DALLAS - Once upon a time, the Dallas Mavericks scaled a mountain. And Dirk Nowitzki planted the NBA Championship flag there.
“It was just the greatest feeling,'' the iconic Nowitzki said in a recent video interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson, reflecting on Dallas' 2011 NBA title. "After all this 10 plus years of hard work you put in that finally you’re at the mountain top.
"It’s the best.''
It was "the best'' for long-suffering Mavs fans, too, of course - a pain o absence that spanned far more than Dirk's decade of work ... but one that also included Dallas falling just short in the 2006 NBA Finals.
One of the many, many things that made 2011 special was the opponent: The loaded Miami Heat, the same franchise that topped Dallas in 2006, but a re-stocked one. In addition to Dwyane Wade, by 2011 Miami has also added LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
How did Dallas do it? Dirk noted the value of what we now so often refer to as "Mavs Culture.''
"Especially,'' he said, "with that team that we had, with the bunch of older guys that had no egos, and loved playing with each other, loved being around each other.''
Of course, the tone of the culture was largely set by - guess who? The team's best player.
Here’s the TNT interview:
History now insists that the Mavs were a champion "lacking in talent,'' a valid take if the comparison is to the on-paper Heat but an invalid take if you watched the Mavs and their superstar. Nowitzki was one of the best players in the world by 2006, one season from becoming the league MVP. And as he drove Dallas to the 2011 Finals?
He was the best player in the world.
The Mavs ended up defeating the Heat in six games, with Dirk capturing the Finals MVP that year after averaging almost 27 points and 10 rebounds per game.
"It was,'' says the now-retired Dirk, "the ultimate, for sure.”