DALLAS -- You wonder how sports can bring people together and then you see what happened Sunday night at American Airlines Center.
They wore Dirk Nowitzki jerseys and Jason Kidd jerseys and J.J. Barea jerseys. They painted their faces. They carried homemade signs, mostly poking fun at Dwyane Wade (Drama Wade) and LeBron James (LeFraud James). They carried flags from Germany, Puerto Rico and Mexico. A few had vuvuzelas.
And they came from all over for the same reason: to see the Dallas Mavericks win an NBA championship.
Except for the few bravely wearing James jerseys, no one left the arena disappointed.
With a 105-95 win against Miami in Game 6, the Mavericks won the franchise’s first championship.
As it became more and more obvious with each Dallas make and Miami miss deeper into the fourth quarter, the AAC vibrated like it had never vibrated before. One security guard said the 18,000 or so fans that packed the place were louder than at any game she could remember.
Finally, when the buzzer sounded, confetti fell from the AAC roof, music blared and strangers hugged and high-fived.
Kent Peterson, a Desert Storm veteran, stood proudly not 10 rows from the court with tears in his eyes.
“You just don’t know,” Peterson said. “It’s been a long time. A long time. Everybody doubted us. They doubted us through all the ups and downs, but not this year. This year we did it. We actually did it. I can’t believe it.”
Peterson was wearing a slightly faded T-shirt that featured the 2006 Mavericks that lost to the Heat in six games. He wore it so much he had to treat it differently in the wash, “so I could preserve it.”
He no longer has to wear that jersey. He was stopping off at a store Sunday night to by a new T-shirt. One that reads: 2011 World Champions.
Before the game, Dallas Myers and Drew DeArmond were inside the Fan Shop, buying their own souvenirs. Myers took home a Tyson Chandler jersey.
“He brings so much energy to the team,” Myers said.
They made the 5 1/2-hour drive from Joplin, Mo., to Dallas on Friday. Myers was named after the Cowboys. DeArmond was named after the original No. 88, Drew Pearson. On Saturday they took in a Free Reign concert to see Cowboys linemen Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis perform. Myers even got Davis’ autograph on his Mavericks hat. On Sunday afternoon, they took a tour of Cowboys Stadium.
But the trip was about the Mavs, ultimately. And to get their mind off of the tornado that ripped through their city last month.
DeArmond was working at an Academy Sports store when the tornado hit town. The pictures on his cellphone show the devastation. The building was in ruins. Cars were overturned. But nobody was hurt.
“I figured I wanted to remember all of it one day,” said DeArmond, who huddled with fans in the store’s hallway as the tornado came through.
And now he has new pictures and new memories that will last just as long and leave him just as happy. And a 5 1/2-hour drive that will not seem that long now.
Up in the last row of Section 307, Mayra Correa sat with her boyfriend, Robert Perez. She estimated they went to about 20 regular-season games, but the cost of a playoff ticket made the postseason impossible.
Correa and Perez are the exact reason why Mark Cuban opened the doors Sunday to the public.
“I know we’re going to win this game, so I had to be here,” she said at halftime.
Afterward she was among the crowd celebrating in Victory Park. So was Dallas mayor Dwaine Caraway.
“This is big,” Caraway said. “We’ve waited for this for a long time. This is just so great. I’m happy for Mark Cuban. He’s been great since he’s come on. Same with Dirk and [Jason] Terry and [Jason] Kidd and all the guys. I can’t name them all right now. It has transformed our city with enthusiasm and hope.”
It took fans some time to file out of the arena since no one wanted the feeling to end. Outside, news helicopters hovered above Victory Park, capturing the moment. Dallas Police were ready but the mood was festive.
“These are tears of joy,” Peterson said. “I can’t believe we did it.”