My First Mavs Season, Their Best Mavs Season
The 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks, as we knew them then, prior to opening day, roamed the brick-encased practice court answering questions, posing for photo-ops and acting before a large green-screen for clips that would be used throughout the course of the season.
For far from the last time, I passed through every moment expecting a hand to come firmly down on my shoulder, a displeased voice to proclaim "You're not supposed to be here, son," before escorting me briskly from the premises as a scattered few would stare with either amusement, disgust or both.
That hand never came.
Instead, there was Rick Carlisle preaching "role acceptance" over "role definition," and the greatest season in the history of the Dallas Mavericks began its magnificent journey. We all watched as Caron Butler was lost for the season, as Dirk missed nine consecutive games with his own knee injury and the thrill of a 24-5 start was shoved away.
We felt the undeniable impact Tyson Chandler was having, as he methodically went about dismantling the disappointment some held in the return of The DUST Chip (Dampier's instantly expiring contract, or "Dampier's Ultimate Sign-and-Trade Chip). And, felt the silently spreading certainty, like dye in crystal clear water, that this team was different. Even before it was tangible, that intuition was there. This team was different.
We engaged our personal haunts as Dallas faced the deepest ghosts after Brandon Roy led the Blazers on the first of many improbable comebacks Dallas would take part in this postseason. Staring their demons down, the Mavs closed the series, swept the Lakers, put away the ever-dangerous Thunder and walked back into the den of the franchise's most searing bruises. In six games, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and the rest of the Mavs forever buried any lingering hurt to forever demand that they heretofore be referred to as champions … leaving us at the present, back in the brick-enclosed practice court beneath the stands once more for Exit Interviews -- essentially the final all-access gathering of this group.
Rick Carlisle was the first to appear at the top of the staircase leading down to the waiting throng of media. For twenty minutes he stood as the feast at their (our) center, praising his team, individually and as a unit.
"This was a true team in every sense," Rick Carlisle said, "… It's a strength in numbers team."
He answered every question tossed his way, joking that Barea's with Miss Universe, so doesn't he have to start?, and commenting on the expectations of winning a city like Dallas demands, of the exuberance and accountability Tyson Chandler brought, of the intelligence and athleticism of Shawn Marion, the professionalism of DeShawn Stevenson, the hope still living in Roddy Beaubois, of the savant-like genius of Jason Kidd, the all-time greatness of Dirk; and he'd likely still be answering an endless cascade of questions if PR boss Sarah Melton hadn't appropriately stepped in to stop it.
During this entire period, Carlisle was alone on the court … a feeling completely foreign to this Mavs squad who went about every task as a unit, as a team.
The first player to appear was JJ Barea, who was quickly swallowed whole by the cameras, phones, voice recorders, notebooks, pens and everything else. Rarely do you find a professional basketball player so thoroughly lost in the crowd. Standing at a 5-10 (which often feels generous), it seems like the only place Barea isn't dwarfed by the size inherent to the NBA game is on the court, where he suddenly strides a few inches, perhaps a few feet, higher.
"This team was special," JJ Barea pointed out before doing his best to make it clear that he hopes to be right back in Dallas next season.
He joked about the likelihood of additional suitors based on his postseason play, noting that as a good problem to have, and admitted that he'd love to start someday, but didn't deny his desire to return to the position he occupied this season with the Mavs.
And the flood began as Barea spoke. Brendan Haywood made his way down the steps. Followed closely by Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry, wearing his championship robe, sunglasses and a cap (no one lets the joy of this moment decorate their skin more than Terry, both literally, tattooed to his right bicep, and figuratively) and Dirk Nowitzki. From the moment their faces draw into focus you could see the change, like the wear of years has been erased, the burden of past failures slid from their shoulders, the remnants of that pain vanished.
The fatigue of 103 games (82 regular season, 21 playoff) may hide in their muscles, yet they almost float through the gym, riding the back of smiles that have never appeared so easily, so causally.
Gone are the shadows cast of being part of "The List," as Charles Barkley calls it, the greatest to have played and never won a title. Gone is the pain of coming so close, yet ending so far away. Gone is the dream begging for just one more chance to crack the permanent stage of time to go back and reenact, to alter those chances lost.
In this time, there is no fear of celebrating the moment, knowing the next may come and steal it away. This is permanent. As Shawn Marion, Dirk and others have spoken aloud, perhaps reminding themselves of it as much as anyone, this cannot be taken away.
Opinions don't matter. Criticism is groundless and drowning in its own futility. For as long as NBA records are kept, they will bear the mark of this team, labeling them for what they are: champions.
"We now have a bond that will be with us for all time," Carlise said.
He was referring to those who made up this year's Mavs, but we'll stretch it a little further. This season has been a gift, a reward to all those who have endured the heartache, a bond those who surrendered themselves to it will never see broken. Regardless of what tomorrow may hold, the memories your 2011 Champion Mavs provided will live on.
You'll still have ghosts. You'll still have those moments of silence where haunting whispers slide their way in. Only, instead of focusing on the nonsensical pain of happenstance, of "what if," you'll find the tickle of a smile waiting. There will be no alarm clock to rudely pry this dream away from you, for it is not a dream. The Dallas Mavericks, your Dallas Mavericks, are the 2011 NBA Champions.
Returning one last time to my first encounter as a member of the leering press, to strolling into an alien world I continue to be baffled by my place in, when I left the AAC on my own from the Media Day that officially began the 2010-11 season.
Back up the stairs towards the dark underside of the AAC seats, then left. Once I'm back in the off-white stone halls I find my final surreal moment involving a Mavs player.
Strolling towards me by himself is DeShawn Stevenson. We pass each other with cordial nods and "how's it going's", and I make my way back to the elevator. A simple human moment … with DeShawn Stevenson.
That was how my day closed then, how I wrote it then, and fittingly, almost poetically, they lead me to my exit from my first season covering the Mavs, as I walked alone back towards my car in the AAC parking lot from the exit interviews.
Carrying a dish of food this time, walking towards me as I walked towards him was DeShawn Stevenson. Instead of a cordial nod, this time I congratulated him. He said "thanks" and continued on his way.
A simple human moment … with NBA Champion DeShawn Stevenson.