Each year, there’s a special story to the team that wins NBA championship. Often times, it’s how the old veterans and superstars finally win a title. Sometimes it’s the excitement induced by an improbable team winning it all, or just a well-liked team with many beloved characters. It could even go beyond the team, and become a success story for an entire city.
Well, for the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, the story was all of those things rolled up into one.
This team was filled with “old-timers,” as they were a bunch of aging players who starred in the previous decade. The Mavs’ 12-man playoff roster had a combined 120 years of NBA experience. Just envision that one guy at the YMCA who is much older than everyone else, but uses his old-school tricks and wit to outplay everyone. Dallas was basically a whole team of guys like that, plus Corey Brewer.
Coached by Jim Carrey look-alike, Rick Carlisle (who is now more relevant than Carrey), and led by 38 year-old Jason Kidd, Dallas smooth-sailed through the regular season with consistently great offensive execution and good team defense. Not surprisingly, the big question mark was whether they’d be able to endure the playoff games. Other aging teams in the past few years (such as the Celtics and Nash-Stoudemire Suns) had shown that age can catch up with you as the playoffs progress. The first round threatened to prove that sentiment true, but Dallas battled through 6 games to get past the less-endowed Trail Blazers.
Strangely, Dallas would end up doing just the opposite of what other old teams have done. They got stronger as the playoffs moved along. Awaiting them in the 2nd Round: back-to-back defending champs, the Los Angeles Lakers. Easy. Dirk made his patented awkward shots, and started getting fouled more often. Apparently fouling Dirk wasn’t enough, because for some reason the Lakers kept hacking Tyson Chandler, who is only an offensive threat when he’s dunking the ball. With LA’s big men in foul trouble and the guard play out of sync, LA was held under 90 points per game. The defining moment of the series, and possibly the whole postseason, for Dallas happened in game 4 of this series. Jason Terry lived up to the ridiculous hype he was giving himself, and Peja Stojakovic proved this was the best game for him to be put in. They took out their 23 total years of frustration from losing to the Lakers, combining for 15-16 from three point range. Jose Barea scored on everyone, frustrating Andrew Bynum to the point of committing an ejection-causing foul. Just like that, the defending champs were swept.
With the Lakers out of the way, the Mavericks got to face the youthful Thunder of Oklahoma City, whose best players were each under the age of 23. No matter how athletic or skilled Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were, the Mavericks were going to take care of business. In this Western Conference Finals series, Dallas pretty much told OKC to get off their lawn and go back to the playground with the rest of the kids. It was getting late and Dallas needed some sleep so they could get up early for the senior citizen breakfast special at Denny’s. After 5 games, playtime with the adults was over for the Thunder. Dallas had one final piece of business to take care of.
The biggest test, and the one for all the chips, was the NBA Finals against the favored Miami Heat. Not only that, it was a finals series in which both teams’ arenas were sponsored by American Airlines. From the start of of the series, it appeared the plan to put 3 superstars together was working for Miami, as James, Wade, and Bosh took flight for a high-powered attack. It had only been one game, a convincing Miami victory, but it appeared the Mavs were spent. It was too late, however, to turn around and drive the ’99 Buick Century back home. Jason Kidd and company decided to set the DVR to record The Lawrence Welk Show, and they went to business. Dallas won 4 of the next 5 games, and played their best in crunch time. Jason Terry made a million threes. Dirk didn’t miss a free throw. Shawn Marion was dunking like it was 2004. As a team they constantly switched into different zone schemes that helped minimize LeBron James’ effectiveness. Dallas closed out Miami in Game 6, which meant Dirk Nowitzki didn’t have to destroy everything in the locker room tunnel.
The 2011 NBA Championship was so much more than an event that will go in record books. Despite having over a century of combined experience, none of the Mavs players had a championship ring. Rick Carlisle had coached several very good playoff teams, and never won a championship ring. Kidd and Nowitzki are two legends of the game, and neither had ever won a ring. Even the city of Dallas, whose Cowboys hadn’t seen greatness since Jimmie Johnson was the coach, was waiting for something good. The 2011 Dallas Mavericks was a story for the ages, and that type of championship run with such aging personnel and an “underdog” status may never be matched.