National Columnist

When does it start being about the Mavs, not about LeBron?


DALLAS -- Every now and then a tweet can change the world. Or a worldview. Well, OK, fine. What a tweet can do, every now and then, is change my view. Because until the tweet arrived as Thursday was giving way to Friday and as the Miami Heat were giving way, again, to the Dallas Mavericks, my view of the NBA Finals today was going to be another commentary on the crumbling Heat.

But then I got this tweet from a pained Dallas Mavericks fan, asking a simple question:

At what point does this stop becoming about LeBron and the Heat, and start becoming about the Mavericks?

Dirk Nowitzki is as clutch as anyone in the NBA Finals. (Getty Images)  
Dirk Nowitzki is as clutch as anyone in the NBA Finals. (Getty Images)  
Floored me. Got a feather? You could have knocked me over. Because the guy was right. At what point do we take the focus off a player who clearly doesn't want it -- a player who left Cleveland for Miami because, for all his talent and posturing, he just doesn't want to be the guy responsible for his franchise -- and put it on the team that has grabbed the 2011 NBA Finals by the throat?

What's happening in Dallas is special, and Dallas is a sports town that knows special. The Rangers were in the World Series last year. The Longhorns (and Aggies) are an obsession. High school football is a religion. And then there's the Cowboys. Dallas knows sports, is my point, and isn't going to blow a single season, even one like this, out of proportion.

And Dallas is going gaga for the Mavericks.

In Dallas they're saying an NBA championship would elevate fourth-quarter killer Dirk Nowitzki into the spot reserved for the most popular athlete in the city. Maybe in the city's history. I've been in town a week, been listening to the radio, and they're saying it. Do they actually believe it? Hard to imagine, but they seem sincere. They're in love with their blue-collar team, their no-nonsense coach, their humble superstar.

While everyone else is infatuated with disappearing LeBron James and his Hollywood-as-hell Heat, the Mavericks are doing stuff the right way on the same stage, with the same spotlight, that has brought out the worst in the showboating, celebrating, flopping Miami Heat.

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Check out this video. It appears to show -- it does show -- the Heat's two best players, the Heat's two leaders, mocking Nowitzki for the attention he received after playing Game 4 with a 101-degree fever. Nowitzki was so sick that he skipped the pregame shootaround, saving his energy for the game, and after looking listless for three quarters he took over in the fourth. Nowitzki then sniffled and coughed his way through his postgame press conference, humbly giving credit to the Heat for playing hard and playing well, even in defeat.

And how did the Heat repay him? Before Game 5 the Heat's two best players, the Heat's two leaders, strutted through the hallways of the American Airlines Center with shirts over their faces, pretending to be sick, wondering aloud if someone could hear them cough. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade weren't busted by nosy cameras. They did it for the cameras, because they wanted us to see how clever they were.

And we're giving our focus to them? Screw that. Although here I go, doing it again. More than halfway through this story on the Mavericks, I'm still writing about dissolving LeBron, still writing about the disillusioning Heat. And I know why: The Heat are like the sun, painful to look at but impossible to ignore. The Mavericks float along like Saturn, sharing the same galaxy but not as big, not as compelling.

But you know something? The Mavericks have some pretty cool atmosphere themselves. They have Nowitzki emerging as the best player in this series, as clutch as anyone in the NBA Finals since Michael Jordan his-own-self. They have 38-year-old Jason Kidd, who has slowed with age but still plays at a cerebrally quicker level than anyone else, one victory from his first NBA championship. Shawn Marion would have the ugliest jumper in your church league, but he's holding his own head-to-head with LeBron James. And Jason Terry, who has more than 15,000 career points, is finally getting some national notice for his elite-level game.

There's more. J.J. Barea is the smallest guy but the biggest bully in this series. DeShawn Stevenson isn't just some kook with the 3-goggles and the Abraham Lincoln tattoo -- he's a dangerous shooter and a nasty defender. Once upon a time, when he was a brash high school kid going straight to the pros, Tyson Chandler fancied himself as a 7-foot-1 small forward. He has grown into a reliable center, and a fine young man to boot.

And on and on. Miami might be the sun that these NBA Finals are revolving around, but someday soon a pained Dallas Mavericks fan from Twitter might just embrace his team's role as Saturn.

You know -- the planet with the ring.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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