Finally, the Finals

I’ve just finished watching Game two of the NBA Finals. And I’m glad to be seeing what I’m seeing. I’m thrilled to be watching Antoine Walker going down in flames. I’m ecstatic to have the chance to see Jason Williams take 35 shots a game and ultimately miss 25 of them.

Here’s my little secret. I hate the Heat. I always have. I don’t know why, but they’ve always rubbed me the wrong way, for reasons that aren’t fully understood. It probably harkens back to the late 90s, the dark ages of the NBA – when the top teams were grinding out 80 points per game in a cloud of uber-defense with Jeff Van Gundy and Pat Riley pushing the idea of “scoring” out of the league with their half-court slowdown. I hated it then. I hate it now. And the Heat, who (along with the Pistons of 03-05) kept the dream of defense and horrible shooting alive, personify boring basketball.

Wait. That’s not entirely true. They don’t anymore. But that ugliness is still hanging over their black and red uniforms, an albatross of mammoth size. And I hate them for it. Sure, seeing the Heat in the Finals is better than seeing the Pistons again, but that doesn’t mean I have to root for them. It’s a classic case of self-hate. I’ll forever root for the Pacers and will stand behind Eastern Conference basketball, but the truth of it is – it’s horrible. It’s boring. It’s not as good.

So for me, it’s great to see my least favorite Eastern Conference team in the Finals. It’s grand because, well, I don’t have to blindly root for the East. I can let loose and acknowledge that the Mavericks (and the late Suns) play basketball that I enjoy. There. I said it. Go Mavs.

For me, the cards were stacked against the Heat to begin with. Even without my background in Heat hating, their roster currently holds up some of my least favorite current NBA players. Gary Payton? Walker? Williams? Udonis Haslim and his super-injury scowl? Alonzo Mourning and his off again, on again kidney (and his history of the painful “ref shrug”)? How could I not root against the Heat? Shaq’s got his titles, so there’s no need to push for him. Dwayne Wade’s young, amazing, and will play for the highest bidder as soon as he can jet, if he knows what’s good for him.

So really, it comes down to this: as long as Antoine and Gary can retire title-less, I’ll be happy.

After this last game, I don’t see how they can win one anyway. The Mavs took the Heat apart, dismantling them – seemingly scoring at will with four (yeah, four!) of my favorite players in this year’s playoffs: Dirk, Howard, Stackhouse, and Terry. They drive. They hit threes. They play (gasp) defense. They’re a different team from what I remember, and they’re not going to stop with this title, this year. Yeah, you read that right. They’re not losing this title. In fact, I’d be surprised if they even make it back to Dallas. Three games in Miami, and they only need to win two? Start making space for that trophy, Mark Cuban. It’s yours.

Dirk’s got that MVP air about him. He’s proven himself. But, like Eric mentioned during our rambling MVP argument, you can’t give someone the MVP based on the playoffs. I refuse to enter into that discussion again because – and you’re hearing it here for the last time – Steve Nash won the MVP, would have been my vote, and there’s nothing that can be done about that now. But, I will admit, if I had a vote now, after the playoffs and Dirk’s sudden explosion, I’d change my tune. I’d vote for Dirk. I’d be stupid not to.

Along with Dirk’s explosion, we’ve been witness to redemption for Jason Terry, a third chance for almost-superstar Jerry Stackhouse, and a coming of age for future-superstar Josh Howard. This is exciting. This is the face of basketball, I hope. Gone will be the days of slow-down, grind-it-out, defensive battles that end with a total score under 160. We’re getting closer to some single teams scoring 160 in an overtime battle. I watched Reggie Miller play his way to the hall of fame, and I can say that I love the long ball. I’d watch it all day, every day.

I don’t care what anyone else says – you give me this Dallas team (only a year older) and next year’s Phoenix Suns with a healthy Amare Stoudemire, and you’re watching the true 2007 Finals during the Western Conference Championships.

I hate the Heat. I love the Mavs. And the Mavs haven’t shown any sign of letting up, while the Heat have looked exactly like what they are – a team full of aging veterans that couldn’t get along with their former teams. You’ve got an owner/coach who pushed his former out of the way for a chance at glory. You’ve got a center that doesn’t bother to give his all until game 70 of the regular season. Sure, you’ve got one of the best young players, but you’ve also got three guards – Payton, Williams, and Walker – that have bounced from team to team, can’t play a team game, and have never admitted fault in any aspect of any loss.

How could anyone root for the Heat in this series?

And if you do, how can you sleep at night?

This was lovingly handwritten on June 12th, 2006