As Game 6 of the NBA Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat wound down Sunday and a Mavs championship looked imminent, I found myself thinking I wouldn't know how to react if they actually won. It turns out the reaction is that neat kind of happiness that results when you see what looks like positive efforts and hard work being rewarded. I liked that, once again, the team that played like a team, that put the team before the individual players, won the prize.
Life and sports don't always work out like that, but that's the second time this year it's happened with a team I care about. The other was in the spring, when the Texas A&M women beat Notre Dame to win the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship.
Interestingly, in both cases, it was obvious that, as far as the media (particularly ESPN, but not just ESPN) was concerned, first the Aggies and now the Mavericks wouldn't be the story whether they won or lost. I remember watching the sports coverage the day after the Aggies won, and it was all about what Notre Dame did wrong and why they should have won and what they need to do in the future. About the only coverage featuring the Aggies was what couldn't be denied: Game highlights and the trophy presentation.
Last night and today, it's been that all over again. It's all about LeBron James and what he didn't do, not about Dirk Nowitzki and what the Dallas Mavericks did. The thing is, all the focus would be on LeBron and the Heat if the Heat had won, too. So, I'm very happy the Mavericks won! Analysts and observers and even players can talk and speculate all they want, but they can't take away the Mavs' championship trophy and Dirk's MVP trophy.
I think these excerpts from an article by Mike Fisher, a journalist who has covered the Mavericks for 20 years, hit the highlights that resonate most with me today. He's talking about how Dirk, the superstar, and the whole team were playing with each other and for each other. For the team.
"This," The UberMan (Nowitzki) said, his new "NBA Champions" hat sitting crooked on his head, "is a win for team basketball." ...
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle spoke, too. ... "This is one of the unique teams in NBA history. Because it wasn't about high-flying star power. Come on, how often do we have to hear about 'The LeBron James Reality Show' and what he is or isn't doing? When are people going to talk about the purity of our game and what these guys accomplished? That's what's special. … We knew it was very important that we won this series … because of what the game is about, and what the game should stand for. … (The Mavs) have made a statement that's a colossal statement."
They made a statement, alongside Dirk and for Dirk. They did it with nary a word. They did it with a two-week-long, 48-minute-at-a-time flurry of basketball punches to an opponent that had foolishly questioned who they are and what they stand for.
As is often the case, there are lessons and there is inspiration for me from the world of sports. I may write about those later. But for now, I'm just happy to see a hard-working, and as far as I can tell, pretty humble and classy team of players win the championship. I hope victory doesn't change them. And I hope having two teams I root for carry home the prize this year doesn't change me, unless somehow it makes me a better person.