Sunday, March 25, 2007

Staring into the Void

Going to the Mavericks–Celtics game Friday night at the Banknorth Garden (how badly do I wish the Celtics still played at the original Garden?), it was interesting to see someone wearing a Celtics Jersey with “Durant” on the back. It really showed how sad things have gotten for Boston, that the best thing for Celtics fans to get excited about is losing games so they can get a top draft pick for the future.

It also highlights something remarkable about this year’s Mavericks: not only are they not thinking about future draft picks, but when the whole lineup is healthy, it’s difficult to even point to a place where they would want to improve. Sure Austin Croshere has his problems, but then how good do you need your tenth man to be?

All this leads to the awful predicament that the Mavericks find themselves in.

Let me start with an interview Bill Simmons did a few months back with Malcolm Gladwell, a bestselling author who is especially interested in why people do what they do. One of the questions he takes on is, “Why don't people work hard when it's in their best interest to do so?”
The (short) answer is that it's really risky to work hard, because then if you fail you can no longer say that you failed because you didn't work hard. It's a form of self-protection. I swear that's why [pro golfer Phil] Mickelson has that almost absurdly calm demeanor. If he loses, he can always say: Well, I could have practiced more, and maybe next year I will and I'll win then. When Tiger loses, what does he tell himself? He worked as hard as he possibly could. He prepared like no one else in the game and he still lost. That has to be devastating, and dealing with that kind of conclusion takes a very special and rare kind of resilience.
Even though, as the commercials say, there’s always next year, looking at this season’s Mavericks suggests that next year can’t get a whole lot better. As an organization this season, it seems that the Mavericks have literally done their best, putting together an almost perfect season with a well-balanced team that has already tied or set records for most wins in a 45-game span and in a 55-game span. It’s hard to imagine them preparing more thoroughly or performing more successfully.

That’s why Dirk loses sleep when the Mavericks lose to Phoenix. He can’t say the rest of his team wasn’t good enough, like Lebron might say after a loss if he were really honest; Dirk probably has both the best teammates and the best coach in the league. And he can’t say that he just needs to work more on his game, because he practices harder than most and has improved year after year; at 28, he’s at the age where most players hit their prime, and it’s hard to see his individual game improving much in the coming seasons. Dirk can’t say that his team lacks experience, because last year’s run through to the finals (through San Antonio and Phoenix) shows otherwise. And if he’s tempted to tell himself that the team just needs more time together, the Mavericks’ gaudy 57–11 record ironically suggests instead that they are at their ceiling.

Or Dirk might be tempted, if Dallas loses in the playoffs to Phoenix or San Antonio, to say simply that the competition was even more extraordinary, and that losing to them is no real disgrace. But as good as the Suns and Spurs are, both teams are flawed––San Antonio with its aging lineup and Phoenix with its poor defense. Dallas is younger than the one and better balanced than the other.

All of which means, if the Mavericks lose this season, both Dirk as an individual and the team as a group have no real excuse except that their best wasn’t good enough. As Gladwell points out, that is truly a terrifying prospect, and there aren’t many people who have the nerve to face it.


Jeremy said...

Well said.

You’ve exposed the biggest lie in America: that a person can achieve whatever he wants in life if only he will (a) work hard enough, (b) believe in himself enough, or (c) have sufficient faith in someone or something else. It’s simply not true. Sometimes our best is not good enough, and we have to settle for something less. It’s sad that we heap scorn upon those—like Mickelson—whose only failing in life is that they came in second place.

Still, it will take me a long time to forgive Dirk if these Mavs don’t win.

ryan b said...

I'm not able to watch the game today against Atlanta, but it looks like we just allowed them to tie it up in the 4th quarter after we had them down 20 in the first.

micah said...

Yall will probably like this motivational poster. Check it out -