Chapter 3: One Team’s Trash…
It all dates back to the Old Testament in Genesis Chapter 29. Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham and father to 12 sons who would be known as the 12 tribes of Israel, was the first to be taken in by the sort of hardball that NBA general managers practice today.
In short, as a young man, Jacob wanted to marry Rachel. Rachel’s father Laban was cool with this and said that if Jacob toiled for him for seven years that Rachel would be his. Jacob did this, but was duped at the wedding when, instead of Rachel, he had to first marry Leah, the older and (one might wonder) less attractive sister.
Jacob then toiled for Laban seven more years so he could also procure Rachel, his original choice.
So, we learn from Laban (an early-day Jerry West here) that to net a Rachel, you must also bag a Leah. Or, in basketball terms, to get a Carmelo you must also get a Renaldo. And, if what we’re hearing out of the Orlando Magic camp is true, if you want a Howard, you must take a Hedo.
So it was on February 14, 2010 that the Dallas Mavericks made a trade that netted them Caron Butler, the scoring wingman they craved, and Brendan Haywood, a veteran center they needed, to make a run at their first NBA title. They also got another guy.
Entering into the 2011-12 season, much was put at the feet of Butler and Haywood. Butler, with a better understanding of the offense after his half season prior, was expected to give the offense an extra dimension next to Dirk and Terry.
Haywood was expected to clog up the middle and let everyone forget the (illustrious?) days of Eric Dampier. The other guy was supposed to sit on the end of the bench and ride out the last year of his contract.
Starting off in 2011, everything was a mixed bag. Butler was flourishing, Haywood floundering. The team in general was finding their way, but little indicated the title run that would ensue.
Then, in January, Butler clutched his knee, falling to the floor at a game in Milwaukee, and word quickly came back—partial tear in the patellar tendon. Butler’s season, and possibly the Mavs' title hopes, were done.
The Dallas Mavericks did not want Deshawn Stevenson. I don’t actually have this on record from Mark, Donnie and Rick but, trust me—the Mavs did not want Deshawn Stevenson. He was the Leah, the Renaldo, the Hedo who the Mavs had to take in order to get both Butler and Haywood.
However, unlike some high schoolers who quickly fade under the pressure of the big time, Stevenson stayed with it. He became a key player for both the Orlando Magic and the Washington Wizards.
It’s no doubt a bummer for any young kid who grew up the top scorer for every team he ever played for to find out that in the NBA he would no longer have that role. DeShawn was good off the bounce, but not great. He could shoot alright, but not great.
What DeShawn found to be his bread and butter in the big leagues was as a defender. DeShawn could lock you down, and he seemed to derive a good bit of joy from doing it.
Injuries curbed his game in Washington, and he found himself on the outside looking in. As his star faded and injuries continued to drag him down, the Wizards were happy to unload him to the Mavericks.
And, of course, the story could have ended here with Stevenson riding the bench and his contract out with the Mavericks and then floating off to the D League or Europe or China.
But the strangest thing happened. As Butler was sidelined and Haywood was lost, it was Stevenson who became the key player from that trade.
As the starting 2-guard, he played hellacious defense. He did all the little things. He even hit the open three-ball when the opportunity arrived. And he was a key player as the Mavs tore through the Western Conference playoffs.
However, like the rest of the team, squaring off against the Miami Heat in the finals would be his undoing. His grit would be shown up by their athleticism, his anonymity by their star power.
But when a player is unwanted and his career is deemed over, one is not easily cowed.
And maybe it was this sense of being unwanted that led to his devil-may-care attitude that led him to shove Udonis Haslem (Dirk’s nemesis in the finals of ’06) as they walked toward the bench after a Heat run that led to a timeout in Game 6 in Miami.
I was sitting many miles away in New York, in sheer disbelief.
“Don’t poke the bear,” I pleaded.
“Don’t poke the bear.”
But Stevenson did. And both teams came to each player’s defense.
Stevenson took to shoving Mario Chalmers as well. And Tyson Chandler tried to play peacemaker. And Chris Bosh tried to play peacemaker. And the fans in Miami were in a tizzy.
The bear had been poked. Miami was awoken and ready to claim their rightful crown.
But they didn’t. DeShawn knew he had them. The Mavericks knew they had them. The Miami Heat, quite possibly, knew they were had.
Most importantly, the Mavs knew who they had. They had a Leah who was helping lead them to their first NBA title.
Stevenson spent the entire season and the entire series glaring, talking, intimidating and, yes, shoving. He proved, to one and all, that whether or not you want him, you need him.
Stevenson, no doubt, was as happy as anyone when that championship trophy was lifted.
After all, he was supposed to be in the D League by now… or Europe… or China… or…