Posted by Matt Moore
MIAMI -- The season is over. NBA life (as we know it) is over (shudder). And the NBA Finals have come to a close. The Dallas Mavericks are NBA Champions.
As we sift through the aftermath of the 2011 NBA Finals and one of the best seasons, maybe the best season in NBA history, it's time to examine how the Mavericks' championship shifts the narrative of the careers of their players and staff. There will be time enough to tear the Miami Heat into tiny heart shaped pieces, stomp on them, set them on fire, and then bury the ashes. And it's coming. (Tomorrow, actually, from CBSSports.com's own Gregg Doyel!)
But for now, let's turn our attention to the Dallas Mavericks, and look at how their legacies shifted on Sunday in Miami.
Dirk Nowitzki: He goes from "the Best Seven-Foot Euro Pure-Shooting Power Forward" or "Greatest Scoring Power Forward to Never Win a Ring" to "Elite Championship Power Forward With Toughness, Resliency, and a Jumper You'll Never Forget." Nowitzki had a terrible night, until he didn't, stepping up and delivering "when it mattered." The talk of Nowitzki's lack of mental resolve, of being soft, of not being a player that could play defense or lead a team to a title? All washed away, forever. Nowitzki redefined his entire career arc, reshaping it from lovable loser and guy you feel for into NBA champion and one of the truly greatest players of our time. Of the players in their prime in the post-Shaq-Lakers era, he joins Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Dwyane Wade as guys who led their teams to a title as "The Guy." His resiliency and effort make up the new benchmark for NBA greatness.
Bryant had the fadeaway, Duncan had the off-glass leaner. Wade the shifting layups. Nowitzki will be remembered for that elbow jumper, and more importantly, for doing what Shawn Marion told Dirk to do in these playoffs. "Take your ass to the rack," Marion told reporters this week he'd said to Dirk in the Portland series. Dallas never looked back. For one of the consumate teammates and most tireless workers in the NBA, there could not be a better ending, a better shift in the career narrative.
"You start to see [opponents and teammates] watch Dirk on a day-in and day-out basis, how hard he works, how hard he practices," Cuban said with his hand on the trophy Nowitkzi had won him. "Then watching him in a game, guys would start shaking their heads, because you don't really truly appreciate who he is and what he does and how truly hard he works until you see him on a daily basis."
Nowitzki could have gone star-chasing in the summer of 2010. He re-signed almost immediately with Dallas. And now he's not the same old Dirk.
He's Mr. Champion, Dirk Nowitzki to you.
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Jason Kidd: For Kidd, this must in part be bittersweet. He came so close in his prime, always outmatched by teams with superior talent. In the back of his mind, he had to have the same concern about this series, especially after Game 1. But he's done it. He's reached the summit. He's home free. He was a Hall of Famer to begin with, but a title clinches it. While he'll be remembered for those years with Phoenix and New Jersey, he gets to cement his legacy in Dallas -- where it all started. Instead of basking in the moment, though, all Kidd could do was focus on deferring credit to the rest of his team.
"Man, it's a dream come true," Kidd said Sunday, a satisfied smile on his face. "My teammates, their character and their will to come every day and work to get better they deserve all the credit. And I'm so just happy to be at the right place at the right time."
Kidd has always been what his teams needed him to be. Distributor, leader, playmaker, MVP, and now role player and, dare we say it, spot-up shooter. Kidd's improved 3-point shooting, adding it to his game late in his career, only serves as further testament to his adaptability. Kidd hit huge shots in the playoffs, and in the Finals -- in Game 6. He defended LeBron James. He served as a locker room leader. He provided the foundation of what the team wanted to do.
He got the ring, the icing on the cake of his career. For him it must be like getting home after a long journey.
"To finally finish across the line of the marathon in first place is huge," Kidd said before limping his way to the party.
Jason Terry: Smack-talking, contested-jumper-taking, enormous-stones partner-in-crime to Dirk Nowitzki to championship supporting player and one of the gutsiest players in the NBA Finals. The man they call Jet goes from just another sidekick for a contending team to a legend in Dallas and in Finals history. Terry's emergence as the series wore on was a huge turning point for the Mavs. As much as they pointed to defense in this series, it was their offense waking up that changed the terrain of the series. Terry started bombing from deep, which opened up his mid-range game. That gave him chances at the rim, in turn making him confident and leading to him being unstoppable. In Game 6 he took over for a struggling Dirk Nowitzki, blistering the notoriously stiff Miami defense with a series of pull-up-jumpers in transition which rendered the Heat's strategy moot. What do you do when a guy is knocking down shots like Terry did in this series?
You watch him win a title and then pretend to fly around the room. That's what you do.
Tyson Chandler: So, he doesn't really seem like the injury-plagued former-Bull bust he was a few years ago. And we can probably put down that narrative about how he was only good because Chris Paul made him good, too. Oh, and that bit about him being nothing more than a guy with size and no savvy? Yeah, that's out as well.
Tyson Chandler won't be remembered like Dirk, Terry, or even Kidd will. But it was Chandler that changed the Mavericks' defensive attitude, their identity, and put them in a position to win this title. His brilliant work against the Heat's pick and roll while managing to divert cutters from the lane and avoid foul trouble should be the stuff that's taught in basketball academies. It was Chandler who brought the attitude of true toughness, not fake posturing but real, "I will give and take the hard foul, make the hard play, dunk the difficult pass to catch, stop the difficult player to defend." The Mavericks needed that guy for so long, and Chandler's arrival means that he takes his place in the lore of Finals Big Men as "The Man Who Snuffed the Heat."
Shawn Marion: Oh, Matrix. One of the truly funniest storylines of these Finals for the media was Marion's constant bristling at those who said that he redefined himself. Shawn Marion always has been an elite defender, in his estimation. Shawn Marion has always been a championship caliber offensive player, in his estimation. Whether these things are true (and they certainly are to some extent) is irrelevant. Marion said the same thing over and over again in a champagne-soaked locker room.
"Nobody can take this away from me. They can all kiss my ass."
Yup. That's the Matrix. Championship supporting player, offensive savior, defensive stalwart.
J.J. Barea: Hey, guess who gets to be an NBA trivia question for the next twenty years? Answer: The same guy who is now a national hero to Puerto Rico. Jub Jub did well for himself and gets the distinguished honor of being "that little guy that beat LeBron James off the dribble."
Carlisle: Carlisle walks away as one of the modern era NBA's best coaches. So highly considered by his peers and yet never discussed as one of the best by media or fans, Carlisle changed all that with one of the best coaching runs in NBA history. Carlisle naturally deflected all the praise, crediting his players and the organization. But in the course of a single playoff run, Carlisle helped the Mavericks shed a reputation as choke artists by firmly kicking in the Blazers' teeth, then downed the defending champions in a sweep, crushed the dreams of they idyllic Thunder by devolving them into pure chaos, and then toppled the mighty Heat for the title. This Mavericks team will be remembered for their comebacks, which are a product of its resolve, which is a reflection of its coach.
More on Carlisle tomorrow, but just know that this title will shift the way we look at Carlisle going forward. He's no longer underrated. He's simply rated.
He's a winning coach, in every sense now.