Let me begin by saying that I am a Sacramento Kings fan.
Back in the day when the Kings were actually relevant in the NBA, I remember watching them battle a young Dallas Mavericks team featuring an up-and-coming point guard named Steve Nash and an inexperienced shooter with a deadly jumper named Dirk Nowitzki.
The Kings were better than the Mavericks in these days, but not by much. Mike Bibby was just a little better than Nash, and Sacramento was able to throw just the right combination of defenders at Dirk to slow him down.
Sacramento may have won these long-ago battles, but the war belongs to the Mavs, and it has for years.
As the Kings have faded into obscurity, out of contention and away from the hearts and minds of NBA fans, the Dallas Mavericks have been the rarest of commodities among NBA franchises. They have been incredibly, relentlessly, consistently competitive.
And I have to give it up to them. They have been able to do what no other franchise in the NBA can claim. They have not rebuilt, they have reloaded. For 11 years now, Dallas has been home to a consistently high level of basketball.
Not even the Lakers, with their championships and dynasties and incredible postseason success, can claim this.
The 2011 postseason has been the end of an era in many ways. Kobe and the Lakers faltered at the finish line for the first time in years. Kevin Garnett and the Celtics showed their age and the mileage on their bodies, as did the Spurs and Tim Duncan.
But the Mavs have rolled right along. With a roster that is every bit as old as L.A., San Antonio and Boston, the Mavericks have triumphed. For some reason, age does not hinder Dallas the way it does other teams. It has become their advantage.
With all of the Lakers success in the Kobe era, it is easy to forget that they missed the playoffs in 2005. They rebuilt after trading Shaq, and although the rebuilding process was a quick one, it left them out of the postseason nonetheless.
Tim Duncan and the Spurs are really the only contemporaries to Dirk and the Mavs in the last decade, but their run is clearly over. Dallas is as competitive as ever, if not more so.
Because Dallas has not won a title during their run, people will be quick to judge them as failures and choke artists. I see the exact opposite side of this argument. I believe that their consistency and year-in/year-out competitiveness trumps everything else.
The fact that they have maintained their high level of play during periods of roster turnover and nation-wide doubt only makes their achievements more impressive.
Some Dallas fans have surely been disappointed by the team in recent years. They must have been disappointed as they were getting beaten by the Miami Heat in 2006, and as they were getting run off the floor by the Golden State Warriors the following year.
But these are low points that are bound to come during a decade-plus run of greatness. And really, neither is actually that low.
In 2006, they were two games away from winning a championship.
In 2007, they had the best record in the NBA, and were among the favorites to win a title, or at least return to the finals.
Not bad either.
In both cases, the Mavs were legitimate contenders. Not many franchises can say that in any season, let alone for as many years as Dallas has.
If a team makes the playoffs every year for 11 straight years, it is inevitable that in one or two of these years they will face a team who is simply a terrible matchup for them (as the Warriors were), or that they will come across the path of some of the greatest players in NBA history (as they did with Wade and Shaq).
Call the Mavs unlucky. Say that they have, at times, faced teams greater than themselves. Maybe even say they've choked a little at times. Just don’t call them disappointing. There is nothing disappointing about 10 straight playoff appearances. Disappointing is watching your owners go broke and drive your favorite franchise into the ground as a result.
To be totally honest, I used to hate the Mavericks. I used to look at their outspoken owner and their finesse-y franchise player and level the same criticisms against them that most critics will.
But for the last four or five years I have watched the franchise I love fall apart. This has made me realize how temperamental greatness can be. Relevance today is by no means an assurance of relevance tomorrow.
I used to hate Mark Cuban for the way he stood up, yelled at the refs and wore his emotions on his sleeve. Now I am refreshed to see an owner who has not only kept his franchise competitive and ahead of the curve, but has managed to do so without embarrassing himself and his city. Unlike some owners.
Maybe this is the year that Dallas wins a title. Maybe it isn't. Either way, one thing should be clear to all those who follow professional basketball: The Mavericks are officially one of the NBA’s signature franchises. Or they should be. They are an example of how a team should be run, and of how adversity should be handled.
Ring or no ring, 2011 is a success for the Mavericks, just as the last decade has been a success.