MIAMI — For Dirk Nowitzki, the resume is complete. He’s an NBA champion.
For LeBron James, the agonizing wait continues for at least one more year.
A season that began with Miami celebrating the signings of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — along with the promise of multiple championships — ended on the very same floor.
Except, it was the Dallas Mavericks who hoisted the title trophy for the first time in their franchise history after beating the Heat 105-95 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Sunday. The Mavericks won four of the series’ last five games, a turnabout that could not have been sweeter.
“I really still can’t believe it,” said Nowitzki, who had 21 points and was voted Finals Most Valuable Player.
Nowitzki and Jason Terry, who led the Mavs with 27 points, were the two remaining players from the Dallas team that lost to Miami in the 2006 Finals.
“Tonight,” Terry said, “we got vindication.”
James did not. Not even close, and a year unlike any other ended the way they all have so far — with him still waiting for an NBA title.
James scored 21 points for Miami, shook a few hands afterward, and departed before most of the Mavs tugged on their championship hats and T-shirts. Bosh scored 19, Mario Chalmers 18 and Wade 17 for the Heat.
“We worked so hard and so long for it,” Nowitzki said. “The team has had an unbelievable ride.”
So did the Heat. Unlike Dallas, theirs wasn’t a joyride.
Make no mistake: Miami lost the Finals, but the blame will be directed at James. Even he knew that after the way he left Cleveland with “The Decision” and all the animus that generated not only in Ohio but around the league, the only way he could silence some critics was with a championship.
“It doesn’t weigh on me,” James said. “At all.”
Still, he got even more criticism — and a thinly veiled jab from his former owner with the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, who reveled in the moment on Twitter.
“Mavs NEVER stopped & now entire franchise gets rings,” Gilbert wrote. “Old Lesson for all: There are NO SHORTCUTS. NONE.”
And the winning owner, Mark Cuban, took what also might be perceived as a jab after keeping an unusually low profile during the Finals: “I could care less about the Heat.”
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle joined an elite group, those with NBA titles as a player and head coach. Only 10 other men are on that list, including the presumably retired-for-good Phil Jackson, one of Carlisle’s mentors in K.C. Jones, and Heat President Pat Riley — who led Miami past Dallas in 2006, and was the mastermind of what the Heat did last summer by getting James, Wade and Bosh on the same team with an eye on becoming a dynasty.
It might still happen, of course.
But even after 72 wins this season, including playoffs, the Heat lost the last game. And that means this year was a disappointment — except to just about everyone else in the NBA, or so it would seem.
“This is a true team,” Carlisle said. “This is an old bunch. We don’t run fast or jump high. These guys had each other’s backs. We played the right way. We trusted the pass. This is a phenomenal thing for the city of Dallas.”
Hating the Heat became the NBA’s craze this season, and the team knew it had no shortage of critics, everyone from Cleveland (where “Cavs for Mavs” shirts were popular during the Finals) to Chicago (the city James and Wade both flirted with last summer) and just about every place in between lining up to take shots at Miami.
“We could feel it,” Carlisle said, noting he was repeatedly told during the Finals that “billions” of people wanted to see Dallas topple Miami.
When it was over, Cuban ran onto the court to hug Carlisle, then punched the air and whooped.
“I’m so happy for him. I’m so happy for Dirk,” Carlisle said.
Carlisle said Riley came down to congratulate the Mavericks after the game, showing “unbelievable class.” Nowitzki and Wade exchanged texts at night’s end, after Wade couldn’t find him during the on-court celebration to shake his hand.
“Their time will come,” Carlisle said. “But now, it’s our time.”
When the Mavericks took a
2-0 lead in Dallas during the 2006 finals, plans for their victory parade were announced. The Mavs didn’t win another game in the series.
Now, that parade will finally happen. And when it’s over, then the league’s uncertainty will truly begin. Labor strife likely awaits, and although more talks geared toward a new deal are scheduled this week, both owners and players are bracing for a lockout to begin once the current collective bargaining agreement expires June 30.
On Sunday, potential labor strife was the last thing on the mind of the new champions of the NBA, whom Carlisle called “the most special team I’ve ever been around.”
Jason Kidd, at age 38, got his first championship. Nowitzki got his at 32, Terry at 33.
At 26, James was in the Finals for the second time, only to again see the other team celebrate. San Antonio won in Cleveland in 2007, and four years later, he saw the Mavs party on his new floor.
“It was a failure in ’07 when we lost to the Spurs when I was in Cleveland,” James said. “It’s a failure now.”
Nowitzki shot 9-for-27, and the Mavs still won. He was
1-for-12 in the first half, and they were still ahead, 53-51, thanks largely to Terry’s 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting.
“Was he unbelievable tonight or what?” marveled Nowitzki.
Nowitzki sealed the victory with 2:27 left, hitting a jumper near the Miami bench to put Dallas up 99-89, and some fans actually began leaving. Nowitzki walked to the Mavs’ side slowly, right fist clenched and aloft.
He knew it. Everyone did.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra implored his team to foul in the final minute, and even then, they couldn’t catch the Mavs.
“All I remember is telling those guys that they deserved it,” Bosh said. “Hands down, they were the better team in this series. … All we can do is just admit it and move forward.”
What happens with the next labor deal might affect the Heat more than anyone. Some owners will insist on a hard cap, rolled-back salaries and, potentially, trying to bust some current deals — which could break up the Big Three before get another chance to win a title.
A gloomy end to the season may bring an even gloomier offseason for Miami.DALLAS — 105 MIAMI — 95
KEY: Jason Terry scored 27 points off the bench and Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki supplied 21 as the Mavericks won their first NBA championship.