“Who is the greater evil, Starchilde… I, the devourer of life that has run its course… or you, who denies existence to generations of the future?” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
I went to the library a few days ago. A little bit of a confession: I went to find a book on sports writing, preferably something that could teach me how to better use stats in my weekly column. I’m not really a “stats guy.” I could tell you that the Mavs were out-rebounded last night, 62-43, and I know that’s bad. That is bad, right? Kidding. I can handle the most basic box score stats. However, once the numbers start flying, calculating efficiency ratings over a ten-game spread for when so-and-so is only playing 20 minutes or less, I get confused. For the benefit of The Two Man Game reader, you have other well-qualified contributors on that masthead. For my Tuesday column, you’ll get something a little more of whatever it is that I bring to the table — wild predictions and haphazard insight into a player’s psyche? (Side note to my side note: I have created “The Galactus Bump.” Whenever I write about a player, the next week, they play better. I offer Dominique Jones as exhibit A.)
So, I’m at the library. I couldn’t find a magical “understanding stats” book. I’m sure it exists. Share your suggestions in the comments section. However, I did find this gem called The Encyclopedia of Pro Basketball Team Histories, written by Peter C. Bjarkman, Ph.D. (who refers to himself as “Doctor Basketball”), which was published in 1994. In this book, Doctor Basketball devotes a chapter to each NBA team and explains why they are terrible, except the Celtics and Lakers. Then, he includes an epilogue on a dozen of basketball’s greatest heroes. I like how he refers to Magic Johnson as “Magic” Johnson. And he must remind readers that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is also known as Lew Alcindor. Because apparently, most people remember him as Lew?
I skipped all the other chapters to the one about the Mavs (page 387). Oh, how things have changed in Dallas. With Thanksgiving two days away, find this book, read this chapter and give thanks that Doctor Basketball did not write the final chapter on the Dallas Mavericks. I’d like to share a few of my favorite moments from this dreadful accounting.
* The chapter is titled “Some teams can’t even lose successfully.”
Okay, Doctor Basketball, I see what you did there. Burn.
* Greatest Franchise Player: Rolando Blackman (1981-1992)
This is true. Until the arrival of Dirk Nowitzki, Blackman was our greatest franchise player. Now, I don’t want to disparage Blackman or his contributions to the Mavs, but that’s not necessarily a ringing endorsement. It’s especially odd when you consider that he may not have even been the best player on the team at that time (Hello, Mark Aguirre). Or even the most talented with the most potential (Hello, Roy Tarpley).
So, how does that work? It does. It really does. That may be a column for another time. In the end, Blackman was a tremendous player. His shot selection was impeccable and smooth. Blackman gave a lot to make the Mavs great, and he had great teammates around him. But he always came across as a little nerdy, more soft jazz than funk, more lay up than slam dunk. He seemed to fit an NBA of short shorts and tightly tucked in team jerseys. Face of the franchise. Then along came Dirk Nowitzki. Blackman was a four-time all-star. Nowitzki is an 11-time all-star. Not that Blackman wasn’t great; he definitely deserved to have his number retired, but Nowitzki’s career is better-suited for the legacy of “greatest franchise player.” Be thankful.
* Seasons from hell, 1993 and 1994
Doctor Basketball spends an awful lot of time writing about the “hapless Mavs” during these two seasons. He offered some insight I wasn’t aware of. Reading about Coach Adubato and Coach Buckner made me thankful for Coach Carlisle. Also, I didn’t realize just how much of a jerk Jim Jackson was. Jackson, during his rookie season, pulled a Kiki Vandeweghe and decided to impose a self-exile from the team. On page 388:
“But things got off to an immediately bad start in and around Dallas Reunion Arena when Jackson and his agent selected to remain on the sidelines rather than accept the contract Dallas had offered.”
Thanks. Be thankful that under the watchful eyes of Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson the Mavs will never again be as terrible as 1993 and 1994. I just don’t think it’s physically, theoretically, or mathematically possible.
* Credit where credit is due.
On page 390, Doctor Basketball writes:
“The Dallas Mavericks were of course not always such bumbling losers. In fact, the opposite was once the case. It has been little more than a decade, in fact, since the Dallas team stood proud as the league’s model expansion franchise.”
Thank you for acknowledging just how impressive the 1980s Mavs were. If not for a certain Lakers team, stocked full with Hall of Famers, the Mavs might have even won an NBA championship or two.
* Best Trade in Franchise history: James Donaldson
Yes, James Donaldson is probably still the best center to ever play for the Mavs for an extended period of time. If Tyson Chandler had stuck around for more than one season, I’d be more comfortable giving the honor to him. Heck, if Chris Kaman stays for a while, he might take that distinction from Donaldson. However, considering that Dallas got Donaldson via trade in exchange for Kurt Nimphius (Who?), that is a darn good trade. It’s like when I offer trades in my Fantasy Basketball League (“I’ll take Marc Gasol for Javale McGee?”) to test the intelligence of my peers. Sometimes, they bite.
* Worst Trade in Franchise History: Losing Mark Price
The Mavs gave away an All-Star point guard for a second round draft pick. Lovely. According to Doctor Basketball:
“…now considered by many as the premier point guard in the entire league.”
Really? You do realize John Stockton was playing during this time? And Isiah Thomas too? And Gary Payton, Tim Hardaway, Penny Hardaway, and Jason Kidd? You’re the doctor, I guess. “Mark Price was the premier point guard in the entire league.” Price was a member of Larry Byrd’s 50-40-90 Club. Hey, I know what that is. Maybe I’m not too terrible at stats?
There are more treasures in this book, but I have future unwritten columns. I don’t want to give everything away. Let’s just be thankful that Doctor Basketball isn’t the final authority on the Mavs.
David Hopkins is a freelance writer — a regular contributor to D Magazine and Smart Pop Books. He is still mad at Mellow Mushroom for changing the channel while he was watching last night’s game. Follow David on Twitter at @davidhopkins.