There’s a risk in inferring the Lessons of Life from the Lessons of Sports… yet the victory of the Dallas Mavericks over the Miami Heat offers too many opportunities to ignore.
Motivated by Failure
In 2006, Dirk Nowitzki and Dallas lost the NBA finals to Dwyane Wade and the Heat. Indeed, the Mavericks were up two games in that series…yet, ended up losing four straight, with Nowitzki missing a game-tying free throw with 3 seconds to play in one game and drop-kicking the ball into the stands. At the time, Wade called out Nowitzki as a poor leader and finisher…and a whiner. Five years later, Nowitzki has completely recast his image, playing in the clutch with a grotesquely-bent finger in one game, as well as a 101 degree fever in another. The European “softie” has been transformed into a “Champion.” Nowitzki is not the only example of this phoenix-like metamorphosis. Jason Kidd, a gifted veteran player who never has won a title either, quit on the New Jersey Nets in order to get himself traded to the Mavericks. Today, at 38 years old, he is the senior success story of the NBA.
Counting Your Chickens…
Last July, in a dazzling show of bravura and over-the-top showmanship, James, Wade and Bosh predicted a bushel-full of NBA titles. In Game 2 of this series, James and Wade celebrated in front of the Dallas bench with a 15-point lead in the 4th quarter. What’s a good word to describe these predictions and displays? “Premature” comes to mind. "Hubris" is another good one...
I’m not really a LeBron “hater.” However, he seems stunningly (not) self-aware at times. Before Game 5, in a coughing skit, he mugged for the camera along with Wade…in an apparent mockery of Nowitzki’s sinus infection. (Nowitzki denied this motivated him, yet he referred to the incident as “childish” and “ignorant”.) In the post-game press conference on Sunday, James didn’t help his image much with comments that dripped with disdain and defiance, “All the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today.” You wonder if James really means this? Privately, does he care what his critics say, or is he using his “haters” as a motivator?
There is no “I” in “Team”
Sorry for the trite sports cliche, but this is the big story line of the series. The Mavericks have just one elite player (Nowitzki), but a far deeper roster. James and Wade are both brilliant with the ball in their hands, but rarely showed an ability to be their best at the same time. History can be instructive to the Heat. Michael Jordan, with six championships to his credit, never won a ring before he was joined by Scottie Pippen, and a vastly underrated unit, behind him.
James has not been a strong finisher the last two seasons. (Understatement Alert!) In 2010, he disappeared in Game 5 against Boston. This year, he was an absolute non-factor during crunch time. Overall, the Heat was outscored by 36 points when James was on the floor, and they outscored the Mavs by 22 points when James was “riding the pine.” Interestingly, James is 1½ years younger than Nowitzki was in 2006, when he was given his NBA schooling. Of course, James has the size, strength and skills to turn it around and win the ring. The question seems to be if he can confront whatever issues seem to be standing in the way of his quest…and grow from this experience.
Congratulations to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks...a testament to great champions getting better with age!