There Are No Lines

Posted by Rob Mahoney on August 4, 2009 under xOther | 24 Comments to Read

The off-season gives a basketball fan’s mind plenty of room to wander.  There are no games, there is no structure, and the overlying principles are theory and speculation.  Some of speculation is fueled by necessity (i.e. If I read one more Lamar Odom-related article, I’m going to drive my car off a bridge), some by want (All-Stars are shiny), and hopefully, some from a desire to better understand the dynamics of the NBA.

Fanhood in itself is a practice of otherization; the necessary construction is an Us vs. Them dynamic, with the defining group characteristic being a particular shade of laundry.  There are no real nationalistic ties to the enterprise of pro basketball, although the argument could be made that a localized, city-inspired pride has shaped the destinies of more than a few teams.  It’s our team versus your team, with little room in between.  Whoo-hoo.

But because most fan bases are more concerned with the color of a player’s uniform than all else, lines become blurred and allegiances change quickly.  That’s just the nature of an industry where workers are swapped for ballers or dollars.  The emotions attached to an outgoing player range from that of long lost lovers, like the fanfare that Steve Nash still receives in Dallas, to misguided feelings of betrayal, such as the inexplicable boos and taunts heaved at Michael Finley.  Breaking up is hard to do, but sometimes deciphering the emotions left over is even harder.

Two newly acquired Mavs, Shawn Marion and Tim Thomas, definitely qualified as part of them.  Specifically, they were both members of the franchise rival Phoenix Suns, but each also provided a specific and unique nuisance to Mavs teams past.  Marion was a hellish defender and freak athlete who terrorized the Mavs with his leak-out speed, Flubber-infused sneaks (yes, I went there), and long arms.  He was an irritant and an enemy because he was wearing the wrong uniform.  Thomas, on the other hand, made his name in Dallas by taunting the resident superstar.  He made some big plays against the Mavs in ’06, but the reason why Tim Thomas made a splash was because he chose to cannonball rather than swan dive.  Thomas is brash, he’s cocky, and he directly challenged the Mavs’ best player.  And yet Thomas is now a Maverick, and his first three-pointer will be met with a chorus of cheers.

I’m always curious — and this is where you guys come in — as to when those cheers stop.  If not for Thomas, the man who smooched in the face of Maverick pride, then for whom?

Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade are two top-level talents that come to mind, but their skills are gaudy enough to turn haters into true believers with a mere change of zip code.  The desire to field an incredible basketball team would supercede any hurt feelings MFFLs might still harbor, and Kobe or Wade would be welcomed with open arms.  Hugs and kisses, fruit baskets and Jell-O casseroles.

But there is a player out there on the free agent market that would truly test the limits of fan commitment.  He’s one of the league’s universal villains, the fruit of the loins of a conference rival, and a personal thorn in the side of Mavs’ fans in particular.  In this world, he goes by the name of Bruce Bowen, although many are convinced that his on-court persona is in congress with The Dark Lord himself.

There’s no speculation that the Mavs are interested in Bowen, and I’m not even suggesting that they should be.  But I am floating out this scenario to muck things up a bit.  Which players, despite their contributions either real or theoretical (Bowen, model citizen though he may be, is hardly the defender he once was), are beyond the pale?

Personally, I’m not so sure the pale exists.  In the good ol’ days, teams were a hallowed thing.  Rivalry was a team’s life blood and wearing a jersey meant something.  That, or a comparatively shallow perspective on teams and the league at large turned local scenes into a propaganda machine.  The availability of more and more information through television and the interwebs has made it that much more difficult to demonize players and franchises.  Bruce Bowen isn’t just a player with questionable tactics on the court, but also a stand-up guy and that nut from those HEB commercials.  Media expansion has turned players into people, which doesn’t bode well for the die-hard separatists.

The lines have been drawn, but they’ve dulled far beyond relevance.  But all of this sparks a different debate entirely: if a player’s prior employers matters less than ever, does that make us, as fans of the game, members of a greater enlightenment or simply advocates of an empire of mercenaries?

  • preet

    what a great piece!

    holla from sydney, keep it up rob

  • Mavs Man

    I was able to accept T.O. as a Cowboy, and if I can do that then there is probably no one in the NBA I would have a problem cheering for as a Mav if by their addition they made the team better.

    My wife on the other hand is adamant that she would never want Baron Davis on this team.

  • Jared

    I don’t get too worked up about guys that have killed us in the past. I respect the hell out of Tim Duncan. I’m absolutely thrilled that Marion is on the team.

    My issue with Thomas (and to a lesser degree, Gooden) is not that he got in Dirk’s face that night. It’s that he’s lazy. It’s that he’s unmotivated. It’s that he has never shown a dedication to be a good basketball player.

    In that same vein, Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph are players I would find it impossible to root for. Those are the kind of players I abhor and do not care to have on my team.

    Bowen is the closest thing to a guy that I can’t root for based solely on his irritation level. But I suspect I could come to appreciate even him were he to come here. And I’d do back flips if we could re-acquire another big irritant, Raja Bell.

  • Brian D

    Exactly what I was going to say Jared. I’d have no problem with any of the guys Rob mentioned, even Bruce Bowen. I respect them. I have never, and will never, respect Tim Thomas. He came into the league with an insane amount of talent and showed a desire for nothing but his next contract. Curry and Randolph are great examples too.

    On another note that Rob mentioned…..can people please stop effing booing Michael Finley please? It makes me want to scream every time it happens. He played his heart out for the Mavs and WE cut him. He didn’t demand a trade, he didn’t bail in free agency, we let him go. He was our best player for six years, and the one bright spot on the team for several seasons.

  • rhett

    I don’t know about bowen. As someone who played sports I cringe at dirty plays – like sliding your feet under a jump shooter and damaging their ankle. Winning is great, but so is being able to respect how you accomplished it. I would never want to, as a mavs fan, be stuck watching my team win an important game but be embarassed about watching a replay. I’ve never felt good about MJ’s push off, or horry’s hip check – how you win, to me, is as important as winning.

  • Marc

    i for one absolutely positively could not watch D-Wade in a mavs uni. no. no. no. he is perpetually other.

  • Cynthia

    I gotta admit that I felt sick to my stomach when I heard the MAVS were going to bring in Tim Thomas. I’ve NEVER liked the guy. BUT if Dirk can welcome him to the MAVS who am I to complain? I don’t feel he’ll contribute much to the team, but I would be happy IF I’m proven wrong. As far as Michael Finley. NO he didn’t ask to be traded. BUT his 2 choices when he was let go was Miami and SA. Maybe that has something to do with him getting booed. Hey, I love MY team. Finley is NOT on MY team. I might give him a polite aknowledgement when he’s announced during the game but DON’T expect me to cheer him on DURING the game. He plays for the enemy now…and you DON’T cheer for the enemy…under ANY circumstances. Just thinking about this…I believe the only 2 MAVS I could NEVER boo EVEN if they went to another team is the JET (hey, he’s our cheerleader man) and OF COURSE THE BIG GERMAN (imop, he IS the MAVERICKS).

  • Ricky

    I can never root for Bowen. He has made a career out of getting away with dirty tactics. Trying to win is one thing, but how many players has that guy injured with cheap shots?

    I’m alright with Thomas. I don’t like him, but he is an end of the bench guy and whatever he contributes, he contributes.

    The story that everyone has missed is that Tim Thomas hates Kenyon Martin. Do a quick google search on the those two. Mark Cuban brings in the enemy of his enemy. Well played, Mark, well played.

  • Rhett

    @ricky – wow. Just read what TT has to say about kenyon. Outstanding.

  • Brian D

    Rob mentioning mercenaries made me think of this, and I meant to address it in my comment earlier…Which do you all value more, a championship or some sense of loyalty to our players? Let’s say this is plausible: we trade the whole team and end up with Lebron, DWade, and Bosh. We win the 2011 title. How do you feel about it? I’d be thrilled of course, but I know there would be this strange hollow feeling about it. I want to see Dirk (at the very least), Jet, and Josh on the court when the confetti comes down and the champagne is popped. I’ve grown to love those guys. Even though the trophy says Dallas Mavericks on it, it wouldn’t be the same unless Dirk is the one holding it.

  • Brian D

    @Cynthia: Yeah, he went to the Spurs, but what was he supposed to do? Play out his career as a Clipper so he didn’t “betray” the team that had just cut him? Nobody expects you to cheer for him during the actual game, just not to boo at the beginning. It’s like everyone forgot that he played his ass off here. He led the league in minutes on a couple of abysmal Maverick teams. From 1997-2001 he WAS the Mavs. How can you possibly see him as the enemy in light of that? Keep in mind that #4 will absolutely be retired someday.

  • rhett

    Agree on the subject of finley – and don’t forget what a class act he was – how he was an all star in our mavs uni – I suffered through those dark, dark mavs years – when we thought jim clemons or shawn bradley would be our saviors – when national exposure meant SI was doing a story on the worst teams Ever – when the three j’s put on a clinic in dysfunction – and then there was finley – hard working, respectable and one of our own (even if he could never go left).He was the first step to this franchise being something other than a laughing stock. Only a fickle hearted cowboy’s fan would boo the fin dawg!

  • benway37

    Agree with the Finley sentiment. Actually writing this while a Mavs Finley jersey drapes over the back of my chair. One of the stupidest moves in the Cuban/Nelson reign (especially when you consider that for the first couple of years he was in San Antonio, CUBAN WAS PICKING UP A BULK OF THE TAB!)

    Agree with Brian D:
    Mavs fans are a little lucky in that we have Dirk, not only the face of our franchise, but OUR guy. We take it personally when someone knocks his game. We are a lot like Kobe fans, except we don’t root for a d-bag, and (unlike Kobe fans) we actually know who the 11th man on our bench is. There is some plausibility to the notion of TEAM going deeper than just the jerseys.
    I grew up in Dallas as a Mavs & Cowboys fan, and while my fervor for the Mavs is at an all-time high (even though I’ve lived in Tampa for the last 23 years), my passion for the Cowboys is virtually gone. Why? B/c they are about as easy to root for as the Yankees (that is not a compliment, BTW).
    The NBA, almost as much as MLB, is a mercenary league, and really has been ever since the Jon Koncak deal (remember him Dallas sports fans?). However, the over-expansion of the NBA into cities that never should have had a team (Memphis, NO, Charlotte, eventually OKC- you watch) has taken the mercenary for hire thing out of control.
    So many salary dumps have gone down that the Boston trade for Garnett now looks respectable by comparison (I mean, at least Minnesota got a real player in return).

    Went back and read some of Simmons’ assessment of the 06 Finals, and the most poignant point he made was the style of basketball contrasted between Dallas & Miami. Miami being the prototypical Superstar + Sidekick- call it the Jordan Model- and Dallas representing a more well rounded balanced team (very much characterized by the singularly unique versatility of Nowitzki). Simmons argues that should Miami win (this piece was written after Game 5), then the Jordan Model would prevail and basketball would stay pretty boring.
    This is all in preparation to answer the question at hand, I promise.
    After 06, Cuban didn’t panic. He basically realized he sort of got hosed, fielded the same team, they tore through the regular season and got up-ended by a coach that knew them, who happened to have just the right mix of players to execute a winnable strategy.
    This is an important combination of facts: If another coach is coaching Golden State, the Mavs probably prevail. If Nellie is coaching another team that year, he doesn’t have a strong PG like Baron Davis flanked by an endless rotation of 6’6″-6’9″ interchangeable clones.
    The point is that Dallas was still the best team. They should have looked to shore up a few deficiencies (akin to getting an ear-tuck). Instead they went for the partial reconstructive facelift, and came out the other side LESS VERSATILE, more awkward and a little uglier*. *Not an uncommon result of most facelifts.
    So when I consider which players I could or could not stomach, it is so much less about their past or thier personalities and instead is directly affected by what kind of basketball they are going to impose on the court. This is why I could not stomach D.Wade any more than A.Iverson. I don’t want to watch a guy dribble around and go 1 on 5 while Udonis Haslem is waiting in the corner to hit a 15 ft bailout. Three years ago, I would have taken Bowen in a heartbeat, but now he is not as effective, and we already have a guy that fills his role, so it is irrelevant. I wouldn’t want Curry or ZBo b/c signing them means yr team is in the Garbage Phase.
    Here are 2 lists:
    List 1: Guys that are rivals, enemies, or have earned the “tough to like” stigma, but that I would root for in a Mavs Uni without hesitation:
    S.Jackson, Matt Barnes, T.Parker, Ginobili, AK-47, Tim Thomas, Birdman, Melo, Baron Davis, Gasol, Amare, Marion, DeShawn Stevenson, Tyrus Thomas, J.Noah, Josh Smith, Raja Bell, A. Varejao, Kyle Korver (his hair makes him a target plus he always picks a stupid jersey number), Leandro Barbosa.
    This list does not include players like CP3, Deron Williams, Shane Battier, a bunch of Blazers, and a few others who are natural Mav rivals but whose games I like so much that I already root for them.

    List 2: Players that are tough to like and also have games that I would not want brought to Dallas:

    Kobe (for real, that would just suck)

    ‘Sheed (hasn’t tried for 2 years)

    Ben Wallace (not much left in the tank)

    JR Smith (will shoot you in or out, plus gang affiliations mean that game day or off day, JR is going to SHOOT!, and i still have family in Dallas)

    Ron Artest (defensive skills declining, offensive game is selfish, everything else is just poop flavored icing)

    Tim Duncan (his best is in the past)

    Steve Nash (he made Mike Bibby sooo much money)

    Let me know who I missed on either list.

  • Marc

    if “we” got all those players and won a championship it wouldnt be “we” that won but “them” dressed in our unis. with TT and Bowen and guys like that would be one thing, BUT D-Wade particularly, i want nothing to do with it. I never hated Marion even in the rivalry days. I always felt like there was respect there. but with D-Wade, everything is diff. like i said above…he will always be “them” even if in a mavs uni.

  • benway37

    Was not suggesting that a mass movement of all of these gentlemen would be awesome. Was saying that adding to our present roster full of “WEs” with any of the above “THEMs” from list 1 would not bother me at all.

  • Rhett

    rooting for the b-dizzle? *shudder* Actually, I think he just belongs on the list #2. He’s kind of like a well medicated (and often injured) starbury.

  • Brayden

    Just a quick summary to get at the point and sentiment of what a lot of people seem to be saying.

    Most everyone seems to identify Dirk, Jet, etc. as the faces of what this franchise stands for and how it operates. Its easy for us to be proud of them and the way they bring their best every night, help out the community, and remain rather humble through all of their successes. We’ve watched them grow up with this team in the way that parents watch their kids grow and mature. They are the Mavericks for us.

    Then there will always be the missing pieces to the puzzle that help fill in the gaps and bring the complimentary skills to those faces of the franchise.

    Some of the missing pieces or “glue guys” play larger roles (Kidd for example) while others may only get a few minutes a night.

    Now as far as bringing in controversial or hated players, their seem to be three levels of sentiment.
    a.) hated rival, but we respect their game (ex. Tim Duncan)
    b.) basic nba jerk (tim thomas anyone?) but who is only a role player at best and will never be able to outshine the faces of the franchise that make us love our team
    c.) hated rival players who are jerks and/or have a playing style we hate (flopping and getting all the calls for example – coughDWadecough-) AND who play such an important role on the team that they, even with Dirk on board, would become at least half of the face of the team. Their skills or personality would be so large as to change what it meant to be a Maverick.

    Clearly we may disagree about who we slide into which category. And clearly adding say Tim Duncan to the Mavs would still leave Duncan with a piece of the face of the franchise. But here is how people seem to feel about the categories.

    a’s) we respect these enough that adding them wouldn’t change the team culture to a large degree or detract from those we love like Dirk and Jet – most of us could accept players like these if their aquisition made basketball sense and didn’t have us lose any of our other faces of the franchise.
    b’s) we may not respect them very much but eventually realize they will fit into the team culture or be sent away. they will play a smaller role in the winning we achieve and no one will think “man, tim thomas won that ring for dallas” We sort of look the other way, accept their talents that will help our faces of the franchise, and move on with it.
    c.) we could not accept these players. the mavs would no longer be the mavs if these players were aquired. they would just be the miami heat all over again, except in blue for example. these players put such an imprint on the team that watching that team no longer is fun for the reasons it used to be and the sense of pride you feel in watching a guy like dirk grow up into a monster and yet such a likeable guy is completely nullified by the shadow cast by this new player

  • David

    Offtopic: One reader mentioned it earlier during the Gortat-Case: Otis Smith and the bad karma. Now the karma is striking back in person of Rashard Lewis.

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  • benway37

    A semi-related Mavs story:
    I went to my first Mavs game in the early eighties. Can’t remember the year (’84-’86) but I remember the Mavs lost to the Knicks 124-122 in overtime. It was right around All-Star voting time and I diligently voted for Rolondo and Jay Vincent and of course my favorite player Mark Aguirre. Players really didn’t switch teams via free ageny or trade very much, so it was pretty normal to associate players with teams (A.English in Denver, all the white guys in Boston, Doc in Philly, Iceman in San Antonio, B. King in NY- just listing them now makes me nostalgic). Anyway, a few years later, Aguirre was traded to Detroit for Adrian Dantley, who was a very accomplished scorer first for Utah and then Detroit.
    A couple of weird notes on that trade regarding the discussion at hand:
    It was very easy for me to accept Dantley as a Mav. He fit in and just kept posting his numbers, even if he did so in a much less spectacular fashion than Aguirre. But was weird was that I never accepted Aguirre as a Piston. Every time I would see him in a Pistons uni, I would just think it looked wrong. Like he was and always would be a Maverick to me. I even remember thinking, “They didn’t even give him the right jersey number.” (He wore 25 in Detroit).
    The sad thing was that Detroit went on to win a championship not too long after, and did so with minimal help from Aguirre. I always thought Dantley sort of got hosed.

    Some other “Old School” random thoughts:
    The 76ers do not deserve to be good again until they un-revamp their unis and go back to a design that has some dignity. They look like a USFL And-One team, and o one should get behind that.

    It’s not odd to me that J.Kidd and Nash both found lucrative deals in the tightest market in years, yet Allen Iverson is piddling around with minor league teams for a couple mil a year. I’m about the same age as all three of these guys, and back when they/we were growing up, guards had 3 guys to pattern their game after: Jordan, Magic & Isiah. If you could jump, you chose Jordan. If you could shoot, you chose Jordan (but you should have chosen Isiah). If you could pass, you chose Magic. I chose Magic. I’m guessing Kidd did too (My guess is Nash probably chose Gretzky, which is probably closer to Jordan than Magic, but it’s all so Fargo-Canadian that I can’t speak with confidence there).
    Anyway, the AI at the point experiment has clearly failed. But you gotta think the market for his services would not be so thin if just somewhere along the way he had either played with another guy he could have trusted, or just passed a little more to the Van Horn full house of rejects he was constantly teamed with and just lived with the consequences.
    He carried horrible Philly teams so much further than they should have gone, and his reward is that now he has to take a 1 year deal with the Grizzlies, Clippers or Heat.

    Which Came First- the chicken or the egg?
    I am very confused. Reporters keep a vigil on Brett Favre’s lawn reporting every pee break he takes. They are like useless flies regurgitating the same (non) information over and over any and every time any sports story breaks (the less it has to do with an “actual sporting event” the more all over it they are. So why is Stephon Marbury getting hammered for “showing us way more than we need to see”.
    Let me put it to you this way: since the advent of reality tv, has anyone who has been followed constantly by a camera NOT come off as looking crazy?
    Or to put it another way, if you don’t want to know what yr athlete is doing 24 hours a day, then get the hell off of his lawn.
    Having said that, I think anyone with a head tattoo loses the benefit of doubt in a lot cases where sanity is the issue (and I have a full sleeve on the right arm).

  • Brian D

    Ben, could I buy some speed from you?

  • Jaredallas

    other jared, sometimes i read your comments and think “was that me? sounds like me.”

  • Jaredallas

    oh, and i forgot to mention, tim thomas reminds me of antoine walker… who had a last laugh of sorts in 2006.

  • Cynthia

    Jareddallas….PUHLEESE do NOT mention Walker getting a ring. EVER. The guy getting a ring BEFORE Dirk Nowitzki is just PLAIN WRONG. Criminal even. And proof there are NO gods….basketball or otherwise.