We all know the classic Texas upbringing: A rigorous regimen of football, football, and more football. And there's some justification to that: The state has a handful of some of the greatest college football programs to ever grace this country. Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Rice, TCU… There are a lot. Dallas also happens to be the home of the so-called America's Team, the Dallas Cowboys, which isn't as true as Cowboys fans would desperately like it to be - the nickname is copyrighted and was bestowed by ESPN, which makes them more like Corporate America's Team - but the team does have a glorious, dominant past which I'm willing to grant a pass on - they're 5-2 in their seven Super Bowl appearances. Not to mention the Houston Texans.
Then again, Texas is the same state that let Houston's old team, the Oilers, go to Tennessee. And in the final days, Oilers games were pre-empted by pre-season basketball games. Not that a state in love with its rough-and-tumble image would ever admit to it - especially when it has high school football stadiums of 20,000-plus capacity - but I'm thinking Texas deserves to be known as a great basketball state too. Bobby Knight spent a spell coaching at Texas A&M, even if he IS better known for his work in Indiana. But Texas has only two professional football teams, and the NFL is too blinded by its lust for Los Angeles (which doesn't want a new team) to give a team to San Antonio (which is now the eighth-largest city in the country and has been begging the NFL for some time, even going as far as to build the Alamodome in anticipation of one). In the meantime, the NBA has a triple presence in The Lone Star State between the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and San Antonio Spurs, who own seven titles between them (as opposed to the NFL's five).
The Dallas Mavericks have been the last of those teams in a few categories. They were the last ones founded and the last ones to win their first title. They kicked off in 1979 when businessman Don Carter and his partner Norm Sonju requested the right to bring an NBA team to Dallas. The last professional basketball team in Dallas was the ABA's Dallas Chaparrals, and they had bolted for San Antonio in 1973 to become the Spurs. The final vote was taken at the 1980 All-Star game. For the name, Dallas Wranglers (not half-bad, actually) and Dallas Express (ugh) were beaten out by the name Dallas Mavericks, named for the popular TV western which ran from 1957 to 1962. It probably helped the actor James Garner, who played the show's main character, was part of the ownership group. There was some initial controversy because the University of Texas at Arlington uses the same name, but Mavericks managed to stick. Dick Motta was taken as the team's first coach. He had a well-earned reputation as a very stern disciplinarian, but he had also won the 1978 NBA Championship with the Washington Bullets and was regarded as one of the great teachers of basketball by virtually everyone.
The excitement of getting such a teacher didn't last very long, though. First, there was the draft problem: The team's first-ever draft pick was a UCLA player named Kiki Vandeweghe, and he turned out to be a bit of an asshole. As in, he held out until a month into the team's first season. Even then, he didn't suit up. He only began when the Mavs dumped him off on the Denver Nuggets for a pair of future first round draft picks who eventually turned into Rolando Blackman in 1981 and Sam Vincent in 1985. Then there was the problem popping up from the fact that the Mavericks were still just an expansion team. Despite stunning the San Antonio Spurs in their first-ever game by a score of 103-92, the Mavs still started their first season with a somewhat discouraging record of 6-40. When the season ended, they were just 15-67.
The Mavericks did, however, make a very important player acquisition which helped them define their early, unsure years when they tracked down Brad Davis of the Anchorage Northern Knights in the Continental Basketball Association and signed him. When the team grabbed Davis, he was expected to be just another expansion-level warm body to go along with the rest of the expansion-level warm bodies playing in Dallas. But as he started the team's final 26 games of the year, he began leading the team in assists, his career took off, and he spent the next twelve years donning the Dallas Mavericks togs. His jersey number was retired.
Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, and Jay Vincent were picked in the 1981 draft, and they became the core of a team which was a serious contender by the 1983 season. They went 38-44 that year, but were in contention most of the time, and almost-playoff caliber for a third-year expansion team in the NBA ain't exactly shabby rags. In just their fourth year, the Mavericks officially crossed the northern border of the .500 mark, going 43-39 and making the playoffs. In the 1984 draft, the Mavericks had the fourth overall pick, which they used on a North Carolina Tar Heel named Sam Perkins. He looked bad because he was selected between third pick Michael Jordan and fifth pick Charles Barkley, but Perkins wasn't a half-bad player. He made the All-Rookie Team, played in Dallas for six years, stayed in the NBA until 2001, and retired with an 11.9 points per game average and over 15,000 total points scored.
By the late 80's, the Mavericks were a legitimately dangerous contender. In the 1986 season, Dallas was second in scoring, and Rolando Blackman was an All-Star. They beat the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs and gave the Los Angeles Lakers everything they could handle in the second round; the Showtime Lakers won the series in six games, but four of those games were decided by four points or less, and Dallas had won two of those small-margin games. The next year, Dallas went 55-27 and won their division. Unfortunately, they were then pummeled by the Seattle Supersonics in the playoffs. In the 1988 season, the Mavericks made their first appearance in the Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, the juggernaut of the Showtime Lakers stood in their way again, but once again Dallas rose to the moment. This Showtime Lakers team is considered one of the great classic teams in NBA history, but the fleet, feisty Mavs just didn't want to go down. When the series ended after going the distance, Showtime prevailed again and would go on to win the NBA Championship, but that was a result of them just wanting it more. Dallas had nothing to be ashamed of.
In the 1989 season, the Mavericks were ravaged by injuries and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1983. They were back the next year, though, but that was their last playoff hurrah until 2001.
In 1990, the Mavericks started a nasty free fall. Sam Perkins became a free agent and decided to try his luck with the Lakers. Almost their entire 1991 starting lineup suffered from injuries, and the players they managed to sign were all nearing the ends of their careers. Even the expansion Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves had better records than the Mavs of 1991. Rebuilding mode had started by the 1993 season, when the Mavs traded Rolando Blackman to the New York Knicks for a first round pick. A series of bad trades and draft picks squandered any hope the Mavericks had of being any good. In 1993, they hired Quinn Buckner to coach, but Buckner's own college coach had been Bobby Knight. Knight's disciplinarian style may work on young college minds who are playing often enough just because they love basketball, but on the professional level, there's a lot more individualism, and so Buckner's first season ended with Dallas's record at a pathetic 13-69. It was the worst record ever for a first-time head coach, and Buckner was promptly fired.
In the 1994 draft, the Mavericks ended up with the second pick, and their selection helped infuse a little bit of new life into the team. The pick, Cal point guard Jason Kidd, teamed up with the previous first round draft picks Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn to form a tandem called The Three Js. They still sucked alright, but at least they were doing considerably better and were watchable. Kidd was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 1997, but in the 1998 and 1999 seasons, the Mavericks grabbed two other noteworthy players in Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash. With them, the team finally began humming again and winning regularly.
In 2000, Mark Cuban bought the team, and the name Mavericks was suddenly more appropriate than ever. Cuban began spending and promoting and doing everything in his power to make the Mavs one of the biggest, most popular teams in the country. And one of the best.
The millennium saw the Mavericks run off a string of 50 and 60 win seasons, and they didn't fare poorly in the playoffs, either. They made the Conference Finals in 2003 but were promptly swept by the mighty Spurs. In 2005, the Mavericks said goodbye to Steve Nash, who returned to haunt them in the playoffs as his new team, the Suns, beat the Mavs 4-2 in the second round. In 2006, they beat their new archrivals, the Suns, and visited the NBA Finals for the first time, facing the Miami Heat. They held home court in the series and won the first two games, but blew a late double-digit lead in the third game. In game five, Heat star Dwayne Wade stepped up and scored the tying basket at the end of regulation, and Miami won in overtime. In game six, Wade scored 36 points, and Miami clinched their first NBA Title.
That only served to piss the Mavericks off. Although they began the 2007 season 0-4, they finished it with an NBA-best record of a sparkling 67-15, and Nowitzki cemented his place as one of the league's truly elite players. But you know how some teams just own certain other teams, no matter how good those other teams are? Think of the New England Patriots and New York Giants lately: The powerful Patriots have been a dominant team for the last 12 years. They fielded a dynasty. They went 16-0 in the 2007 regular season, setting a million records along the way. Yet, the New York Giants, who have been much more middling, just seem to have figured out the secret formula that puts them away time and time again. The Giants beat the Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl, the 2011 regular season, and the 2011 Super Bowl, which were the last three games they played against each other. They played against each other in the 2007 regular season too, and while the Patriots managed to win that matchup, the Giants still gave them a fight for the ages, attacking their weakness in a loss which wasn't a loss until the last couple of minutes. Well, the 2007 season Dallas Mavericks were the best team in the league, and their playoff opponents, the Golden State Warriors, were the team that knew how to beat them. Those 15 losses in the regular season included an 0-3 record against Golden State. Although NBA fans still act as if Golden State's upset in the first round against Dallas that year was one of those Namathian things, it was right in front of our faces all along. Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell noticed that too, and didn't consider it an upset when he wrote about it in his blog. Golden State exploited matchups, attacked Dirk Nowitzki's weaknesses, and systematically dismantled and destroyed the Mavericks.
Dallas's Championship window was considered closed after that, even though the team got Jason Kidd back after his glittering career as the face of the New Jersey Nets, and even though they kept posting records of over 50 wins. They jockeyed for playoff position and made early exits the next couple of years in a difficult conference as the Lakers rose back to prominence. In the 2011 season, Dallas went 57-25 and finally returned to the Finals, where they played a grudge match against the team that defeated them last time: The Miami Heat. Miami had been reborn after a couple of down years through a pair of shiny new toys named Chris Bosh and LeBron James, and they still had Dwayne Wade, which formed the nastiest Big Three since the Boston Celtics threw Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish at opponents. This time, the Mavericks seized the moment and Dirk Nowitzki won the Finals MVP award as the Mavericks avenged their 2006 loss in six games, winning their first-ever NBA Championship for a very jubilant Mark Cuban. A couple of days later, some former owners of the Mavericks tried to sue Cuban on account of him not properly using the money he was making to make the team better (read: The prosecutors weren't getting as much as they wanted). Misplaced and misused finances, I believe, was the official charge. In response, Cuban faxed a photo of his players celebrating with the NBA Championship trophy, pointing out that his misspent money had led to that. It was one of the greatest implicit fuck yous I've ever seen in professional sports.
In the following strike-shortened season, the Mavericks went 36-30 in the 66 games that were played. Kidd was traded to the New York Knicks afterward. The Mavericks promise to still be very good for the next several years, and with Mark Cuban spending like mad, it's safe to expect them to be fun and competitive. Hell, lightning might actually strike again.
The big rivalry for the Dallas Mavericks is the San Antonio Spurs, who were created in Dallas. The two teams didn't begin meeting regularly in the playoffs until the millennium, though. The pinnacle was in the 2003 playoffs, where they went head to head in the Western Conference Finals. San Antonio won, and was the eventual Champion. San Antonio has been one of the dominant teams of the decade, but look for this rivalry to get more competitive as cracks start to appear in the Spurs's facade. A rivalry with the Phoenix Suns is a recent development, due to several playoff meetings while the Suns had former Maverick Steve Nash.
The Mavericks only have three Hall of Famers: Alex English, Adrian Dantley, and Dennis Rodman, all three of whom made their names with other teams. Brad Davis and Rolando Blackman are the only two Mavericks honored with retired numbers. Dirk Nowitzki pretty much dominates the individual awards, including an MVP in 2007. For a team that's fielded such great historic teams amid a single sustained down point, there are surprisingly few individual awards given to the Mavericks. Probably because Dallas isn't considered a traditional basketball market.
The Mavericks have been around for three decades, and they've played excellent for the majority of the first and third of those decades amidst a bad second decade. It's tough to peg them right now. The one way you can peg them, though, is with owner Mark Cuban, who is himself one of the league Mavericks. He's a character and a Steinbrenner-like guy who wants his team to win and be proud of who they are while making fans of as many people as possible. It's working, too; the Mavericks are currently the fourth most valuable basketball team in the United States, behind only the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Chicago Bulls. (What, you were expecting the Memphis Grizzlies and Detroit Pistons to be at the top?)
As long as Mark Cuban is running this team, you'll want to hop on board. As I said above, he may win some, he may lose some. Either way, his team is a hell of a lot better than what Jerry Jones has been playing with the Dallas Cowboys for the last 15 years. No matter what, you're gonna be in for one hell of a ride.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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