|ESPN.com: BlogsColumns||[Print without images]|
|Dirk Nowitzki helped rally the Mavericks from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.|
After the Mavs rallied from a 15-point deficit in the final seven minutes of Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Dirk thrust his right fist into the air and a string of folks sprinted over to celebrate, from Jason Kidd to injured Caron Butler to equipment manager Al Whitley to public relations director Sarah Melton.Each of them high-fived Dirk, as you would expect, but several of them thumped his chest as if to say, "You're the man." And he is. After he delivered a plethora of clutch performances as the Mavs won the first championship in the franchise's 31-year history over the star-driven Miami Heat led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. It's also the reason Dirk is ESPNDallas.com's Lone Star personality of the year. Watching Dirk's maturation from soft Euro incapable of leading the Mavs to anything but playoff disappointment to gritty fourth-quarter closer has been beyond impressive. He's not just the Mavs' most talented player. He's the team's hardest worker. And its vocal leader. Remember when Dirk called out Jason Terry before Game 4, saying he needed more from Jet if the Mavs were going to win a title. That's what leaders do; they set the standard then hold their teammates accountable for consistently hitting that standard. One of our big complaints about Dirk earlier in his career was that he was soft mentally and physically. He'd let teams force him to the perimeter and settle for jumpers because he didn't want to fight hard enough to establish position in the post. No more. He won Game 2 for the Mavs with a driving layup past Chris Bosh. The old Dirk would've settled for a jumper at the key. During the Mavs' playoff run, he scored at least 10 points in the fourth quarter 10 times. He was at his best, when it mattered most. "When I got into this league we had Mike [Finley], we had Steve [Nash] making big plays and [Nick] Van Exel for us in the fourth quarters, and I was almost a little scared to be in that position," Dirk said. "When they all left, I was put in that position to be a man down the stretch and it took me a while to get used to it. "Now, I really enjoy the situations to get the ball and everybody's looking toward you to make those decisions. You have to put in the work off the floor, on the floor to be tough to guard and you have to have enough things in your repertoire that you can score on drives, right and left and post up and still hit the face-up jumper. That's been the biggest evolution in my game."
But the most important aspect of Dirk's continued maturation as a player is his ability to keep the Mavs among the league's elite.They've won 50 games each of the last 11 seasons and have been to the NBA Finals twice. Dirk has been the epicenter of the Mavs' attack for a decade and the standard he's established for himself is ridiculously high. He averaged 23.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in just 34 minutes last season. And he was even better in the playoffs, averaging 27.7 points and 8.2 rebounds in 39 minutes. There's nothing we love in America more than a tale of redemption. We love athletes who fight through adversity to win a title because that's the essence of the American spirit. "There's a satisfaction that comes with winning it," Dirk said. "Every summer when you end the playoffs with a loss, you're disappointed. You're not happy. "It takes a couple of months to get over it and get fired up again for a new try. This year, we reached our goal, we reached our dream." Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.