Well folks, he made it back to the finals. It took him a revolving cast of characters and a team full of great role players to finally get him back to the promised land, but it's hard to argue his decision now, isn't it?
Of course, I'm talking about Dirk Nowitzki and his decision to stay with the Mavs this off season. Dirk has been an unstoppable force in these playoffs, and returns to the NBA Finals five years after he last led Dallas there, ironically, also against the Miami. Across the court, he'll be facing Dwayne Wade's Miami Heat, who just so happens to also include one LeBron James. James is also returning to the Finals, for the first time since 2007 with the Cavaliers—the year after Nowitzki first made it. Without getting much into semantics, it's easy to see why the 2011 NBA Finals will come down to Dirk vs. LeBron and who will win their first championship.
Heading into this series, we have two men on the same path coming from totally different ends of the spectrum. Despite all of the coverage and outrage behind LeBron's “decision,” most will agree that the Heat's trip to the Finals is, if not expected, at least not a surprise. No one outside of Dallas was talking about these Mavs, and at 32 and over 7 feet tall, many started to consider Dirk over the hill (or at least, too soft). Yet something clicked in Portland after the Trail Blazers tied the series at two. All of a sudden the man who averaged a paltry (by his standards) 23 points in the regular season became a man possessed.
Both Miami and Dallas have played deserving of where they find themselves today. Tipping off will be the two teams who brought down the reigning champs and the league MVP in a season that has set new ratings standards. A lot of that can be attributed to LeBron's decision to join the Heat and thus becoming an on-court “villain,” but most importantly, people will be watching this Finals with purpose. All eyes will be waiting to see if James' choice will pay off in hardware. There's also a race card to play; not since Jordan vs. Bird (which only amounted to a video game and McDonald's commercials) has there been a bigger face-off between a black and white star. LeBron left his working class, small market hometown team to join the big city lights of South Beach while Dirk never even entertained the option of leaving in the off season (albeit he was already on a large market team). Yup, you could say this series has all the makings of a classic NBA Finals.
Miami has been playing stellar defense, and has shown they can slow down a team's best player, especially a team as one-dimensional as the Bulls proved to be, and many assume the Mavs are. And we know LeBron may just end up being he series MVP, probably for covering Dirk like a blanket while unselfishly letting his two high-profile teammates carry the offensive load. So it's with good reason I assume most people will predict the Heat to win another title at the expense of Nowitzki. But I've decided to make my choice based purely on emotional ties instead of facts.
I'm a working class white guy from a small market city who has to choose between two cities I couldn't care less about. But my one and only allegiance lies with the underdog. Not only do I want to see the Mavs win because I want to see Dirk get a title before he retires (LeBron's future is much brighter, therefore we can still assume he'll get one), but I want to see the Mavs win for every NBA fan in Cleveland who had their heart ripped out by LeBron. People quickly point to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert publicly ripping LeBron and racial tensions when people were burning his jersey in the streets, but 99.9% of the city were simply fans who loved and idolized a man who turned his back on them. So yeah, I'm pulling for the team with the guy who stayed with his, not the team who was created by free agency money.
But if there's one thing history will tell you, my devotion to the underdog is only filled with pain and misery. Sorry Cleveland.
Prediction: Heat in 7