In 2006, Dirk Nowitzki failed. He endured the pain of losing when everyone thought he was going to win. He bore the brunt of the criticism following the Mavericks loss (after being up 2-0 in the Finals) to the Heat. He was 27 years old at the time, and over the next several years, despite some impressive individual performances, he and his team continued to fail. With each passing season, Dirk quite visibly wore the anguish of not bringing home a ring to his team and city. But he kept swinging.
In 2011, Lebron James failed. After back to back seasons of leading the team with the best record in the NBA, his Cavaliers failed to reach the NBA Finals for the second year in a row. He was 26 years old at the time. Then, he bailed.
Someday soon, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert needs to let go and move on from Lebron James. But his tweet following the Mavericks win tonight was spot-on and quite appropriate. After congratulating the Mavericks organization, he concluded simply: “There are no shortcuts. None.”
Dirk Nowitkzi understands this. Lebron James does not.
After getting bounced by the eight seeded Warriors in 2007, I didn’t think the Mavericks had any prayer of ever winning with Dirk as their leader. I firmly believed their window had closed and that Mark Cuban and their organization were chasing dreams by signing older players, seemingly scrambling to build around Dirk one last time. It appeared to me that their ship had sailed.
But I underestimated their determination, desire, and heart. What we saw celebrating on the court in Miami tonight was a decade of hard work and perseverance come to fruition. We saw a team forged by disappointment and heartbreak, come together and set aside everything for one common goal. The road from Dallas to NBA Champions included no shortcuts.
Dirk also seems to understand that you never win a championship just for yourself. How gratifying must it feel for him to hoist that trophy for the owner who believed in him, the teammates who supported him, and the fans that love him?
Let’s say Lebron wins a title someday (I believe he will). Ask yourself this…who, besides himself, is he winning it for? The city of Miami? Please… they had to send out instructional videos (no exaggeration) on how to be a good fan, which included incentives if you arrived in your seat in time for tip off. In a few days, Dirk is going to sit on a float in a parade and hold that trophy over his head while the city of Dallas chants his name. No matter what happens in the future, it will never be the same for Lebron. His decision to take a shortcut sealed his fate in that department.
Each of the two players mentioned above had a similar crossroads experience at essentially the same point in their career. One chose the easy way out; one dug in his heels and fought. Tonight, as so often winds up happening, the fighter won.
When Lebron made the choice to leave Cleveland for Miami and did it in a way that humiliated his former team and city, he revealed so much. He quit on his team. He quit on his city. He quit on his fans. Most telling though…he quit on himself. Maybe now, we know why.