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Friday, June 10, 2011
The Mavericks party like it's Game 2

By Henry Abbott


With about 90 seconds left in a two-point game, Jason Kidd caught a beautiful pass from Jason Terry and stroked a 3. Cash. Mavericks by five.

Timeout: Miami.

The Mavericks then did what anything with a pulse would do: They celebrated. Fists up, pounds, high-fives -- the works.

And I'm all for it. Life is short. Declare victory when you can, I say. Just being alive is reason enough to throw a party as far as I'm concerned. Having just performed particularly well at the highest levels of professional sports? So much the better.

Kidd knows the work required to get to this place, as a 38-year-old, hanging tough against the next generation. All those offseason hours, all that careful eating, all that learning to hit that shot that eluded him for the first half of his career ... the whole point of all that was to get to a moment like this. Pump your damn fists in the air if you want, right?

It was still just a two-possession game. The Mavericks had to keep playing. But of course they were well within their rights to slap hands. Heaven forbid they somehow ended up losing ... well, that would have been because of basketball, right? Made Miami shots and the like, right? Not because of this dead-ball non-play.

So, in my mind, the story of celebrating, and Game 5, ends happily and harmlessly.

On the other hand ...

Back in Game 2 -- maybe you've heard -- Dwyane Wade hit a 3-pointer with 7:14 left in the game that pushed Miami’s lead to 15 points. Wade and LeBron James did a little bit of the kind of celebrating you see routinely through sporting events at every level.

Oddly, in that case the perfectly normal celebration, the raised arms etc., were blamed for the Heat's loss. One article after another chastised the Heat players for not knowing better. There was far more talk of that than broken defensive coverages or lackluster execution on offense. More than bad basketball, we had ever more evidence of their bad character, or something.

I pointed the Mavericks' Game 5 party out on Twitter, and talk came up about size of lead and time of game ... which is the reddest of herrings.

Bill James once dug into the question of how one can know when a lead is safe. Using his little tool a 15-point lead with 7:14 left is ten times safer than a 5-point lead with 1:26 left. In other words, if the rule is really that you're only supposed to celebrate when the lead is safe, then the Heat followed that rule ten times better than the Mavericks did.

Another bogus distinction: The Mavericks ended up winning, so celebrating earlier was OK. (Ooh, right this way Miss Cleo! Why waste your crystal ball on dumb stuff like this when we could go to Vegas!) That's like saying driving drunk is OK if you get home without having an accident. The mythical moral code the Heat broke, and that so excited so many ... it's only real if it's available in real time.

But of course, there is no such moral code. Because for all the histrionics about right and wrong, and offending the basketball gods, it was always a lie.

I won't waste a second googling before saying with absolute comfort that commentators are not criticizing the Mavericks for doing the same exact thing. This is not about that.

Something happened at the time of the Decision. Triggers were tripped. Pollution covered all. Whatever happened that night, LeBron James stepped on a landmine of emotion among NBA fans, which led to two things: The biggest story in the history of the NBA on the internet, and an abiding commitment among many hoops fans (and executives and journalists) to find flaw in the Heat to satiate their own internal emotional needs. Which is perfectly valid, but like most blind rage, an impediment to clarity.

One upshot of all that: Evidently the actual current rule on celebrating, as practiced, is: it's all fine and dandy, unless you lose in some cases, but mostly unless you're the Miami Heat, especially LeBron James and, to a lesser extent, Dwyane Wade.

Which isn't a rule at all. It's anger.

It's cool. We can get past this season of silly contortions, denials, smears and lies.

But only after admitting what it is. Please, let's keep this real. Three cheers for this guy:

@TrueHoop lol we just hate the heat. Get over itless than a minute ago via Twitter for Android Favorite Retweet Reply

Now we're getting somewhere.