Shortly after the Dallas Mavericks won the 2011 NBA Championship against the Miami Heat, a Twitter message came to Mavs owner Mark Cuban, one that came from a city that LeBron James was all too familiar with: Cleveland, Ohio.
It came from Cleveland Cavaliers owner and sour-grapes extraordinaire, Dan Gilbert, who congratulated Mark Cuban and the Mavs for their improbable title run while also taking one final swipe at his once beloved cash cow. "Congrats to Mark C.& entire Mavs org.," the Cavs owner said. "Mavs NEVER stopped & now entire franchise gets rings. Old Lesson for all: There are NO SHORTCUTS. NONE." You stay classy, Mr. Gilbert.
Knock Gilbert all you want for still harboring resentment against James like a scorned girl 11 months after their break-up, but the Cavs owner did have some words that ring through for anyone that thinks that the highway to success doesn’t come with a few congestions.
There are NO SHORTCUTS
In a lot of ways, this Dallas Mavericks team served as the antithesis for the young and high-flying Miami Heat. They have one superstar that’s as unassuming as you can possibly get with a game that doesn’t fill YouTube the same way it does stat sheets. No flash at all; just a constant array of ridiculous spin moves, up-and-unders, and one-legged-step-backs. They also have with a cast of veterans that have had far too many heartbreaks of their own. The Mavs have traveled that empty road of failure so many times they practically had E-Passes on the toll booth.
Collectively, it all added to a team that understood how fleeting these chances get and when the next – and possibly, final – opportunity came, they would take advantage of it.
Contrast that to the Miami Heat, a team that thought that “taking their talents to South Beach” was the quick-mix recipe to success, an instant antidote to their past failures. But in a lot of people’s eyes, it felt like a shortcut to the title, a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
But basketball, especially on the highest level, doesn’t work out that way. Nothing is pre-ordained until the final buzzer sounds. If that were the case, the Heat should have hoisted the NBA Championship back in July when they had their pre-season ‘championship celebration.’ You can do all your chest-bumping, dog-shouting, and bold proclamations all you want, but at the end of the day, you still needed to play basketball.
The Dallas Mavericks played basketball and they played it the right way. Like a team that has learned from past mistakes and determined to right the wrongs of their previous shortcomings, the Mavs played to the strengths of their team and refused to crumble under all the pressure.
You hear people gush about all the crazy and indecipherable Nowitzki-led comebacks the Mavericks have made this post-season but at the same time, cast a weary eye at the thought they didn’t have enough of those left when the Finals started. Well, Games 2, 3, and 5 happened, showing everybody that this team just might have the wherewithal to finally exorcise their past demons.
On the other hand, outside of Dwyane Wade and to a lesser extent, Udonis Haslem, and to an even lesser extent, Eddie House, nobody on the Heat roster seemed to understand the gravity of the situation. LeBron James, for all his greatness, played like he was scared of the stage and the implications surrounding it. Chris Bosh was consistent at being inconsistent. Erik Spoelstra made adjustments two games too late, and the rest of the Heat players just seemed like they were happy to be there.
Make no mistake though, the Miami Heat’s time will come. They’re too talented and too young to not win multiple championships. But where their youth plays a great advantage in the future, it got shellacked by the experience and fortitude of these tried-and-tested Mavericks.
Hard as it is for the Heat to deal with this blow and the subsequent maelstrom of scrutiny that will follow, this will serve them well the same way it did for Dirk and Jet in 2006, for J-Kidd in 2002 and 2003, and for the rest of the Mavericks that have paid their play-off dues in the past.
No matter how talented an individual is or how celebrated they are for joining forces, the Big 3 and the rest of the Heat now understand that the biggest advantage the Mavs had this Finals all along wasn’t Dirk Nowitzki or Jason Terry. It was the collective experiences of this Mavs team that was born out of years' worth of coming up short.
This Mavericks team didn’t take shortcuts. It was never easy and it was littered with past embarrassments and shortcomings, but they paid their dues and they earned themselves the right to be called champions.
The Miami Heat will learn from this. We haven’t seen the last of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James throwing down alley-oops in the Finals. They will win their championships in the future. But for now, they must live with the life lesson that, of all people, the scornfully bitter Dan Gilbert, reminded all of us:
There are no shortcuts.