I almost always cringe when sports’ journalists make their completely subjective lists
of the most cursed fans of different professional teams. For example, I don’t care how poorly Cleveland has dealt with Lebron’s departure. In fact, at this point, I’m actually amused at how Cavs’ fans are still whining that they’re ex-girlfriend left 8 months ago.
Likewise, I’d rather have a writer comment on the strengths of Durant and OKC rather than discuss how terrible and wrong the Supersonic’s move was for Seattle residents. These sappy articles are pretty much made to offer sympathy to the suffering cities and have very little appeal to the rest of us.
However, part of me will always sympathize with the Dallas Mavericks.
Last week, in his typical gamesmanship against a potential contender (Dwayne Wade’s Heat), Phil Jackson told reporters “”That Miami Finals really was a tough one to swallow…I think Wade averaged about 25 foul shots a game. You couldn’t even touch him. That was really tough to swallow and I think [Mark Cuban] understood there’s kind of a pecking order in this league and you keep your mouth shut at times.”
Phil was referencing Cuban’s constant screaming at the officials throughout the playoffs and his infamous stare down with David Stern at the end of Game 5 of the Finals. Having their owner consistently criticize NBA officials and stare down the head of the league probably cost the Mavs any chance of winning Game 6.
Now I hate to use calls as any excuse for a loss in a series. I definitely believe games are fixed in the NBA; however, I also believe games are given back through calls and decisive games are generally called fairly. For example, I haven’t met anyone who complained about the officiating in Game 7 of the Lakers-Celtics Finals whereas both Celtic and Laker fans were complaining at different times throughout games 1-6.
Additionally, the major argument of the 2002 Lakers-Kings Game 6 never holds any weight to me because of 1.) Game five’s officiating (Shaq had 1 FTA on 18 shots and fouled out, Kobe was completely hacked by Bobby Jackson on the final play, no call), and 2.) Game 7 of that series was officiated very fairly and was in Sacramento (the Kings missed half their FTs and just flat-out choked in OT). Game 6 was a make-up game for Game 5 while game 7 was called fairly. In the weird world of playoff basketball, where the NBA and officials look to expand series’ and increase profits dramatically (the Lakers pull in 4 million per home playoff game), this Lakers-Kings series was actually fair.
But the Mavs never were offered a make-up game, and the crucial decisive games 5 and 6 were not called fairly. Consequently, Dwayne Wade’s a champion, which gives his fans evidence that he’s a top 4-5 player in the league, when in reality, he’s an injury-prone athletic specimen who has never taken a team out of the first round in the east without Shaq and a group of older, past all-stars. He was basically handed the Finals MVP award by the referees.
I cannot sympathize with Cuban in this situation; the guys he pays around him must have warned him against excessively bashing the refs and insulting Stern. But I do sympathize with Dirk, Terry, and Mavs’ fans. The Mavs were significantly a better all-around team than the Heat in 2006. Their superstar was a PF who was more talented than Miami’s perimeter superstar. Terry was a more clutch ball handler than the Jason Williams/Gary Payton tandem. Any athlete who has one-ounce of determination in his or her body would scoff at Antoine Walker being considered a champion at any sport.
And now I continue to sympathize for Dallas. The psychological toll of losing an NBA Finals with home advantage after being up 2-0 may have just destroyed their confidence in subsequent years. What would have that 2006 championship meant years later? Their core remained the same except with the addition of Jason Kidd. They would have the swagger to grind out more playoff series’. They probably would have dug down deep and beat Golden State the following year. They won 67 games in 2007, and if they got through Golden State, they may have beaten San Antonio in the playoffs again as they did in 2006. They would have demolished Lebron in the finals as Duncan did.
Instead Dirk is left championship-less. He will forever be remembered as the immense talent who just couldn’t get it done. The 2005-2007 Mavs are the exact opposite of Ben Wallace’s 2004 Pistons. Additionally, every NBA fan just instinctively writes off the Mavs at this time of year. Even their own coach refers to them as “soft.”
So yes, I couldn’t care less for Bengals’ fans or Sacramento Queens’ fans, but I do feel bad for Mavs’ fans. The lack of diligence and focus of their players wasn’t the cause of their demise. Cuban built a team that was capable of winning several titles. But his antics may have cost them a championship and killed his own team’s confidence. Or, Stern may have pushed for a Dwayne Wade title to help make Wade a Jordan-like, NBA money-making figure. Either way, Dirk is left with nothing but regular season glory.
Note: My speculation of how the NBA playoffs is officiated is not rooted in anything more than my observations over the past 15+ years and does not reflect the views of other writers on 25twofour’s blog.