By Zach Naidu
As a sports columnist for The Stanford Daily, I always try my best to cover material that piques the average Stanford sports reader’s interest. Thus, the diversity of Stanford’s student body means I must strive to cover timely topics that appeal to a variety of fan bases and sports.
With the NBA regular season tipping off last night, professional basketball is on the queue.
However, because of Stanford’s geographic location I’m aware the vast majority of people support the greatest basketball dynasty since the 1990’s Chicago Bulls — the Golden State Warriors. As I have written before, the Warriors are truly a transcendent spectacle to behold, and with the (what some may say unfair) offseason addition of four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, Dub Nation seems primed to hoist its third Larry O’Brien trophy in as many years and the fourth in five.
But you must forgive me, for now I must indulge in the one sports franchise to which my heart is perpetually tethered more than any other, the Dallas Mavericks.
To the Warriors fan base, the Mavericks are the source of the “We Believe” team of the 2006-2007 season, in which the eighth seeded Warriors became the first team to knock off a number one seed in a best-of-seven series.
To me, the Mavericks are my longest-tenured source of pride and joy.
Of course, one cannot discuss the franchise without mentioning Dirk Nowitzki. The 2011 NBA champion and Finals MVP, 2007 regular season MVP, 13-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA selection and 2006 Three-Point Shootout champion power forward is entering what is probably his 21st and final season.
Led by Nowitzki, from 2000 to 2011 the Mavericks made the playoffs with 50 or more wins every season, made the Finals twice and won it once. Every year during that run, especially the latter half, I found myself saying it was “our year” — a sense of hope and optimism validated every night by an in-his-prime Nowitzki and stellar support from Jason Terry. Even when the Mavericks lost the 2006 NBA Championship and were bounced early in 2007, I always was excited for the next year because of that sense of hope and feeling that “it could happen!”
The 2011 NBA Championship gave me unfettered euphoria. I still hang my replica championship banner and re-watch highlights on YouTube of that magical run.
Unfortunately, after scaling the championship mountain in 2011, the franchise plummeted to mediocrity, barely squeaking into the playoffs the following season and missing it altogether the next year. Every season has seen constant roster turnover, free agency failures and a declining win total. Even when the Mavericks would make the playoffs, they never posed a threat, and exiting early as a bottom seed became routine.
Slowly during that time, that feeling of “it could happen!” has melted into a melancholic acceptance of “we will never win again.”
However, the Mavericks have new life, thanks in large part to two budding talents, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Dončić. The Mavericks selected Smith Jr. ninth overall in the 2017 draft and traded up in this year’s draft to select the teenage Slovenian phenom third overall.
One of my friends at Stanford is an admirably loyal Cleveland Browns fan. The elation he felt a few weeks ago when the Browns won a single game for the first time in almost two years has put things in perspective. Not to compare the Mavericks current rough patch to the seemingly interminable suffering of the Browns, but it did show me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There always is.
The Kansas City Royals eventually made the playoffs in 2014 after a 29-year drought, and the Buffalo Bills did so last year after a 17-year absence. Nothing lasts forever in professional sports.
The Mavericks’ season tips off tonight against the Phoenix Suns, and there are many reasons to be hopeful. Rick Carlisle is a consensus top-five coach in the NBA. DeAndre Jordan is a strong center coming off his first All-Star season, and Smith Jr. continues to make strides. But more than anything, this season seems special because for the first time in a while, Mavericks fans have hope again. Not a hope for a championship or even a playoff series victory. But maybe, just maybe, the Mavericks could sneak into the playoffs.
And maybe not too long after that, they could make some noise at the top of the standings. For the first time in a while, it’s not too ludicrous to feel it could happen.
Contact Zach Naidu at znaidu ‘at’ stanford.edu