Monday, 13 June 2011

Nearly men no more

The waiting is over. Well, for some at least. The year-long referendum on LeBron James’ decision to team up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami has returned a negative verdict; there will be no establishing of a dynasty this year. But for Dirk Nowitzki, the 7ft German power forward widely regarded as the best ever non-American basketball player, and the Dallas Mavericks the elusive hunt for a championship is finally over.

For many on the Mavs roster the journey to this point has been a long one. A team of veterans who have been there, done it and now finally have the t-shirt. This championship was a first for Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, at the end of his 17th season in the league, Jason Terry, the only other survivor along with Dirk from the side that lost to the Heat in the 2006 finals, and Shawn Marion, the 33-year-old four-time All-Star.

As Terry said afterwards: "All those unique individual stories is what propelled us to this victory."

"Tonight," he said, "we got vindication."

An interesting choice of word because for all the criticism, abuse and vitriol aimed at the Heat and James in particular since his decision to move to Florida last July, vindication is what he sought. Miami was the place, he said, where he could win championships. In his own words, “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven”, a declaration that riled the rest of the league and lacked substance, not least because he signed a six-year contract.

Now it is one he cannot escape from. James has been pilloried in the media for his performances all series, in particular his production in the fourth quarter which has been almost non-existent. He was marginally better in Sunday night’s 105-95 defeat, scoring 21 points to finish as the Heat’s top-scorer, a role occupied by Wade for the previous four games, but LeBron was as culpable as anyone for the shocking free-throw shooting that ultimately cost them the game.

The Heat missed 13 of their 33 foul shots, James failing on three occasions. To put that in perspective, Nowitzki has hit 175 of his 186 free throws during this year’s playoffs – proof that no matter the sport you can always trust a German from the penalty spot.

The most joyful part of Dallas’ success however has been that it hasn’t all been about the man from Würzburg. Nowitzki may be the lone star but the Dallas story is a collective one, built around a team ethic rather than individual brilliance. Terry top-scored last night with 27 points, Tyson Chandler has dominated the rebounding game, the unheralded J.J. Barea tore the Heat defence apart like he had the Los Angeles Lakers earlier in the playoffs.

In a league that has become so obsessed with constructing teams around multiple stars, the Mavericks collection of old fellas provided a heartening lesson to LeBron and Co that you need not one, not two, not three, but a team full of winners to claim the biggest prize.

"This is a true team," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. "This is an old bunch, we don't run fast or jump high. These guys had each other's backs. We played the right way. We trusted the pass. This is a phenomenal thing for the city of Dallas."

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