Well, if that didn’t get your juices flowing, I don’t know what will. It has only been a bit more than a day since the Mavericks beat the Heat, and the reverberations of this feat have been felt throughout the country. Most of the reaction has been the criticism of the hubris, ignorance and disappearing of the biggest act in the NBA, LeBron James. Even in defeat, LeBron is still winning the press headlines instead of the championship rings he truly (which after this pitiful performance, can be questioned) desires. While it is and was amazing/saddening to see how completely the Heat froze up, it is and was remarkable and awe-inspiring to see the Mavericks rise up and claim the ultimate prize. Assuredly the league truest and possibly last (of a dying breed) unassuming players, Dirk Nowitzki accomplished a feat that had eluded him 5 years prior, and before that most of the early 2000s. In his latest postseason, Dirk Diggler performed at a level that was so unreal, so utterly amazing, that I was truly in awe of how far he has come and how damn well he plays the game of basketball. To my cousin Emem, who was dissing on Dirk during the disassembling of the “Lakers’ self-wiring computer” (his words, not mine): I told dude is bad, I told you: HE’S JUST RAW BRO! #whyumadtho, #dontbesalty, #enjoymikebrown haha.
Let me begin how I came to love Dirk’s game, my own personal journey with Dirk through his career and finally how he (and Dallas as a team) have come full circle in my eyes……..
Growing up with the Blazers around, floundering and really going nowhere in the early 2000s rooting for them was a bit of an embarrassment. It was like still being that kid or group of kids in 8th grade talking about Dragon Ball Z when everyone was clearly not watching DBZ… not that I would know how that goes/went or anything. So with that in mind, and having to curb any enthusiasm about the Blazers for fear of the usual mock or condescending response, I embarked on a journey of celebrating basketball as a sport, enjoying other teams, but always hoping my hometown team would someday model and become like these teams. I became instantly gravitated towards the high flyers, big scorers and fundamentally sound players and teams of the league. Vince Carter and Allen Iverson were great, Sacramento and Dallas’ ability to put up points were amazing to me and the grit of San Antonio and Indiana were examples of how defense made basketball great.
But the one thing that always stuck with me was the ease at which teams like Dallas and Sacramento made the game look. They had some of the most offensively brilliant playoff series I have ever seen. I soon gravitated to the up-tempo style of the Don Nelson-lead Dallas Mavericks and the effective high-post of offense of Rick Adelman’s Sacramento Kings. I remember playing NBA Shootout 2002 on my PlayStation as both teams and taking control of only Chris Webber or Dirk Nowitzki and having them take every shot, grab every rebound and making sure Bibby and Nash got their assists. After playing that game, and seeing the damage Dallas could do, I finally decided to carve them a small niche in my heart, my interests and desires to see do well and it all started with Dirk.
What made me so infatuated with Dirk, and as cliche and overstated as it is to say, is that he makes the game look too easy for someone his size. At 7 feet tall, he moves, contorts and makes shots with such precision that nobody his size should be able to, PERIOD. He just shouldn’t be able to do that, is the common refrain. What continues to go under the radar in this stage in his career (dare we begin to suggest his twilight is beginning? What is an apt assessment?) is that he remains one of the best shooters at this moment, and possibly in the history of the league. What made me so infatuated with Dirk was his ability at 7 feet to step beyond 23 and drop triple, after triple, after triple. Just ask my friend Kyle, my friend’s brother Willy: give me Dallas in NBA Live ’05 and 5 minute quarters, and you’ll see me at 100 in no time. Dirk’s size and finesse in the post allowed me to continual exploit the defense until I saw it fit to hoist jumper, after jumper, after jumper. That’s the script and it was a beautiful read every single time. What made me so infatuated with Dirk was that he was relentless in adding to his game and bettering himself as a player. Knowing he had supreme advantages in the post, after the trading of Steve Nash, not tendering an offer to Michael Finley and Don Nelson leaving the Mavericks, Dirk put an onus on working closer to the basket and getting to the line. After those three dominoes fell, I want to say 2006ish, Dirk cut his 3 pointers attempted nearly in half and raised his free throws attempted 1.5-fold (my guesstimations). His work in the post, particularly the high-post foul line extended, where he’d spin off one foot (over and over and over) and then finally feel contact and raise up was the most beautiful display of footwork and marksmanship. He was the biggest, best weapon out there, but he could never get to where he wanted to go due to his own shortcomings as a leader and well, defense wasn’t really a Dallas forte.
Enter the year 2007. Dallas had just lost to the D-Whistles, I mean NBA Referees, I mean the Dramatically Different to this Year’s Miami Heat in 2006 Finals (one of the only NBA Finals I did not watch in that decade). Even though they lost, they had restocked with size, and still had Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Josh Howard (how he has fallen, injuries are a beezy). They had just blitzkrieged the league, running out the best record and by far were the favorites to win it all… until they were embarrassingly humbled by the Golden State Warriors. Here is where the fall of Dirk began: the questioning of his resolve, his leadership, his “alpha male status.” Along with his fall, since he has been the face of the franchise, the jokes about Dallas started: the chokesters, the front-runners, the pretenders, the “you never know what you’re going to get come April”s. It was so embarrassing that I wrote a Facebook note titled, “D.I.R.K. = Disturbed.Inquisitive.Regrettable.Killed.” Here is what I wrote 4 years after the Mavericks loss to the Warriors:
WOW… didn’t see this coming…the team that steamrolled through the regular season got taken out by the once lowly, but not anymore, Golden State Warriors. Woe is everyone in the big D, woe is Charles Barkley, and most importantly, woe is MVP candidate Dirk ‘The Big German’ Nowitzki. But whoa, hail to the B-Diddy, hail to Stephen Jackson and hail to the dunking funk of JRich, cuz he is real big timing. So, you maybe wondering, “Clement, what is with the acronym?” Well, I’m bout to break it down and kicknowledge at you people:
First, it is disturbing to see the Mavericks befuddled, confuzzled and straight run ragged by the scrap and hustle of the Warriors. Usually, it is the other way around, with the Mavericks beating other teams to everything. I mean no knock to the Warriors, but where the hell did this come from? Easy explanation: Nelly and the massive (only blockbuster) trade for the gangsta Stephen Jackson and 3pt sniper Al Harrington. Nelly and his former Dallas teams weren’t know for defense, just the ability to score higher than anyone that was in the movie “The Perfect Score;” however, with the addition of SJax and Al Harrington with B-Diddy, teams oughta shit themselves because these three bring it and bring it hard all night. I was DISTURBED to see Dallas constantly outhustled all the time, even in the games they won. I mean for God’s sake, you won the most games in the NBA! You should plow through anyone with ease, it was proven throughout the season! You guys were in the Finals the year before?!?! Were you not? I mean, I looked in the history books and it says ‘Miami 4 Dallas 3′, but I don’t know if I should believe everything I read. You DISTURB me Dallas, you really did…I wish I did not back you this season, I feel betrayed, thanks.
Second, I’m inquisitive about how good this team actually was. Yeah, they got Dirk Nowitzki, yeah they got Josh Howard (who I believe is the reason they are so good) and yes, they’ve got Jason Terry. None of them got them to the plateau of last year and that truly is disappointing. But it raises questions to whether this team had it in them to go far in the playoffs. Again, as stated, they ran through the regular season… what made them crumble? Answer: Golden State is their kyrptonite, dating back to last season and even this season. GS 3, Dallas 0…0 wins for Dallas is what you see. Honestly, I thought it was a fluke to have lost to the Warriors of all teams 3 times in a row (again, not knocking the Warriors). The first game was mostly luck I believe, 107-104, Dallas’ third loss in a row and still not playing like the team that was in the Finals; also this was before Golden State got better through the trade. The second loss ended Dallas’ 17-game winning streak, and Dallas got stomped 117-100; this came after the trade and damn, it showed the improvements one transaction can make. And finally, one of the last games of the season, where Dallas was “resting” its players they got killed 111-82 in mostly a bench on bench battle… and their “deep” bench got slaughtered by a deeper bench. All in all, it seemed all too likely that if there was any team Dallas did not want to face, it’d be the Bay team… I don’t blame them either, I wouldn’t want to get run over like they did/had/would be. How can you go from on top of the world of basketball, in the realms of great teams, to being ousted and shown for pretenders….pitiful.
Third, Dirk Nowitzki. Just that one player. The leader of the team. The All-Star. The Big German. The one who, with Steve Nash, shunned barbershops and lived the life of grunge hairred rocker. WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO YOU MAN? You seem to pull a Casper, and reappear just before the game ended. Last I heard, star players play all 48 minutes… not just like maybe 24 and change. And when I say 24 and change, I mean 24 and change it seemed like you were actually within the flow of the game. I saw you on your backside more than I ever have man. It was sad, I wanted to lend a hand and give you a pep talk, anything to get you back to having a fire or a passion about winning. It didn’t help when you made comments to reporters with sounds of resignation in your voice, that doesn’t help your cause big guy; shoulda got fired up. But that’s just it, shoulda, coulda, woulda and you didn’t. If I remember correctly, I took you with the 4th pick in my fantasy league, touting you as the best person at that pick and the guy that would lead me to being the league champion. You kinda did that, I got help from Antawn, Caron, Al and Pau. But I always gave you the benefit if you had an off-game, always had you as the go to guy. Now I doubt whether or not to take you that high if given the chance next year. How will I know you give it your all, play hard all the time, be the game changer? I regret taking you man, you had the best team, you were the best player and you flubbed it. You hella flubbed that ish sir…shoulda taken someone else, who I don’t know. You made me regret you because of this season Dirk, you really did.
Fourth and finally, you guys got murked. Killed, squashed, embarrassed, destroyed and obliterated. How does it feel? Dirk, this no-showing pretty much solidified the argument for the haters to not have you as MVP. Key beef- you pulled a Brady Quinn and couldn’t win the big game. That’s pretty much it… not that the first round isn’t real tough, but damn it, as the best team you better make it out. Down 3-2, big game 6, had to have it, got to win…what do you do? Play the shittiest piece of basketball ever… probably not ever, but sweet Jesus: 8pts (2-13 FG, 0-63PT, 4-4FT), 10rebs, 2asts, 1stl, 3tos…now in my fantasy league, you would have contributed a mind boggling 47pts, absolutely brilliant. That ain’t MVP man, that ain’t even best player obviously. You did this to yourself kid, I don’t know why you would though, you had it all, and lost it just like Charles Barkley in Vegas. Hope you like reading reporters and people like me bash on you. I’m sorry, I’ll pull for you as MVP just a little longer, but I think Nash won my vote, sadly.
For Dallas to get better, they got to get faster or something. They looked so uncomfortable playing such a constant and chaotic pace. The only time it worked playing up-tempo (there is a difference between up-tempo and chaotic up-tempo) for them was game 5, and even then they almost lost it. They have to get rid of Dampier and Diop. Big bigs ain’t in style anymore, just send them to the East or something. Other than that, it was a season wasted for the Dallas Mavericks…. and fans everywhere that wanted to see the best team end as the best.
It was interesting to see as Dallas continued to play superb postseason basketball, defeating Portland in 6, rolling through Los Angeles in 4 (with an especially sizzling clincher), outwitting the Thunder in 6, and heading into Miami up 3-2, whether or not they had truly changed. More importantly, whether or not Dirk was going to completely change how 19 year old Clement had perceived him. Answer: 19 year old Clement, under no influence of 22 year old Clement, is thoroughly satisfied and can finally be at ease as he has seen Dirk (and the best team) finally reach the pinnacle. Dirk had dispelled the “Brady Quinn” label I bestowed on him (it now belongs to this LeBron James character, don’t know if you know him or not) and he resides in the pantheon of greats. Instead of having the air of a defeated prize fighter, he was unwavering, silently confident and not letting the slightest adversity knock him off of the path he desired to walk. The quiet ones are the most dangerous, and the silent, yet impactful German proved right with each dagger jumper, each crisp free throw and each of his patented goofy drives to the hoop. He wouldn’t be denied… he couldn’t be denied… it seemed as if he shouldn’t have been denied. His team was finally the best and there was no doubt about it: starting with the steadiness of coach Rick Carlisle and Jason Kidd running the show, the implementation of a devastating defensive system and its incredible zone capabilities, a patient, experienced roster of veterans so battle tested you’d swear they had fought a war and Dirk was by far one of the best players throughout the entirety of the playoffs. It also didn’t hurt that they did send Erick Dampier east in a trade for Tyson Chandler, which proved to be the missing jiggy (#banjokazooiereference) and tipped the scale in their favor.
Just a funny coincidence: it was four years ago they were ousted in the first round, and I had the fourth pick in a fantasy basketball draft and I won the league. Fast forward four years and I have the fourth pick in a fantasy basketball draft and I end up sixth. The one constant in these instances was Dirk Nowitzki. Maybe in four more years, I’ll have the same pick and make the same choice, and maybe the Mavericks will lose in the first, second or third rounds or finals. But for now, I will celebrate the fact that Dirk has finished drawing this big circle with me. Here is to hoping another can begin to be drawn, but a smaller and quicker drawing as Dirk goes to defend his title whenever this lockout business ends and the NBA starts anew.