LeBron Jamesâ€™ â€œDecisionâ€ put the NBA spotlight on South Beach, creating an undying, unmatched level of scrutiny.
Jamesâ€™ Heat were able to endure, though, entering the Finals as a team fueled by the unprecedented attention and given a chance to give the â€œKingâ€ his first ring.
But these NBA Finals will not be defined by James. Theyâ€™re all about Dirk Nowitzki.
With a spectacular postseason, Nowitzki has momentarily redefined the narrative of his career. Â For now, he is not being defined by playoff failure, but by his immense arsenal of offensive moves. Whether itâ€™s his patented one-legged fall-away or a Kevin McHale-esque up-and-under, itâ€™s all been golden for Dirk in the playoffs.
He has been truly sublime.
While it may not be evident given the increased attention, Dirk has been this good for a while. Heâ€™s been firing on all cylinders for a few seasons, but his improved supporting cast has put his spectacular play into a proper context.
For some, though, Dallasâ€™ systematic romp through the Western Conference has been revelatory. Instead of waiting for things to play out, our microwave society has rushed to play the comparison game.
As a result, since the Mavs beat Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals, Dirk has been compared to every single great white NBA player, from Larry Bird to Jack Sikma and his blonde permafro.
If Dallas fails to beat Miami, Nowitzkiâ€™s best historical comparisons will be cross-racial.
He will forever be linked to Karl Malone and Charles Barkley, two NBA titans who failed to win it all. A Finals victory, however, would cement his legacy and move him up the unofficial â€œlistâ€ of all-time greats.
For a player who could easily be burdened by the pressure, Dirk seems to be at ease with questions about his career.
“Well, you know,” Nowitzki said on Monday, “there’s been a lot made of what’s my legacy without it, with it. I’m not really worried about all that. I’m trying to be on the best team. I’m trying to win it for this organization and for the owner and for myself and for the team. That’s really all I’m worried about. I’m not worried about my legacy without the ring or with the ring. I’m living in the moment.”
The moment, whether Dirk cares to acknowledge it, is his NBA day of reckoning.
After all, in the NBA, it donâ€™t mean a thing if you ainâ€™t got that ring. And this more than likely will be his last shot.
United In Failure
The Mavericks are essentially a last-chance brigade. By NBA standards, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic are all â€œover-the-hill,â€ and each is still looking for his first championship.Â
It is somewhat fitting, then, that Dirk and his â€œlast-chance brigadeâ€ will meet the Heat, the same franchise that delivered his greatest NBA disappointment.
In 2006, with Nowitzki so close to hoisting the Larry Oâ€™Brien trophy, Dallas squandered a 2-0 Finals lead.Â The combination of Dwyane Wadeâ€™s scoring, Udonis Haslemâ€™s defense (and perhaps referee Bennett Salavatoreâ€™s whistle) overwhelmed Dallas and turned the tables.
Dirk, who had shot 48 percent from the field during the 2005-2006 season, was held to just 39 percent shooting.
This time, he will face a Heat team that has added LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
In many ways, Miami is Dallasâ€™ antithesis, a collection of stars that were hastily put together and has yet to experience postseason failure. Some have gone as far as calling the Heat too â€œHollywood.â€
Even with the self-induced pressure, Miami has proved that itâ€™s more substance than flash. Even though James is still ringless, he will be back in the Finals.
Dallasâ€™ future is less certain. This likely will be Dirkâ€™s last chance to win a championship and erase the memories from 2006.
Simply, heâ€™s got more to lose than Miamiâ€™s â€œBig Three.â€ No matter what the result is, these Finals will help to define Dirkâ€™s place in NBA lore.
His legacy hangs in the balance.