Apropos of nothing, here are four vignettes of your NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks, some borrowed (and modified), some original. They may or may not have anything to do with basketball.
X: THE END
It’s hard to think three moves ahead as the entire planet collapses, but against a landscape of fire and brimstone, Rick plotted. He had never been the best, but he was always very good, and very much committed to his craft. He didn’t play chess. He was a chess player. The difference is even more profound than it would be with many other hobbies or occupations, if only because Rick’s endless obsession with the game within the game within the game within the game had made chess anything but a game.
He was not alone in that obsession; Rick wasn’t the only chess player. But he was always very good, and very much committed to his craft.
That commitment never wavered, but his relative status eventually did. Rick had honed his chess playing with careful study, long hours, and perfect practice. And then, as can occasionally be the case in all things, he went on a run. Every pawn he touched turned to a knight, as his already impressive army somehow transformed into an embarrassment of versatile riches. Sometimes a man can do no wrong, and for whatever reason — some cosmic return on all of his hard work, or maybe just flat-out luck — Rick’s sometimes came at a moment most opportune. He was the best, last; no matter how he might stack up to the great strategists of his time or all times, Rick had the talent and fortune to be the best chess player on the planet as Earth’s countdown neared zero.
E6. Portland crumbled under the weight of pounds upon pounds of volcanic lava. Bb4. The entire state of California drifted into the ocean. Bc5. The American Heartland was ripped to shreds. Qh4. Florida sank.
This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but a checkmate.
Bee, my bee,
Your day and night
And your patience-industry
Have no respite.
Hard you endeavour
To bring the ball
To the hoop amidst the trees.
You always don
The robe of fruitful victory.
41: THE WINNING JOKE
It was his. After what seemed like an eternity, it was finally his. Dirk Nowitzki clutched the Larry O’Brien trophy in his hands. And against his chest. And rested it against his forehead. The cool metal offered relief to a weary warrior, though no more than simply holding that image of ultimate accomplishment ever could.
Dwyane Wade had put on a hell of a show, but it didn’t matter. This was Nowitzki’s day, and Nowitzki’s trophy. Doubt was no longer relevant; all of the trials and incredible comebacks were simply dramatic points leading up to the Finals’ ultimate conclusion. Nowitzki and the Mavs were NBA champions, even if they were crowned on the strength of a number of improbable victories. The Mavericks weren’t dominant, but they managed to stay alive. They milked their playoff lives for all they were worth, and took advantage of every point and every second and every step.
It was his. It was his champagne; Nowitzki didn’t drink during the season, but the taste of victory would dance on his tongue. It was his parade; the city of Dallas would scream his name as he floated by in exaltation. It was his moment; the criticism of his game wasn’t quite as intense as it had been earlier in his career, but there was nonetheless a satisfaction in silencing the endless questioning. It was his off-season in triumph; he was due an endless line of photo ops and high fives, and his phone would explode with texts from old friends. It was his trip to the White House; he and his teammates would head to D.C. to — fittingly — meet with a Texan president. It was his dream fulfilled; after all of these years, Dirk –
– found happiness…if only until he once again found consciousness. Nowitzki lay in bed, his eyes dried by the restless, blinkless hours. He wasn’t possessed by lost possessions, but driven to the very brink by the prize he had lost. Those summer months weren’t merely depressing, but tormented; Nowitzki lost himself in those sleepless nights, and lost what had tethered him to the world outside. All he had were the shadows on the cave walls of his mind, those visions of a remarkable victory, those false images of a title that was his. Nowitzki’s head was cocked to the side every so slightly, as he held the same twitching smile for hours upon end. He laughed. Slightly at first but then almost maniacally, as the little moisture left in those tortured eyes welled and then fell.
2011 couldn’t come fast enough.
2.31: A CLEAN, WELL LIGHTED PLACE
“No,” the player who was in a hurry said, rising from pulling down the metal shutters. He adjusted his headband, his armband, his six pairs of layered socks. “I have confidence. I am all confidence.”
“You have youth, confidence, and a job,” the older player said. “You have everything.”
“And what do you lack?”
“Everything but work.”
“You have everything I have.”
“No. I have never had confidence and I am not young.”
“Come on. Stop talking nonsense and lock up.”
“I am of those who like to stay late at the gym,” the older player said. “With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those who need a light for the night.”
“I want to go home and into bed.”
“We are of two different kinds,” the older player said. He was now dressed to go home. “It is not only a question of youth and confidence although those things are very beautiful. Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the gym.”
“Hombre, there are bodegas open all night long.”
“You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant court. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.”
“Good night,” said the younger player.
“Good night,” the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself, It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada…
He smiled and stood at the free throw line.
“What are you working on?” asked a different player shooting at a different basket in a different gym than before.
“Otro loco mas,” said the player and turned away.
“Just a few more shots,” said the old player.
He took them.
“The light is very bright and pleasant but the floor is unpolished,” the old player said.
The other player looked at him but did not answer. It was too late at night for conversation.
“You gonna hang around?” the player asked.
“No, thank you,” said the old player and went out. He disliked gyms such as those. A clean, well-lighted court was a very different thing. Now, without thinking further, he would go home to his room. He would lie in the bed and finally, with daylight, he would go to sleep. After all, he said to himself, it’s probably only insomnia. Many must have it.
Following the Dallas Mavericks has been an insane ride over these last few weeks, and really, over this entire season. Maybe I’m just a loon swayed too easily by the validation of a title, but I see narrative intrigue in Dallas’ regular season that most of us had a hard time discerning as the events unfolded in real time. There’s a story there. There are likable characters, an interesting plot line, and for those on this side of the tracks, a happily ever after in which legacies were re-written and all of that rigmarole.
But I’m thrilled to announce that although many will surely attempt to capture that story in print, one of the many will be yours truly:
You can now purchase my first book, a retrospective look at the Mavericks’ incredible run through the regular season, the playoffs, and those amazing NBA Finals. It’s admittedly not a heavy read; there’s a lot of beautiful, glossy photo work filling the pages, pairing my imagery with, y’know, actual images. But it’s still a journey well with your time, and I hope, your hard-earned dollar. The book should be coming into Barnes and Noble and other select stores by week’s end, particularly for those in the Dallas area. Otherwise, consider buying the book online and reliving Dallas’ run from start to glorious finish.
UPDATE: You can also purchase the book through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, both of which should help out international buyers who hit snags with Triumph’s shipping options.
Dirk Nowitzki will never hear the end of the question. In the ensuing days, weeks, months, and even years, he’ll be posed the same inquiry over and over, so many times that his answer will grow repetitive but never robotic. The very thought will always invoke the same emotion he felt on this night, this perfect June evening in Miami, when the work and the effort and the torment and the perseverance all manifested itself into something undeniably beautiful.
“Dirk, what does it feel like to finally win an NBA title?“
Over at ProBasketballTalk, I wrote a piece on Dirk’s moment, and the empathy of sports fans.
Apologies for how barren this space has been today — that will be remedied soon. The Mavs deserve better, but there’s a decent reason for the silence, I assure you. Stay frosty.