Tonight, Harrison Barnes returns to Golden State, and does so off the triumphs of back-to-back 30-plus-point efforts in Mavs wins. Barnes says, "It's just another game. We're 2-5 right now, trying to go back home 3-5." ... But I bet it'll be odd.
On Thursday, Dwyane Wade returns to Miami as a member of the Chicago Bulls. I have to admit—as a Mavericks fan who suffered through a lot of Wade bank-shots and free throws back in 2006, it’s strange to see him in a new uniform. There’s something pure about being able to bring that perfect amount of sports hate (not real hate - sports hate) to a player and a place.
Until LeBron arrived, Wade was the most important Florida athlete since Dan Marino. His presence there was iconic. It changed the dynamic of the Heat franchise. Whether you believe every ounce of his success was earned or not—that team doesn’t have a championship without Wade. Period.
So, when I remember the 2006 Finals, I don’t just hate the Miami Heat—I hate the player who embodied all of the worst moments in that series from the perspective of a Mavericks fan: The Guy Wearing Number 3.
Some of you may remember the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl losses to the Steelers—but I don’t. I remember the single victory against them in Super Bowl 30. As a sports fan, I understood the history of the matchup, and I wanted my Cowboys to get just a little taste of revenge—but I also knew that the revenge was served incredibly cold. None of the players from the previous two losses were still in the league. Many people—like me—hadn’t even been born when the previous games happened.
So, while it’s always amazing to watch your team win a Super Bowl - you really want your guys to put one good hit on Lynn Swann, or to pick off Terry Bradshaw. That’s revenge. It’s not quite as brutal to embarrass the extremely mortal Neil O’Donnell. Especially when your team is, by all accounts, the villain of the NFL.
On the other hand ... our 2011 Mavericks got to experience the finest version of sports revenge. The avatar of their previous defeat was still playing games. Not only that: Wade had brought in his friends to make the sequel even more unfair. LeBron James—maybe the best player of all time—was now on the same team as the dream killer. The entire league hated those guys for a moment, and the Mavericks victory wasn’t just vengeance - it was a reprimand.
And now, when the Miami Heat play basketball, every ounce of that has been drained out. LeBron is back in Cleveland, a redeemed and conquering hero. Bosh is on the shelf with blood clots (and a slight case of bad contract). And Wade - the most important athlete in Miami Heat history - plays for the Chicago Bulls. ... a franchise where, even with a storybook ending to his career, he will be a footnote next to much greater names.
According to a report by Nick Friedell, Wade had this to say about his former team, and their fans:
“I want them to appreciate what we accomplished together. I want them to cheer for their team that they have, support those players over there that's giving their all. Support the future of the organization and be thankful that we all was able to experience an unbelievable ride together. That's all you can do."
The worst part about that quote—it doesn’t sound like it came from the mouth of one of my greatest sports villains of all time. It sounds like it came from the mouth of a pretty decent man, with a pretty solid amount of perspective, and a lot of respect for the people and players of his past and future.
"Respect.'' In the end, it's probably a healthy thing, whether it's "Cuban vs. ESPN'' or dealing with a new President-Elect that about half of us, no matter who won, weren't going to like, or Barnes at Golden State for the 9:30 tip (discuss here on DB.com Boards ... and give a listen to our "Locked On Mavs'' podcast preview, too.
When reflecting on Wade quote and that advice, I realize that it might also come from the mouth of a certain German Hall-of-Fame power forward. As Dirk Nowitzki (maybe pondering, as Fish writes, "A Point of No Return'') watches the Mavericks in a giant suit for the next week -- or weeks -- he might offer that same advice: Appreciate what we had. But, also, appreciate what you have. That’s all we can do.