Maverick fans have endured plenty over the last ten years. They witnessed the rise of a Western power only to see it pale to the empires in San Antonio and Los Angeles. They grew to love and adore Steve Nash and Michael Finley, only to see both walk out the door. They’ve seen the Mavs go deep into the playoffs only to come up short. The last decade of Maverick basketball was graced with incredible successes but also unforgettable heartbreak.
The greatest shame isn’t that those heartbreaks occurred — though each instance tragic in its own way — but that too often we allow them to overshadow the greatest era in franchise history. Your Dallas Mavericks have won 50 games in 10 straight seasons, and though that may not compare to the singular joy of winning an NBA title, it speaks to the brilliance, commitment, and savvy that has marked the last decade in Dallas.
Only three teams in the history of the NBA — the classic Celtics, the Showtime Lakers, and the Mavs’ eternal foils in San Antonio — can claim such an honor, and that means plenty. Professional sports teams of any kind rarely experience this kind of prolonged success, as it takes an all-too-rare combination of terrific talent, smart management, and the right circumstances. The former two are what have allowed the Mavs to be so good for so long, but let’s not forget the important of the latter, especially since the importance of chance seems to be today’s theme. Dirk Nowitzki is no doubt the figure most central to the Mavs’ success over the last ten years, and during that period he has never played fewer than 76 games. That’s a testament to Nowitzki always keeping himself in incredible shape, but also to a phenomenal string of good fortune. He’s had no freak injuries, no lingering problems, no significant surgeries. We’re not celebrating the Mavs’ incredible accomplishment without Dirk as a nightly fixture, and thanks to his record of pristine health.
As I mentioned, though, this is a situation where the overwhelmingly influential factor is performance. Performance over a sample size so large that luck is rendered irrelevant. Nowitzki has been surreal over these last ten years, and the way he’s championed the Mavs year after year is nothing short of remarkable. This is truly an all-time great that we have the privilege of watching night after night, and watching him go to work at the elbow or in the low post should be nothing short of breathtaking. If nothing else, understand this: there’s never been anyone like Nowitzki and I’m not sure there ever will be. You’d think that if the NBA were to extend until the end of time, eventually we’d see a player in the Dirk mold, and from a strictly mathematical standpoint I can’t disagree. But the unique combination of everything that makes Dirk Dirk is so odd that I can’t imagine ever seeing it again in my lifetime. There may be a seven-footer that shoots like Dirk. There may be a seven-footer that can score like Dirk. There will not be a player who can do what Dirk does with his size, with his gifts, with his fundamental understanding of the game.
Of course it’s not just that Nowitzki has been unique, but that he’s been spectacular. Only players of certain skill sets and ability can survive as the focal point of an offense without having their game “solved,” but Dirk is one of those players. He’s never had to do it all on his own, but the Mavs have operated through Nowitzki over the last ten years, and he, and the Mavs, have performed brilliantly.
That last sentence is incredibly important, though. Dallas has experienced quite a bit of turnover since 2000, just like any other team, but Dirk was never on his own. The difference is that the Mavs are blessed with the greatest owner in sports. Mark Cuban not only is willing to invest heavily in the team, but also in finding and maintaining good coaches and good managers. Even the worst Mavs coach over the last decade — take your pick between Don Nelson, Avery Johnson, and Rick Carlisle — was excellent, and though the tenures of both Don and Donnie Nelson as managers of the Mavs were hardly unblemished, they both managed to build a contending roster year after year. Sometimes that roster included Antoine Walker or Evan Eschmeyer. Happens even to the best of ‘em. The important thing is that mistakes were always identified and rectified, as Walker was flipped for Jason Terry and Eschmeyer included in a swap for Antawn Jamison. The Mavs’ managers have always made calculated risks, and more often than not they paid off. The results kinda speak for themselves.
The last ten years have been an incredible ride. I know today is the perfect day for a trip down memory lane, and I’ll be diving pretty heavily into the nostalgia myself. The situation definitely calls for it. Keep in mind, though, today, tomorrow, and every day until the end of the Nowitzki/Cuban era in Dallas: this, what we have right now, is very rare. Cherish it. Appreciate the fact that Mavs fans have never in the last 10 years been biding their time in April waiting for the draft lottery. Appreciate that even the most dismal of the last 10 seasons have begun with plenty of hope. Appreciate that for all the times the Mavs have revamped and retooled, they haven’t missed the playoffs and they haven’t missed that 50-win mark.
In the grand scheme of things, 50 is just a number. That it may be, but 50 is also a prompt; it may not mean much on its own, but as a reminder deeply embedded in context, it means everything. It means that even without the championship, the Mavericks have been one of the most successful franchises in the NBA over the last ten years. That golden validation would have brought something special to an era of Maverick basketball that rightfully deserves it, but even with an empty spot on the shelf where the Larry O’Brien should have been, 50 wins reminds us of the heart, the hard work, and the triumphs that have made the last decade so worthwhile.