Come May, I'm usually rooting for the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And I'm usually rooting against the Dallas Mavericks.
You see, I have a logical bias—as a hockey fan, and given the fact that the Stars and the Mavs share the American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas, I've always wanted Mark Cuban's team to be eliminated early or miss the postseason entirely.
Because the basketball floor messes up the quality of the ice below it. We have enough heat and humidity here in Big D—we doesn't need anything else to gum up the playing surface of our beloved Stars.
Of course, that was before the Stars developed a habit of hitting a first-round wall and bowing out of the playoffs early. Last year, I could root for the Mavs as they kicked ass all the way to the NBA Finals and went up 2-0 against the Miami Heat—then collapsed just as the idiots down at Dallas City Hall started talking about victory parades.
The Heat won four straight games and the NBA Title. Dallas was the better team, and still managed to lose.
Way to choke, Mavs.
Fast forward to November 2006, when the Mavs lost four straight to start the season. Rumor was they were trying out some high-school talent while the real team took an extended vacation. Maybe Dirk and the boys were still getting rested after their burnout in the '06 playoffs.
In any event, the Mavericks ultimately turned things around and ripped off a historic run, inching within striking distance of 70 wins. Dirk was looking to be the league's runaway MVP, and I even speculated that the Mavs were just playing with their food when they allowed teams to keep games close...only to squash them like bugs in the fourth quarter.
And then coach Avery Johnson made a huge mistake: He let the team slide in the run-up to the playoffs. The Mavs lost a few games, and seemed to lose the finely-honed edge that had made them so successful.
In plain terms: They started slacking. And that meant trouble when they met the Golden State Warriors.
First there was the ongoing tiff between Cuban and Warriors coach Don Nelson. Apparently Cuban still owes Nelson money, and is being a tightwad with a few hundred grand.
The mess has gone to arbitration—but here's a question: Why drag it out after everything Nelson did for the Mavericks? And more to the point: Why give the Warriors' new coach any more incentive against his old team?
Then there was the fact that Golden State beat Dallas in each of their three meetings this season. Excuses be damned—I don't care if it was those underdeveloped high-schoolers impersonating the team in November, or if someone was out with a chipped nail, or had a hangover...the season series went to the Warriors 3-0.
Way to choke, Mavs.
Fast forward again to the first round of the playoffs, when talk of the Mavs being a foregone conclusion to represent the West in the NBA Finals was suddenly overshadowed by questions about their being able to beat a .500 team. Not that Nellie was having it—he told anyone who would listen that he was leading "a bunch of schmoes" against a team that shouldn't have any problem beating them.
We military types call that PsyOps—Psychological Operations, warfare that messes with the enemy's head. What the Warriors lacked in talent, their coach more than made up for in savvy.
The result speaks for itself. To quote Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights: "I didn't know you had experimental surgery to have your balls removed."
The Dallas Mavericks—the pre-anointed 2006 NBA Champions...uh, wait, cancel that parade—have now made history by becoming the first team to get their asses handed to them by an eight-seed in a seven-game series.
And let's be honest: They got more than their ass handed to them...they got Rosie O'Donnell's butt brought in via dumptruck.
Maybe the Mavs will use the next six months to learn that the worst thing you can do is beat yourself. In any event, with Nellie in their heads and the regular-season title hype all but a memory, the Dallas Mavericks now have a special place in Webster's English Dictionary.
Just look under the definition of the word "choke."
Somebody please 'splain that to me.