Time to stop slandering the Germans.
It was a fantastic NBA postseason, culminating with the second-happiest ending I (Ben) can recall. Usually I’m bitter and devastated by the outcome of the Finals, and not just because Utah lost (’97 and ’98). Let’s do a quick recap of every Finals since 1984, when I was six and I distinctly remember watching Game 7 of the Celtics/Lakers at my grandmother’s house in Columbus, as rated on a scale of happy with outcome, indifferent but mostly disappointed, deeply disappointed and, in four extreme cases, despairing-of-all-breath-that-I-have-yet-to-draw-upon-this-earth disappointed.
1984: Boston over L.A. in seven – indifferent but mostly disappointed (I really liked Michael Cooper)
1985: L.A. over Boston in six – indifferent but mostly disappointed (I decided I really hated the Lakers)
1986: Boston over Houston in six – not happy but not disappointed. I definitely didn’t like Houston. Honestly, though, I don’t recall much if anything about this series. I think that was the summer I watched Star Wars eight gabillion times.
1987: L.A. over Boston in six – see 1985
1988: L.A. over Detroit in seven – indifferent but mostly disappointed – I liked Joe Dumars. And no one on L.A. was nicknamed “The Microwave.”
1989: Detroit over L.A. in four – happy! Immediately after this year I started disliking Detroit though, beginning my (very) brief career as an MJ fan.
1990: Detroit over Portland in five – deeply disappointed – I liked the Blazers and Bill Laimbeer was a goon.
1991: Chicago over L.A. in five – deeply ambivalent (I realize this was not on the scale above) – I couldn’t root for the Lakers, but I think I had a sense then of how fully I would grow to hate MJ, who I rooted for only so long as he couldn’t get past the Bad Boys. Once he did, he was the bad boy.
1992: Chicago over Portland in six – despairing-of-all-breath-that-I-have-yet-to-draw-upon-this-earth disappointed – This was my first weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth Finals. Oh how I wanted MJ to lose! Oh how I wanted Clyde Drexler, Buck Williams, Clifford Robinson and Kevin Duckworth to hoist that trophy instead! People forget that Lamont Strothers played on that Blazer squad, and with good reason.
1993: Chicago over Phoenix in six – deeply disappointed – I had resigned myself to Chicago greatness at this point, and while I liked Phoenix, I didn’t root for them like I did Portland. But this one still hurt.
1994: Houston over New York in seven – deeply disappointed – I was a Knick fan back in that day. Plus Houston had taken out the Jazz in the conference finals. And Vernon Maxwell and Mario Elie were Satan’s minions.
1995: Houston over Orlando in four – indifferent but mostly disappointed – see 1994. I also felt bad for Nick Anderson. And no one likes to see a sweep in the Finals.
1996: Chicago over Seattle in six – deeply disappointed – Not only did I hate Chicago, but I liked Seattle, even though it knocked out Utah in the conference finals. (See a theme?)
1997 and 1998: Chicago over Utah in six – despairing-of-all-breath-that-I-have-yet-to-draw-upon-this-earth disappointed – Nothing more really needs be said.
1999: San Antonio over New York in five – a level just below despairing… disappointed – Not just a strike season and postseason collapse from Utah. Also a Spurs title and a loss for the last likable Knicks team.
2000: Los Angeles over Indiana in six – deeply disappointed – I had a soft spot for Indiana given its rivalry with Chicago. And, of course, it was the Lakers.
2001: Los Angeles over Philadelphia in five – deeply disappointed – I wasn’t even going to get my hopes up until Iverson’s remarkable game one. Then I got my hopes up and had them squashed. I never learned my lesson.
2002: Los Angeles over New Jersey in four – indifferent but mildly disappointed – I hate the Lakers, but I can’t honestly say I wanted to see the Nets win a title. A sad year for basketball. (This was also the year the refs robbed Sacramento of game six vs. L.A. I swore I’d never watch an NBA game again. Actually, change that indifferent to deeply.)
2003: San Antonio over New Jersey in six – deeply disappointed – a Spurs win? And two years of the Nets in the Finals? Nobody wins here.
2004: Detroit over Los Angeles in five – happy! – this seemed nothing short of a miracle. Later I realized I had talked myself into liking the Pistons more than I really did, but hey, they played like a team.
2005: San Antonio over Detroit in seven – deeply disappointed – This was a miserable series, and I liked each team even less as it went on. One of those years I wish no one won it.
2006: Miami over Dallas in six – despairing-of-all-breath disappointed – This was the second time (see 2002) when I convinced myself I would never watch NBA basketball again. I liked Dwayne Wade at the beginning of the series. When it was apparent that the officiating was a sham because the league needed to ordain Wade the next Jordan, I turned on him quickly. I spent that summer telling anyone who cared that the NBA was fixed.
2007: San Antonio over Cleveland in four – deeply disappointed – Again, San Antonio. And a sweep. It was 1995 all over again.
2008: Boston over Los Angeles in six – happy! In fact, the happiest I’ve ever been at the end of an NBA season.
2009: Los Angeles over Orlando in five – deeply disappointed – Not that I liked Orlando.
2010: Los Angeles over Boston in seven – deeply disappointed – I wasn’t infatuated with the KG/Pierce/Allen Celtics like I had been in ’08, but my white hot hatred for L.A. had only increased.
That brings us up to present day. Because Dallas and Miami both knocked out the teams I really wanted to see play in the NBA Finals, I’ll admit I was lukewarm when the series began. Yes, a Miami loss would erase some of the bitter taste lingering from 2006, as well as give comeuppance to the LeBron/Wade/Bosh juggernaut. But did I really want Dallas to win that badly?
As it turns out, yes.
One of the noxious talking points among NBA commentators is that international players are “soft,” and Dallas’s loss in 2006 was held up as proof, with Nowitzki as Exhibit A. Never mind that international players aren’t soft, or that players like Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol were instrumental in bringing championships to San Antonio and L.A., respectively. (The critics point out these players never carried their teams, the way Duncan and Bryant did, and the way Nowitzki failed to do in 2006.) Fairly or not, Nowitzki became the poster child of effete internationals. It didn’t help that Dallas followed that Finals appearance with four consecutive first round exits.
After each postseason disappointment, Nowitzki retreated to Germany to train with Holger Geschwindner, the unconventional mentor who shaped Nowitzki’s raw skills into NBA talent. Geschwindner is Phil Jackson without the Zen arrogance. He made Nowitzki rollerblade and do walking handstands. He gave him reading assignments like Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon. Most remarkable of all, Geschwindner never charged Nowitzki a penny. Why? “I learned basketball from an American soldier and he was driving 15 miles back and forth to a boarding house to get me to practice,” Geschwindner says. “You have to give something back.”
Nowitzki had a remarkable postseason. His 48 points on fifteen shots in game one against the Thunder was a marvel of efficiency. Yet you could still hear his detractors bellowing, Just fifteen shots? What, is he too good to take 41 shots like a real American? Look at the prissy boy who shoots 24 free throws and doesn’t miss!
I began the Finals rooting against Miami, but by the end of game two (when I made this rash, unwise but ultimately accurate prediction, the first and only time I was right about anything this entire season), I was a Mavs diehard. (Despite the fact I live in Ohio, let me qualify that I was not a Mavalier.)
Jerry Sloan once said that what mattered in basketball was what you did after you got your butt kicked. He said it in the context of John Stockton and Karl Malone, who — despite never winning a title — both came back to camp every fall in shape and ready to try again. They were consummate professionals (as was Sloan). Those three — and other professionals like Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler — had the misfortune of being contemporaries with Michael Jordan.
Dirk would never have beaten MJ, but he’s a professional too. He got his butt kicked over and over. Every offseason he worked with Geschwindner, tweaking some component of his game or adding a new wrinkle. Finally, thirteen years into his career, Dirk got his. Sometimes the NBA does write happy endings.
Thanks to everyone who chimed in at the Voreblog NBA Playoffs Readers Forum. It’s always one of the highlights of my blog year.
To Scott Guldin — I apologize for cursing the Bulls by jumping on their bandwagon. I renounce my affection for them if it means they can win the title next year. (How sweet would a Bulls/Mavs Finals have been?)
Also, as promised, here’s a picture of Sam in his Jazz onesie.
To Matthew Leathers — I’m pulling for the Canucks tonight.
To Denys Lai — I booked my flight for August. Get me tickets.
To Tad Smith — I think Chuck Klosterman would, if you called him, use some of his Grantland space to get to the bottom of the Scott Hastings Shoe Cam.
To Mike Allen — You host a mean barbecue. And I’m going to start calling you “The Custodian” from now on.
To my wife Erin — The greatest gift of all: An NBA lockout. You may never have to read an NBA post again.