Back in 2007, this photograph was both the pinnacle and nadir of Dirk Nowitzki's career.
Dirk Nowitzki's arrival in Dallas for the lockout shortened 1999 season was a tremendous blessing for Mavericks fans. Since 1991, the franchise had suffered miserable losing seasons and failed to make the playoffs. Within a couple of seasons, Nowitzki had lifted the club to the playoffs and started them on a journey of 11 straight 50-win seasons.
In the 2006 playoffs, Nowitzki's heroics had dethroned the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in a classic seven-game series. The Mavericks pummeled the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals and were off to the NBA Finals.
Although grabbing a 2-0 series lead, the Mavericks were defeated by the Miami Heat in six games. The Finals demise hit hard, but the Mavericks came back in 2007 stronger than ever. The team won 67 games during the regular season and were the favorites to capture the NBA title.
Nowitzki was summarily immortalized as the league's MVP.
So why the despondent look for Dirk as he's awarded his MVP trophy?
The 67-win Mavericks had been upset in the very first round of the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors. With only 42 wins, the Warriors had barely snagged the eighth and final playoff spot. Despite their seeding, they were the perfect opponent to challenge and defeat Dallas.
Following this premature ouster, Nowitzki was a bit distraught in a 2007 interview with Reuters:
"I still feel totally empty," Nowitzki, 28, said in Frankfurt, where he received a German Basketball Association award for outstanding achievement.
"But I hope the team stays together so that we can still achieve something in the future," he added...
"Once a few weeks go past, I think I'll then be able to see what an unbelievable season we had. It was a super year...until the playoffs."
For the next few seasons, Dallas continued its 50-win seasons, but title success eluded the franchise.
In the 2010-11 season Nowitzki's Mavericks had a stellar 57-win regular season, but not much was expected of them in the playoffs. Surprising the sports world, the Mavericks swept the defending champion Lakers in the second round of that postseason. They dispatched the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games during the Conference Finals.
In the NBA Finals, Nowitzki lead the Mavericks' six-game upset of the favored Miami Heat. Much was made of Nowitzki finally finding some sort of killer instinct or having a winner's mentality. In truth he was playing that season exactly as he'd always played. The difference was his teammates had found some cohesion and perfectly fit his style of play.
When the Mavericks won the title, Dirk secluded himself for a few moments to take in the glory of his accomplishment. It was also time to take measure of all his disheartening defeats. His post game press conference was the ramblings of a man who'd finally cast aside the shackles and burdens of his playoff demons.
And a joyous casting aside it was.