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Hail To The Dallas Mavericks

Growing up in Austin gives one the luxury of picking and choosing their Texas professional sports teams. If you choose locally at all, that is. Apparently the flirtation I experienced with the San Diego Chargers was common for undeclared youths nationwide - put lightning bolts on your uniforms and throw the ball a lot and you're going to attract more eleven year olds than a tinted window van.

Once you've established your college loyalties - which are unshakeable, unalterable, and never subject to revision - picking and choosing your professional teams for the geographically undeclared isn't done from proximity, tradition, or obligation. Generally, something hits you viscerally around age 10 and you modify your allegiances as events unfold. You get to kick the tires on several franchises, evaluate which players speak to you, and consider which fan base to which you'd like to belong. I was persuaded to be a Spurs fan largely because of a poster featuring a shiny silver sweat-suited George Gervin palming two balls while sitting on a block of ice and I became a Cowboys fan because of the irresistible magnetic quarterback play of Steve Pelleur.

Though I maintained a general fondness for Los Spurs, amplified by their low ego superstars and propensity for team play, I grew to like the Rockets during the height of the Olujawon era, largely because I enjoyed the purity of his post game, that he could still drop a triple double during Ramadan, and it was fun to watch a city associated with choking, humidity, and choking humidity transform itself into Big Shot Rob clutch. It was the plainest girl in your high school coming back to the ten year reunion with laser eye surgery, a new rack, and ten years of CrossFit.

I generally reviled the post-Earl Oilers while the Texans tend to skew more towards exasperation and pity. Major league baseball holds as much interest for me as competitive Donkey Kong (or Punch) tournaments.

I don't give a damn about hockey but I have a grudging respect for Mike Modano managing to have sex with every attractive woman in the Dallas Metroplex between the ages of 18-45 over a decade.

But I've always ignored or actively disliked the Mavericks.

They were never a particularly sympathetic bunch. When they were good - as in the Aguirre Era - they were ultimately drug and ego addled underachievers. When they were bad, they stank. The Mavericks of the last decade, though consistent regular season winners, were synonymous with playoff choking, style over substance, mental softness, and ill-advised free agency acquisitions.

In many respects, at least in my childhood, they always embodied what was wrong with the NBA. Too much coke, too much choke, too much interest in their stat line, too much money paid to another overrated free agent. Dirk Nowitzki always got a bad rap as a consequence. Despite his consistently great playoff performances, he was the best player on a choking team thus he must be a choker too. This is the Dumb Fan's Way of Basketball Analysis and it's a cautionary tale for those holding forth definitively on Lebron's career when there's still lots left to be played.

Although I always got a kick out of Mark Cuban and enjoyed his passionate brand of ownership, the one unshakeable constant for the Mavericks was the Mavericks fan. As a Longhorn fan, I can handle arrogant. I can even see the appeal of timeless, good-natured loyalty to lovable losers like the Chicago Cubs. What I can't handle is whiny. And the Mavericks fan owned and defined that space, compiling lists of grievances - real and imagined - and rattling them off with a blank look and a head bob like a madrasa youth reciting suras with little or no prompting on message boards, in sports bars, and at gatherings of friends.

Mavericks Fan was always searching for RESPECT. And that is the most annoying fan on the planet. It was a collective tiny-weenie complex that would make Ken Jeong blush and every first round playoff exit only made it more amusing.

Well, now they have it. In spades. Because this Mavericks team reminded us, once again, that sports are more than just the random compilation of talent set loose on a court and that a team can always rewrite its narrative, even as writers and fans pretend it sits in steel rather than wet clay.

Too slow to play traditional defense, the Mavs install a semi-zone, digest every page on the scouting report, play to tendency, refuse to play anyone straight up, and get by with hedging, height, effort, team play, and basketball IQ.

Too talentless to score within the context of the dreary default basketball-killing NBA isolation game, they surround the most unstoppable shotmaker in the league with a crew of savvy veterans committed to spacing, screening, team play, the ability to actually knock down an open jump shot, and ball movement that looks like something out of a coaching video.

In short, the Mavericks decided to play "basketball" while the rest of the league was still playing "athlete."

Then they topped it off with the most emotionally tough basketball seen in years. The inevitable upset loss to Portland predicted by every NBA analyst with a forum never materialized. Even when Portland rallied from twenty five down to win Game 4 and the cries of "Same Old Mavericks" reverberated. I know I said it. Admit it, you did too.

Then they worked over the Lakers like a shortchanged pimp. When the Lakers decided to go out petulantly by injuring Barea, the Mavericks collectively yawned and refused to be baited. Something was different in Dallas. Really different.

Then the Thunder rolled in - the most exciting young team in basketball. The Mavs coolly exploited OKC's youth, Dirk began to receive direct Larry Bird comparisons in which the speaker didn't have to disclaim "Well in this one game!" or "I'm not saying he's as good as Larry Bird, but some of those shots are, you know, Bird-like" and the Mavericks continued to suggest that they knew something about sports that we'd all forgotten.

Which they did.

Finally, the Heat...

It was billed as Talent vs. Team Play and though those themes were overdone, there's little doubt that before the series began a draft of both teams would have had three of the first four picks coming from the Miami Heat. Conventional basketball wisdom - obsessed with identifying "The Man", or whose team it is, or that you must have "Triplets", or whatever other bullshit people parrot from analysts - was set upon its head.

Once again, we were reminded that basketball isn't power forward vs. power forward, point guard vs. point guard, small forward vs. small forward. Basketball can be played that way and most coaches and teams consent to do so, but the Mavericks decided that they weren't going to play position vs. position.

The Dallas Mavericks decided that they were going to play the Miami Heat. Team vs. team.

4-2, Mavs.

So Hail to The Dallas Mavericks.

For reminding us why sports are great.

For reminding us why team matters.

For showing us how the fourth or fifth best compilation of player talent in the NBA can become the best team in the league.

You've earned a fan.