- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

You don’t have to be a LeBron James/Miami Heat hater to be glad that the Mavericks won the NBA championship. You don’t have to detest the conspiracy among James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to be happy that Dirk Nowitzki stuck it out in Dallas and prevailed. And you don’t have to despise the Heat’s preseason celebration in Miami to enjoy the irony of the Mavs’ celebration Sunday night in the same arena.

Holding those sentiments might help, but they’re totally unnecessary.

All you really need is a love and appreciation for basketball as it was meant to be played.

“I just want to say this is a true team,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after Dallas defeated the favored Heat in six games. “This is an old-school bunch. We don’t run fast or jump high. But these guys had each other’s back. They played the right way. They trusted the pass.”

This isn’t to suggest that Miami isn’t a true team. Though many observers foolishly claimed as much, games against the Heat aren’t five-on-Big 3 affairs. No championship squad ever hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy without significant contributions from seven, eight or nine players. Miami would’ve been no different had it won.

While I never bought into the notion that the Heat were less of a team due to their star trio, or they somehow were the “bad guys” for self-directing their careers, there’s a certain satisfaction in the Mavs’ victory.

Nothing against the Heat, but Dallas winning the championship this year was better for basketball and the NBA.

Suddenly, the idea that superior talent trumps teamwork has been put on hold. In an era where AAU programs are the main incubators for emerging prodigies, the Mavs have administered a valuable lesson: One superstar and a supporting cast can beat two superstars and a supporting cast. By moving the ball — i.e., “trusting the pass” — Dallas spread the wealth of scoring opportunities; the Mavs had seven players who averaged at least seven points per game during the series, compared to just four such players for the Heat.

The closeout victory in Game 6 was a testament to taking care of the “little things” that often are overlooked, unlike the slew of dunks, crossovers and 3-pointers prominently featured in highlights.

Dallas committed fewer turnovers and made a higher percentage of its free throws Sunday. Miami’s turnovers led to 27 points, and the Mavs’ miscues led to 10 points. The Mavs also shored up their defensive rebounding. Though the Heat had a 64-55 advantage in offensive rebounds for the series, Dallas had the edge in Game 6, 10-9.

Inglorious as it might sound, protecting the ball, making free throws and boxing out are crucial ingredients for success, especially when your opponent’s roster has more star power than your own. If young ballers ever needed a reminder of that lesson (and they always do), they just witnessed it on basketball’s biggest stage.

The Mavs also sent a message to the NBA, which not too long ago worried that all the high-wattage players would join forces on a handful of teams and destroy competitive balance. (I guess it’s OK when the general manager builds a team featuring, say, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, but not OK when the players do it themselves?) Anyway, Nowitzki and the Mavs have put that fear to rest, at least for the moment.

That’s another reason to smile about the Mavs’ triumph. I won’t be surprised if the Heat figure things out and win a championship or three in the near future. But considering how the culture of instant gratification has spoiled so many young folks, it’s better that the Heat didn’t win in their first season together. Let them suffer a bit and feel some pain, which will only increase their appreciation if/when they eventually hoist the trophy.

As a proud graduate of the “old school,” I took pleasure in the triumph of Nowitzki, a 13-year veteran, alongside 17-year veteran Jason Kidd and 12-year veterans Jason Terry and Shawn Marion. Old and wise can have trouble in matchups against young and strong. But it’s always enjoyable to show youngsters you’re not done yet, show you can still put them over your knee and give them a spanking.

They can still learn something from us oldheads, even though we’re not as fast and don’t jump as high as before.

So, for me, the joy in Dallas’ victory isn’t personal.

It’s strictly generational.