As the game clock ticked towards zero, the Miami Heat’s season of ego and destiny ticking toward implosion, the Dallas Mavericks title quest ticking toward completion, the big aging German pushed aside a few security guards and vanished into the corridor like a man running from a riot.
The lightning bolt from Fresno, a man who had never averaged a dozen points a game in any of his previous 12 NBA seasons, lifted his arms and begged for the cadre of Mavericks fans in South Florida to lay the roar of a championship crowd upon him.
The man they call The Jet, who soared in this Game 6 of the NBA Finals with 27 points off the bench in Dallas’ 105-95 title-clinching victory, peaked at the sensitive flesh underneath his right bicep to make sure the loudest inaudible message sent in the NBA this year was still there.
The graying point guard, the old soul whose teammates lovingly refer to as grandpa, could only smile as the sweat pelted the hardwood from his chin, his body beat, his mind tired, his heart fulfilled after a third trip to these Finals produced the sweet vindication that had eluded him in New Jersey.
The product of Puerto Rico, who four years ago was bouncing between Dallas and the D-League, was lost in the swarm of his teammates as the buzzer sounded, the promise of free agency on the horizon after a postseason performance long on guile and will.
There was the bearded big man who revived his career and his inner menace in the postseason paint. There was the hardened coach, the man who has seen the highs of victory and the lows of falling short as a player in Boston, experience that undoubtedly provided the calm when the storm of “The Big Three” threatened early on. There was the brazen-turned-clandestine owner who finally learned to muffle his own voice so his team’s play could speak for itself.
These are your Dallas Mavericks. These are your NBA Champions.
While the world turned its eyes to the lonely LeBron James, many cold corners of society hoping and pleading to see the self-exalted Disciple Of Myself fall on his sword, this worn cast of characters from Texas showed the nation that bravado does not in fact beat bravery.
Yes, Dirk Nowitzki’s emotions did to him what the Heat could never do. They made him run. They made him hide. They made him afraid to be seen before his people.
DeShawn Stevenson had talked in this series about James “checking out,” and then he arrived in Miami to throw in a few dagger threes.
Jason Terry inked the Larry O’Brien trophy on his arm prior to the season — a true put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is moment unlike a certain South Beach dance party last summer — and then in the NBA Finals said that he didn’t think James could guard him for seven games. Terry was wrong. James couldn’t even guard him for six. Terry, after scoring 27 points in Game 6, said when he returns to Dallas he will have the date of the Finals-clinching victory added underneath the trophy on his arm.
Jason Kidd was the metronome of the Mavericks’ soul, steadily beating at the same pace, continuing to move the ball up the floor, the Mavs closer to a championship. J.J. Barea provided the boost when Kidd needed a rest, slicing and weaving his way through the stagnant Miami defense with no fear of retribution coming at the rim.
If I had any idea what I was talking about, I would say that Tyson Chandler intimidated the Miami big men. I don’t, so I’ll just say that it appeared that way.
While cameras were clinging to the young and handsome Erik Spoelstra, asking the man what he planned to do in order to get LeBron into some semblance of a rhythm, Rick Carlisle quietly continued to devise defensive schemes that would end with us questioning if something was wrong with LeBron in this series or if, you know, this was actually LeBron.
Mark Cuban, the man of Stairmaster interview sessions and a love for stealing the spotlight, somehow halted all interviews during these Finals and finally allowed his superstar Nowitzki to have the stage and see what he could make of it. For six games at least, Cuban managed to say less than Nowitzki’s stoic German shooting coach, Holger Geshwindner. Nowitzki will now happily pass the mic back to Cuban, this time with a ring.
The forthcoming conversations of legacies and places in history will undoubtedly launch Dirk into a higher sphere, a place reserved for transcendent talents who also have won a championship. Those conversations will come down unquestionably hard on LeBron, not only for being a ringless “king” eight seasons into his NBA career, but for being a megalomaniacal figure who begs for the bright lights of June in July only to shield his eyes with both palms when his wish is granted 11 months later.
LeBron’s mettle and heart and male anatomy will be questioned, but he has only himself to blame. He asked for the stage, he asked for the pressures of championship basketball to be placed on his chiseled God-given physique. When his title was there to be had, the basketball was seemingly coated in anthrax. If LeBron walked around with one of those bubbles on his head that transcribed his true thoughts, I swear in the closing minutes of this series it would have read, “PLEASE, not me. PLEASE, PLEASE don’t find me ball. No. No. NOOOO!”
I do not root against LeBron. I do not take pleasure in his failures. I do not care what his basketball legacy ends up being. (Well, actually, that’s not true. I would like him to be great. Great talents need to be great players for the betterment of the league.) I do not think his career and his talent are suddenly destined for despair. I do think there will be brighter days for LeBron.
But what we learned in these Finals is that there is something real, something tangible about paying your dues to become a champion. Juggernauts aren’t thrown together with style and flair. They are handcrafted by superior basketball minds, whittled down to perfection by the right coach at the right time.
After Game 6, Dirk said, “If I would have won (a title) early in my career, maybe I would have never put all the work and time that I have over the last 13 years.”
What comes in those 13 years of ultimate failure is perspective, humility and appreciation. What comes in those formative years is the mental strength to withstand the Finals stage, not be crippled by it. LeBron James, all of 26 years old, is learning what it means to work. Learning what it takes to become a champion.
Much to the chagrin of America, I think LeBron will be back.
He’ll be back only after he finds his version of a stoic shooting coach, though, a man who is less sycophantic and more despotic. Someone who can break his ego and build his will. Someone who replaces his fantasy of easy basketball euphoria with a colder truer reality of championship debt.
Dirk Nowitzki and his Mavericks paid that debt.
And as LeBron will learn, you pay that debt so one day — when the Finals spotlight you always begged for finds you again — it will pay you back.
Follow Teddy Mitrosilis on Twitter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.