Tonight the Dallas Mavericks will return to Miami for the first time since they bathed Club LIV in champagne. Much has changed since last June, but the American Airlines Arena will always be something of a second home to these Mavs—an enemy territory made comfortable in triumph, and remembered fondly for victorious portraits, cherished moments and a stolen throne.
The Mavericks may no longer be the league's best team, just as they likely won't win in their nationally televised rematch against the foe they bested for the NBA title.
But somewhere within that arena are tiny bits of confetti that can never be fully swept away. They could bleach the hardwood, but it would still have the sweat and tears of those exultant Mavericks deep in the grain.
The juxtaposition of these teams and this setting will always bear certain memories. For Dirk Nowitzki, it may hold a flashback of that final, powerful moment—one so strong that he hurdled the scorer's table and bounded down the arena's halls to find a single quiet corner following the Mavs' Game 6 victory.
For LeBron James, it may hold a daydream of what could have been had things proceeded closer to the script and had his series not taken a turn for the inexplicable.
But for Jason Terry, it's all golden—from the constitution of that long-coveted trophy to the Nostradamic tattoo that blessed his invaluable shooting arm.
All the way down to, apparently, the pair of custom gold kicks that Terry hasn't worn since opening night of this season. Those shoes are set to make a repeat appearance tonight, per Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com, because Terry is forever in character.
The hardwood floor is a stage on which he must perform, but JET goes through more effort to enhance his act than any other player in the league. He's a walking, talking—always, always talking—hype machine, equipped to rally fans, jeer opponents and whip an arena of both friends and enemies into a frenzy.
Terry simply has no regard for the NBA's fourth wall. He treats every game as a completely interactive experience, and in that approach, he's carved out a special place for himself as player turned provocateur.
Terry seems to cherish being loved in Dallas almost as much as he adores being reviled elsewhere, but his showmanship is always balanced carefully with legitimate production. Though it's doubtful that JET appropriates his chatter relative to his performance, he has the benefit of making exactly the kind of plays that silence his most vocal critics.
He creates effectively for himself off the dribble. He hits pull-up jumpers emblematic of transcendent guards past. He has a well-earned reputation for producing at the end of games.
Terry's efficiency and approach somehow embody both the push toward per-possession maximization and the fetishization of an old school mentality. He's perfectly in line with the breed of isolation-empowered guards that ruled the previous era of basketball analysis (and still informs the perspective of the casual fan to this very day), but Terry also stands out as one of the most efficient mid-to-high-usage shooters of his era.
JET certainly has his nights where he overshoots his welcome, but in total he's been precisely the kind of shot creator and motivator the Mavericks have needed.
Terry may well be Dallas' megaphone, but he also acts as the team's emotional dynamo. The Mavericks' leadership is operated by committee, and though Nowitzki may lead by example and Jason Kidd by experience, Terry's brashness has its value within the franchise's greater restraint.
After all, it took a certain brashness to steal two games at STAPLES Center from the Lakers en route to an eventual sweep, to drop the favored Thunder and keep the title window open, and to topple the Heat in highly improbable fashion.
Even if the other Mavs don't operate at the same volume as Terry, they willingly embrace the boldness of his personality. They're so entrenched in that JET-fueled confidence at this point that they use every bit of perceived disrespect to strengthen the bunker they've built for themselves.
Each of those crowned Mavericks have worn their golden shoes in one way or another—some as proudly and defiantly as JET and some in ways far more understated but no less telling. That confidence, that arrogance, that audacity—it's altogether as fundamental to the franchise's identity as Nowitzki's unstoppable fadeaway, Donnie Nelson's quiet machinations or Rick Carlisle's persistent tinkering.
It's the competitive fire that fuels a well-structured machine, and although some might find its frequent manifestations distasteful, Terry has effectively served as a living refrain of all that Dallas has ever hoped to accomplish.
He yaps, he shoots, and he spreads his wings, but behind both Terry the showman and Terry the player is a cornerstone of the culture that made the Mavericks champions.