Sunday, December 25, 2011
Mavs and Heat in a testy battle for relevance
By Michael Wallace
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The Mavericks may have the title, but they still want something the Heat have: national attention.
MIAMI – Jason Kidd could only shake his head and smile as the scene unfolded in front of him on his way out of the Dallas Mavericks' home arena as his team moved to within one victory of closing out the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals last June.
A little further down the hallway ahead of Kidd inside American Airlines Center, dozens of news cameras and reporters had surrounded LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as they slowly walked through the arena corridor to the Miami Heat's team bus after a Game 5 loss.
At the time, the Heat were deflated, defeated and ready to retreat to Miami for what would be one final failed stand in Game 6 as the Mavericks clinched their championship run. But at the time, Kidd had just helped his team take a 3-2 series lead to put Dallas in command of the series.
The Heat were still driving the show. While one team was closing in on championship rings, the other continued to bask in relevance. Kidd didn't bother to follow the media crowd and Heat stars all the way out of the arena. He instead ducked down a different hallway and into relative anonymity.
Kidd accepted in silence that night the reality that some of his teammates would later give voice to over the summer and through the league's 149-day lockout. The NBA champions have felt cheated and overlooked when it comes to the recognition they feel they deserved for their accomplishment.
A bit of that recognition will come Sunday when the Mavericks raise their championship banner on national television to open their title defense against the same Heat team they defeated six months ago. Still, the team that reigns in the NBA still won't be the one that is most relevant in this matchup.
The irony is that the Heat and Mavs are a bit envious of one another. Despite walking off with the Larry O'Brien trophy, some of the Mavs have been bitter all offseason because they lack the one thing the Heat possess: attention. And despite all of the hype, hoopla and headlines that come their way no matter what they do, the Heat are desperate for the validation that only accompanies winning a championship the way Dallas did.
So it begs the question: Which is more vital in today's NBA - rings or relevance, status or style?
“It's funny how that works out, right?” Wade said. “I don't know. We spent the offseason talking about the lockout. So I was trying not to talk about the Finals. They won. No matter what headlines you don't get, you got what you always dreamed of having. You never dream of having headlines. You dream of winning a championship, getting that ring. And they got it. So I think that should be good enough.”
The fact is, it wasn't. At least to some.
Former Mavs guard DeShawn Stevenson, now with New Jersey, told Yahoo! Sports last month that Dallas didn't get enough national or commercial success for actually beating the Heat.
“I haven't seen a Dirk (Nowitzki) commercial, I haven't seen a Jason Kidd commercial, Jason Terry commercial,” Stevenson said. “But I've seen a LeBron McDonald's commercial. Dwyane Wade is on a T-Mobile commercial. I just feel like we don't get the respect as a team that worked hard to win a championship.”
Stevenson's comments could easily have been dismissed as one outspoken, controversial player popping off while on some sort of jealous rant instead of letting his accomplishment do the talking. But then, Mavs forward Shawn Marion, who spent parts of two seasons with the Heat before helping Dallas douse Miami, essentially co-signed Stevenson's comments last week during training camp.
Suddenly the 'Hardware versus Headlines' debate came to the forefront again. Even the Heat has taken a back seat to some of the more popular storylines in the NBA, where much of the focus has been on Chris Paul's impact on the Los Angeles Clippers, Kobe Bryant's frustrations with the league nixing a deal that would have sent Paul to the Lakers and Dwight Howard's potential destination.
Remember the Mavs? Marion insists many of you don't.
“We've gotten to the point where everybody started overlooking us and talking about everybody else and I got kind of (mad) about it,” Marion told reporters in Dallas. “Look (at) what the media is saying. They can kiss our (expletive). I got my hardware. We earned it. We took it.”
Wade has been on both sides of the equation. He learned the value of winning a ring while leading the Heat to a title over Dallas in 2006. Last year, he also discovered what it's like to play on the most popular – or polarizing – team the NBA has seen in decades.
Wade will take the championship ring over the relevant title any day.
LeBron has fallen short twice in his quest for championships, but has earned just about every other accolade and endorsement imaginable.
Bosh, however, is different. Having spent his first seven years with the Toronto Raptors and all of last season uncomfortably in the shadows of LeBron and Wade, Bosh can sympathize with feeling overlooked and under-appreciated at times.
“I understand them,” Bosh said. “I understand their pain. Seriously. I know how it feels – especially if you have accomplishments and you don't get the attention you deserve.”
But would Bosh trade in his stylish lifestyle with the Heat for the status the Mavs have as defending champions this season?
“Yeah,” he said. “Everybody wants to be the champ. But I know a bunch of teams that feel overlooked. You have to stick to your guys, do what you do and stick to it. You'll get your just due when it's time.”