completion of three rounds. When the Mavs won the Western Conference title at the American Airlines Center, no confetti dropped. No Mavs player feigned exhaustion. Cameras didn't catch stars in fortuitously-staged exhibits of faith. They were presented the Western Conference trophy and again, led by Nowitzki, the Mavs acted as if the thing was going to give them herpes.
"We got one of those trophies already," Dirk said then, reflecting on 2006, "and it didn't mean anything at the end."
"America's Team'' has an odd connotation in the NFL. It's almost meant sarcastically now when directed at the Cowboys, a reminder of arrogance and the Super Bowls they aren't winning.
But down the street, the Dallas Mavericks are about to be given that label. And it's a badge of respect from a public that wants Miami to get just one thing in these NBA Finals: