DALLAS (AP) – Dirk Nowitzki was talking about the NBA championship capping his career wish list and how much it meant after all the heartbreaks along the way.
In a somber voice, he wondered aloud about trying to find something else that could push him to continue a work ethic that routinely includes returning to the gym for nighttime shooting drills.
Then he stopped, laughed and said, “I’m not going to retire or anything if that’s what you think.”
While the Mavericks know they’ll have the finals MVP back next season, it remains to be seen who will be part of Nowitzki’s supporting cast. Starting center Tyson Chandler, valuable guard J.J. Barea, injured scorer Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal and Peja Stojakovic are all free agents. The NBA’s uncertain labor status further complicates things.
So instead of looking ahead, the Mavs are focused on savoring the first title in franchise history — especially the free agents-to-be.
“If I get focused on that (contract) stuff, I can’t enjoy it,” Chandler said. “I’ll probably go home and Slip ‘n Slide. … Just run up and down and slide on the front lawn. Any kids are welcome to join me.”
That was the tone at the team’s annual exit interviews Tuesday: fun, loose, relaxed. Since none of the players had ever won a championship, it was the best season wrapup they’d ever been through. The team’s PR staff even got in the spirit, too; the daily email with the team’s schedule read, “The World Champion Dallas Mavericks …”
Interviews were held on the team’s downstairs practice court at the arena. Jason Terry stole the show by strutting down the stairs in a white terry cloth robe, sunglasses and a baseball cap, carrying a fat, unlit cigar and his invitation to the ESPY awards for the Mavericks’ nomination as Team of the Year.
The robe was a gift from coach Rick Carlisle, replacing one he’d taken away from Terry two years ago.
Terry wore his old one — featuring a Mavs logo and his jersey number — to team meetings, breakfasts on the road and whenever else he could. After losing a few games in a row, Carlisle said something along the lines of, “You’re not focused. Get that robe out of here.” The replacement delivered Tuesday is white terry cloth with the finals logo on one side of the chest, gold leaves in front of the NBA logo on the other.
“The robe is back, baby!” Terry said.
The glory of winning a championship comes in many forms.
For team owner Mark Cuban, it was walking into his kitchen Tuesday morning and seeing the Larry O’Brien Trophy on top of a counter.
For Barea, it’s planning to take the championship trophy to his native Puerto Rico. President Obama was in his native land on Tuesday and said of the tiny guard: “That guy can play.”
For Donnie Nelson, the team’s president of basketball operations, it’s a congratulatory text from his dad, Don Nelson, who started the Mavericks down the path to a title when he took over the club in the late 1990s. The elder Nelson won five titles as a player, but none in a long, distinguished career as a coach and executive.
For Carlisle, it’s the satisfaction of making champions out of guys who’d made millions and been All-Stars but had never won it all.
“There’s a big difference between success and fulfillment,” Carlisle said. “These guys have had incredible success in the league. You go right down the list of guys, Dirk, Jet, Kidd, Marion, Stojakovic, Chandler, all these guys. But the thing that’s eluded them and myself on the coaching side of it has been the fulfillment of achieving the ultimate dream. … Once you’re an NBA champion and you have the ring, you’re a made man in NBA circles.”
Nowitzki and Carlisle emphasized the importance of the way Dallas won, with a “strength in numbers” approach best evidenced by Terry and the supporting cast pulling them through the clincher while Nowitzki struggled.
“They needed each other to be successful,” Carlisle said. “A lot of people are going to reference back to the 2011 Dallas Mavericks as the team that … found a way collectively to achieve the highest achievement.”
That achievement usually is marked by championship rings. Cuban is considering another kind of jewelry, but is being strongly urged to stick with tradition.
“You win an NBA championship, you’ve got to have a ring,” Carlisle said. Laughing, he added, “I don’t know what he’s thinking.”
Nowitzki spoke for the locker room when he said, “We know he always wants to do something different, something bigger. But the ring is just so classic. … I mean, I’m a man. I don’t know how I’d feel about a bracelet. I’d rather go with a ring.”
A parade through downtown is planned for Thursday, with 250,000 people expected. Cuban has offered to pick up the tab, so it should be a doozy of a party, especially after the way he celebrated Sunday night in Miami. He footed the bill at a chic club on South Beach; there was talk of a single, oversized bottle of champagne that cost $90,000.
“Mark understands the importance of this moment, not only to him and to the league but to this city,” Carlisle said.
On Monday night, Cuban, Nowitzki and several others took the trophy to a favorite watering hole. The celebration including a rendition of “We Are The Champions.” Cuban even tweeted a link to a YouTube video of it.
They better enjoy being champions for as long as they can because come next season, it will be used against them by every team they face. Carlisle called it “another challenge that we’ll embrace.”
Another, similar challenge is dealing with talk of whether they can repeat as champions.
“The lockout is the only thing holding this team back,” Terry said. “Hey, you know what? If they lock us out ’til January, it would be a shorter journey. But I know nobody is going to pick us again next year. … But we’ll love it. We like the underdog role. I believe if we have the same team coming back next year, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
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