Nowitzki and Lebron Put Legacies on the Line


Two enormous story lines are prevalent as the NBA Finals is set to tip off tonight at 8:00 PM on ABC.

The Dallas Mavericks will square off against the NBA’s hottest team, the Miami Heat. The Heat are even hotter than the Mavs as they have knocked off both the former beasts of the East, the Boston Celtics and the number one seed Chicago Bulls.

The first story line surrounds Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk has closed as well as anyone this post season, and he is the sole reason that the Dallas Mavericks have gone from a good team to a great team in the blink of an eye this post season. Dirk has put himself in the conversation as one of the greatest power forwards of all time.

However, he is a star in need of a career-defining NBA championship.

He is just like the King without a crown in Miami.

Ever since The Decision aired on ESPN, NBA and sports fans have longed to see the king fall from the perch that he set for himself when he took his talents to South Beach.

I will be the first to admit that I thought the Miami Heat were at least a season away from getting a title. Other than the Big 2.5, the Heat had struggled to close games and get help from anyone not named Lebron or Dwayne. But come playoff time, the Heat were just beginning to accrue the full complement of talent that Pat Riley thought he was putting around the Big 2.5 from day 1.

Udonis Haslem has emerged as a physical presence in the paint, and Mike Miller has hit every shot that he has attempted since the beginning of May.

And most importantly of all for the Heat, Lebron James has looked like a confident superstar in the final seconds of tight games. The storyline surrounding the Heat is if the King and get his ring or will the German get the bling.

Both Lebron and Dirk have had offseasons with free agency looming over them, but they made opposite decisions.

Maybe it was the inferiority complex that surrounds the entire city of Cleveland when it comes to sports. Maybe it was Dan Gilbert who ticked off the King, or maybe it was the fact that Cleveland could never put anyone around Lebron that was worth walking on the court with him.

Whatever it was, Lebron decided to go where he knew he could win, and he took a pay cut to do so. His method of announcing his decision might have ticked off more than a few people, but ultimately, Lebron took winning over $$$.

I have never understood why so many people faulted Lebron James for anything other than his method of announcement. So often in America, there is a chorus that calls for athletes to take winning over money. Lebron did so, and has faced, in my opinion, unnecessary criticism.

On the other hand, Dirk Nowitzki chose to stay in the town that he began his career in. Dirk could have scooted out of Dallas in search of a more “cushy” situation, but he opted to reward the organization for their faith in him.

Over the years, many have questioned Dirk Nowitzki’s game, and asked whether he was soft or mentally weak. Mark Cuban never lost faith in his superstar, and Dirk stayed in town because of it.

The 32 year-old Nowitzki had a forgettable Finals appearance in 2006, and he struggled to shake off his critics until the beginning of this season. As his team leaped out of the gates to the tune of a 24-5 record, many saw the Dirk Nowitzki that they had been searching for.

Dirk was hungry. Dirk finished games well, and he was squashing his detractors that said he did not have the mental stamina to win the games he absolutely had to in the playoffs. An injury in the middle of the season brought the Mavericks back to the pack, but his teammates learned an invaluable lesson.

They learned how to play without their superstar, and they learned how to win on their own. JJ Barea and Jason Kidd stepped up their game, and Tyson Chandler provided a physical presence in the middle.

Fast forward to the playoffs: Dirk is one of the toughest people to guard in the league, and in each of the Mavericks games, a different role player has stepped up and provided a spark. Jason Kidd is playing defense like he is 25 again, and Peja Stojakovic has been a better pickup than most people thought.

So after the National Basketball Association has crowned its 2011 champion, one of these superstars will have the all-elusive title to prove he is among the greatest to ever play this game, and the other will be left with another bad taste in his mouth. The loser will still have his critics, but the performance of both so far this post season has proved that they are elite.

But only one will get his ring.

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