Saturday, February 10, 2007

Still Not Happy

Dwyane Wade's comments about Dirk the other day have stirred up old feelings for me –– it astonished me that I can still feel anger about the hurt that Wade put on the Mavericks in the Finals last year.

On another blog of mine, I wrote up a bit of a rant that you can read here

I shouldn't bring this up, but I will since Wade publicly called Dirk's "leadership" (apparently interpreted as "ability to win") into question. Here's something I wrote, out of frustration, to my brother last summer:
I know once it's over you're supposed to admit that the best team won, and I know the Mavericks should have been able to pull off a victory in game 6 at home if they were really going to deserve the championship. But the more I think about it, I'm pretty sure that's a bunch of crap. Every time I think about game 5 (which has been a lot –– sadly, it kept me awake last night), I just get angrier and angrier.

Here's the thing. With some endings, you can talk about what might have been. You can say, "oh, maybe if the refs hadn't given Wade so many calls in game 3, they never would have pulled off the comback, or maybe if they hadn't called the totally bogus foul against Dirk which put Wade on the line near the end of game six (where it looked like the only contact was Wade throwing his elbow into Dirk's gut), then *maybe* those games would have turned out differently." I'm willing to admit that's a lousy attitude toward things –– they just happened like they did, and what might have been is useless and kind of pathetic.

But that's just what's not true with game 5: it most decidedly was *not* about what might have been. Dirk actually hit his game-winner, and Wade actually missed his. That's it –– the game should have been over, right there. Wade simply blew it on the last play; he almost got a foul called on himself by shoving Terry, then he drove off balance through the lane, and threw up a bad shot and missed. (I think there's pretty broad agreement out there that it was an atrocious call.) There were three Mavs in the lane, waiting for the rebound with 2 seconds. Game over, say that Wade didn't quite have what it took, or that the Mavs managed a defensive stop, or whatever.

That's what actually *happened*. Sure, he hit the 2 free throws they gave him, but the Mavs aren't allowed to guard those. It was a gift, not a play. When Dirk did have a say at the end of that game, he came up with a huge assist and a huge jumper. But as for the final outcome, the Mavs had no say at all. They won the game, and then the refs gave Wade the chace to take it away, for free. You can't deny the psychological impact that has on teams; I don't see the Heat winning game 6 if they lose game 5. At the very least there would be a game 7 in Dallas tonight. Personally, I think the team that won game 5 was almost guaranteed to win the series.

As well as Wade played, I refuse to say that he consistently came up big, while Dirk choked. In game 5 when it really mattered, it was Dirk who hit the big shot, where Dwyane missed. It's public record; we all watched it. That whistle doesn't blow, Mavs win.

It's just a travesty.

Now, looking back with some perspective, I need to admit something. Wade was amazing in last year's finals. I mean, here's a guy playing on a team that's totally outmatched, down two games to none, and then he just takes over the series. He scored 28 and 23 in the two Heat losses, and then he went for 42, 36, 43, and 36 in their four wins. Dirk's high for the series was 30.

I want to say, though, that as far as leadership goes, I don't like Wade's contention that Dirk's a bad leader because he played poorly (at least when compared with Wade, who put in one of the finest finals performances we'll see) and his team lost. In my opinion, if you want to know what kind of a leader Dirk is, you should watch him this season. He's responded by working incredibly hard and becoming an even better player than he was last season. In fact, in the 8 years following his rookie season, Dirk has improved in 7 of them. This year is only the second time he has failed to increase his scoring average, but overall he's playing the best ball of his career, shooting nearly 50% and finally starting to hit game-winners like he did against Phoenix on December 28.

I really wish he were cold-blooded like a Kobe or a Chauncey, but Mavericks fans should feel fortunate to have what he is instead: an incredibly talented, incredibly driven star who refuses to remain content with what he's done in the past, and who constantly works to improve his game (and his team) regardless of whether people respect him.

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