This week marks the seventh anniversary of the most unlikely championship run in DFW sports history. The Dallas Mavericks upset the Miami Heat in six games.
Fun fact: I missed the entirety of Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals. True story. You see, a friend and I secured tickets to see the Holy Triumvirate, Rush, several months prior to the Dallas Mavericks’ historic run though the playoff gauntlet. I had no idea our beloved Mavs had such a run in them. Additionally, the Rush concert was set to take place in Austin. Missing that show was a non-starter. My other love, music, took precedent that night.
Nevertheless, I did try to keep up with the score as best I could. Back in 2011, smartphones weren’t what they are now. Furthermore, I had that relic known as a Blackberry, so rummaging for updates was a shaky proposition at best. Despite all that, word started trickling through the arena as the Mavericks got closer and closer to pulling off the improbable.
For me, the vibe was beyond cool. My favorite band displayed their jaw-dropping chops while my favorite basketball team did something very few thought them capable of. In fact, the closing act against Miami proved to be the encore performance of a run against the very best the NBA had to offer. It was one of those playoff campaigns you dream about.
It’s stunning when you stop and think about it. Time may have blunted the magnitude of it to the more casual fan, but at the time, DIrk Nowitzki still couldn’t win the “big one.” Still considered a soft Euro, he was all the same haunted by the heartbreaking collapse in the 2006 Finals when the Mavericks blew a 2-0 series lead and lost in six to those same Heat. Suffice to say, very few gave Dallas a shot to best that vaunted Miami squad in 2011.
And it didn’t start all that well, either. Dallas spotted themselves a 2-1 series lead in the opening round versus the Portland Trailblazers. They were up by eighteen points in the fourth quarter of Game 4. Everything was humming along, right? Well, the Mavericks ended up blowing that lead in an 84-82 loss that allowed Portland to even the series at two games apiece. Right then, all the old narratives took immediate hold. Same old Mavericks! Can’t close out a series! Don’t have what it takes! Dirk is soft! I remember that sinking feeling washing over us yet again. It was like that old bad dream where you’re naked in public while everyone just points and laughs.
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Sometimes, though, things have a way of figuring themselves out. From that point, the Mavericks found their stride. They rebounded to take the next two to close out Portland. Inexplicably, they systematically destroyed and swept the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Western semis. That one culminated in the famed Mother’s Day Massacre that drove Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson into retirement.
Subsequently, they beat the green-but-dangerous Oklahoma City Thunder in five. Let’s stop right there for a moment. In relatively short order, the Mavs took down the LaMarcus Aldridge Trailblazers, the Kobe Bryant Lakers, and the Kevin Durant/James Harden/Russell Westbrook Thunder. Granted, the aforementioned players were in various stages of their careers, but that roster of foes reads like the boss list in an insanely difficult video game. Under those circumstances, no one would be surprised if they folded against Miami.
In reality, however, the exact opposite happened. While the Mavericks spotted Miami a 2-1 series lead, they used the Dirk Flu Game in Game 4 as the catalyst to turn the affair on its head. Suffering from a 102-degree fever and a sinus infection, the big German veritably willed his team to victory that night. In spite of his illness, Nowitzki personified the meaning of true grit. Pick your cliche, the guy had it. Indeed, the Heat wouldn’t win another game in the series.
For an area that continues to experience a dearth of sports titles, the spring of 2011 still holds as our last beacon of championship pedigree. The Mavericks’ run exemplified everything you would want in a tale of ultimate revenge. Their best player returned to the scene of the crime and vanquished the foe that humiliated him five years prior, and he did in their arena, on their floor. Seldom does a story line come full circle to that degree. Dirk Nowitzki became the King of Dallas that year, and it is a crown he’ll likely hold for some time to come.
With the anniversary looming tomorrow, I was also reminded that, as sports fans, 2011 is why we watch. If you’re not a frontrunner–the sorriest sports fan of the bunch–you stick with your team through thick and thin. Sure, you’re rooting for laundry at the end of the day. But you watch and you live and die with every basket, touchdown, run, or goal. We watch because there may be that one season where they catch lightning in a bottle and pay us back for all the heartache. The 2011 NBA playoffs were a case study in precisely that, and we will always have those memories.