The National Basketball Association started last season with The Decision and ended with vindication.
The Los Angeles Lakers were chasing history by pursuing another title and the Miami Heat were partying on South Beach even before the season started, but it was the Dallas Mavericks who came in and stole the show in 2010-2011.
Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks overcame years of playoff failures to capture their first ever NBA championship by upsetting the Heat in six games.
The Heat had a constellation of stars surrounded by unprecedented hype, but the Mavericks team of 30-somethings led by Germany’s Nowitzki got their revenge in the NBA finals.
“He made us raise our game to another level. That’s when you have a superstar,” the Mavericks Jason Terry said of the 32-year-old Nowitzki.
In 2006, the same teams met in the NBA finals with the Heat coming out on top. Nowitzki came under heavy criticism after the Mavericks blew a 2-0 series lead and lost in six games.
This time, Nowitzki had to convince his teammates things would be different. He did this by engineering one of the gutsiest performances in NBA finals history.
The Heat cruised to an eight point win in Game 1, but Dallas rallied to win Game 2 by just two points as Nowitzki led the Mavericks to victory with a torn tendon in his left hand.
Dallas lost Game 3 at home, but rebounded to beat the Heat in Game 4 with Nowitzki, still playing with a bandaged left hand, leading the way with 21 points despite fighting a 38?C fever.
Nowitzki scored 29 points in a Game 5 victory, then combined with Terry to score 48 points in the clincher as Dallas earned their first NBA championship with a 105-95 victory.
“Tonight we got vindication,” Terry said.
Miami’s season was a roller-coaster ride from the beginning. James’ controversial one-hour special on US sports cable network ESPN, called The Decision, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, making the Heat one of the most scrutinized and reviled teams in history.
The parade down South Beach had started and the Heat had not even won a game.
After bringing in free agents James and Chris Bosh to play alongside Dwyane Wade and form a trio of superstars, they started the season with just nine wins and eight losses.
Many anointed them NBA champs before the season began and when the Heat later won 21 of 22 it looked like the mighty juggernaut was steaming right along.
While they made the playoffs look easy they also caught a couple of breaks. The Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose looked like anything but the league MVP in the semi-finals and Miami caught another break in the quarter-finals when the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo dislocated his elbow in Game 3.
Dallas also ended the storied coaching career of Phil Jackson by sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in four straight in the quarter-finals.
“I don’t think I have seen a team play at that level,” Jackson said after the Mavericks beat his Lakers by 36 points in the final game.
The two-time defending champs had their core of players such as Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Paul Gasol, but the Lakers slipped out of top spot in the conference for the first time in four years.
Bryant won the MVP of the All-Star game, but hardly anyone remembers. The most enduring moment of the contest was Clippers’ rising star and league Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin leaping over a car to jam the ball home during the slam-dunk competition.