Monday, June 13, 2011

Requiem for an Instantly Forgotten Champion

Pity the Dallas Mavericks. They won an NBA title last night without ever gaining control of their own story.

Had the Mavericks defeated any of the 28 NBA teams except the one they played in the Finals, the basketball world would now be commemorating their triumph in odes to a heroic overcoming of a not-entirely undeserved reputation for post-season chokes. Prose poems to Dallas' two veteran Hall of Fame players (Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd) and one damn good veteran player Shawn Marion finally winning their first titles would be taking up entirely too much space on the Internet at this very moment.

But the Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat, the one opponent guaranteed to render Dallas as the least-discussed championship team since the Sonics and Bullets of the late '70s. The Heat failed dismally on the court, but succeeded magnificently in making basketball fans and media view the Finals, no, the entire 2010-2011 season, as THEIR story. And nobody fell harder for that idea than the many persons who were rooting against Miami all year long because they found LeBron James' methods of choosing an employer distasteful.

So for months to come, and it could be many months if there's an NBA lockout, Mark Cuban is going to be about the only person talking about the Finals in terms of Dallas accomplishing something. Everyone else who cares enough to think about it is going to be discussing the event in terms of Miami's failure -- especially James' failure. This will be done with rue or glee, but the fact that it will be done so often is very discouraging.

James DID fail. He played like a marginal All-Star reserve in a series where his team needed the superstar ESPN tells you James is and sometimes actually is. The Heat's experiment in front office by player did not deliver the title those players expected and promised. Failure. But some players infinitely greater than James, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan to name two, can testify that winning a first title often takes longer than a superstar expects, if he gets to win one at all.

Everyone loves seeing pompous bastards step atop the old banana peel. That's human nature, and I don't begrudge belly laughs at Miami's expense. But it also should be human nature to give champions their due. Letting losers dictate our collective sports narrative is a mug's game. I fear we are in for a summer of more LeBron obsession than there was last summer, which in 2010 I would have found a simply impossible concept. In the meantime, the Mavs will get their parade and will sink from sight.

It is a tenet of sportswriting that the loser's locker room is always the best story. The older I get, the more I disagree. Anybody can lose, and most bodies do. Championships are rarer than losses, and therefore more newsworthy by the very definition of news. They also interest me more. What DID turn the Mavericks into ferocious winners after they blew a humongous lead in first round game against Portland? Beats me, and I bet them too, but it would be nice if someone tried to find the answer.

Well, if it's any consolation to the Mavs, Cuban is not a man who suffers anonymity lightly. His Finals code of silence is definitely over, as witnessed by his statement that giving players championship rings was too "old school" and that Cuban felt it was "time to take up a notch" when it came to commemorative title keepsakes.

Does Neiman-Marcus make jewel-encrusted grandfather clocks? If not, it might now.


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