True Throwback: Dallas Mavericks of the 1980s


dallas mavericks

In honor of Mavs of Memory Past, I thought I’d go way back to a time where most of us at TSC were too young to even know what basketball was.

Dallas was hungry for a basketball team as the Cowboys had been around since 1960 and the Rangers, 1972.

Then came 1979 when one, Don Carter and his business partner Norm Sonju went to the NBA and requested a team should be in Dallas.


The last professional basketball team in Dallas had been the Dallas Chaparrals of the ABA, which moved to San Antonio in 1973 to become the Spurs…do I hear Coffee Black and Semi Pro?

During the 1980 All-Star Game, owners voted a team to come to Dallas…the obvious choice being the Mavericks, hence, the TV show. They quickly joined the Midwest Division until 2004. Dick Motta was the team’s first head coach.

If you don’t know the Mavericks history, Dallas started its NBA career rough, finished the decade strong, fell flat in the 1990s and have been good since Dirk and Cuban entered the picture.

BUT what would’ve happened if the Mavs stunk in the 80s. Would that have paved the way for a horrible franchise without any contention. Do we owe the 1980s as helping shape who the Mavs are today?

A little more history…Kiki Vandeweghe was the Mavs first draft pick, but was later traded in 1981 to Denver for two future first-round picks…which turned out to be Rolando Blackman in 1981 and Sam Perkins in 1984.

The Mavericks shocked the Spurs in their first-ever game, 103-92, but finished their first season at a miserable 15-67.

All fans should know about Blackman, but one name to learn is Brad Davis, who was acquired that year and started the final 26 games for Dallas, leading the team in assists. He would go on to play 12 years for Dallas and eventually, his No. 15 jersey was retired. Blackman’s jersey was also retired by Dallas.

Along with Blackman, the Mavs would draft Mark Aguirre and Jay Vincent in the 1981 NBA Draft.

Aguirre would be another vital piece as he played seven years for Dallas and averaged 24.6 points a game. Blackman averaged 19 a game during his 11-year career, but another name to learn is Jay Vincent.

dallas mavericks

Vincent averaged 21.4 points during Dallas’ second season and helped the Mavs to a 28-54 record. Still bad, but better than the Jazz in the division.

Vincent would receive NBA All-Rookie Team honors.

It was finally time for the Mavs to contend in their third season (1982-83). They went 12-3 to finish one game above .500 at the break, but couldn’t keep it up as they finished seven games back for the sixth and final spot in the West playoffs at 38-44.

It still was a 10-game improvement for a team playing their third NBA season.

The Mavs’ first big-three (Vincent, Blackman, Aguirre) helped the team as they combine for 60.8 points a game with Aguirre’s 24.4 a game leading the way.

Along with Davis and Derek Harper, the Mavs would finish with their first winning season at 43-39 the following season, second in the division and earning their first playoff berth.

Davis was 10th in the league with 7.2 assists a game while Aguirre was named the team’s first all star and finished with 29.5 points per game, second to Utah’s Adrian Dantley, another former Maverick.

Harper would go on to average 15 and six in his 10 years with Dallas.

Dallas would have a successful first trip to the postseason as the Mavericks defeated Seattle 3-2. The Mavs would go on to lose 4-1 to Magic Johnson and the Lakers in the next round.

The Mavericks were excelling at the right time for a city that was used to seeing the Cowboys succeed, but the Cowboys started to decline year after year and ultimately finished 1-15 during the 1989 season.

dallas mavericks

With the Cowboys falling, the city of Dallas needed some comfort, which was given by the Mavs.

During the 1984-85 season, the Mavericks would continue to improve, finished one game better at 44-38. Aguirre led the team in scoring once again (25.7) while Perkins made the rookie team. Blackman represented Dallas at the All-Star game.

Another playoff trip for the Mavs in 1985, but after winning Game 1 in double-overtime to the Blazers, Dallas would be eliminated 3-1 by Portland.

The first coming of Dirk would come in the 1985 draft when the Mavericks selected Detlef Schrempf with the eighth-overall pick.

Schrempf wouldn’t have the same career as Dirk, but showed some excitement during his three years in Dallas. He would later be traded to Indiana, where he unleashed his full potential.

Dallas would have a sure-fire offense during the 1985-86 season when it finished second in the league with 115.3 points per game. This helped the Mavericks to their third-straight playoff appearance, where they defeated the Jazz 3-1 in the first round, but once again lost to the Lakers in the next round (six games).

Despite the 4-2 loss to LA, four of those games were decided by four points or less, each team winning two times in those situations.

That left some wiggle room for what was to come for Dallas against a very good Lakers squad.

The 1986-87 season would be by far the Mavs’ most successful as they finished 55-27 and won their first division title.

Just think about that for a second. The Mavericks won the division, which has only happened…three times in their history, along with the 2006-07 and 2009-10 teams. That spells DISASTER for the Mavs because just like those two teams, especially the latter which had an identical 55-27 record, the Mavs would LOSE in the first round of the playoffs.

They defeated the Sonics by 22 in Game 1, but lost the final three for an early playoff exit.

Dallas has made 19 playoff trips and out of those 19 times, the Mavericks have lost in the first round NINE times (47.3 percent).

dallas mavericks

So even though the Mavs may be going into each season with a title in mind, the best way to get there may just be WITHOUT a division title, in the Mavs case.

That could bold well for the 2014-15 Mavericks, which I predicted to finish with 55 wins and the fourth seed…thinking the Spurs would be either first or second in the West and earning the Southwest division title.

Is 55 wins good though?

Dallas has won exactly 55 games twice, as mentioned before…but again, both those times, the Mavs won the division. The Mavericks have won AT LEAST 55 games, EIGHT times and have gone 11-7 in playoff series during that stretch, winning the title in 2011 with 57 regular-season wins and going to the 2006 finals with 60.

After the 1987 playoffs, however, Motta would surprisingly resign and stepped in John MacLeod, who left Phoenix with nine playoff trips in 11 seasons (1976 NBA Finals).

Dallas would fall short by a hair with 53 wins during the 1987-88 season. Aguirre and James Donaldson both played in the All-Star game, the Mavs had a franchise-best 11-game winning streak and Blackman would go on to score his 10,000th point during that season.

Aguirre would lead the team in scoring for the sixth-straight year…which doesn’t quite compare to the streak Dirk is on, and Roy Tarpley won the Sixth Man Award after posting 13.5 points and 11.8 boards per game.

The 1988 playoffs would the Mavericks’ best, first defeating the Rockets in four games, the Nuggets in six and then went on to face…duh, duh, duh…the Lakers in their first Western Conference Finals appearance.

The Mavs were so close and gave it their all, falling just short of their first NBA Finals trip…losing to the eventual champion Lakers 4-3.

The next season, the Mavs would still be in contention, but their season ended when Donaldson went down with a ruptured tendon in March and missed the rest of the season . The Mavericks finished with a 38–44 record, their first losing season since 1982–83…also the last time they missed the playoffs.

Aguirre was traded to the Detroit Pistons in 1989, but despite losing their leading scorer, Dallas returned to the playoffs in the 1989-90 season after winning 47 games. It was still a rough year as Tarpley was arrested with a DUI and resisting arrest.
After a 5-6 start, MacLeod was fired and replaced by Richie Adubato. The Mavericks finished the season by winning their final four games, but were swept by the Blazers in the first round, marking an end of an era. Dallas wouldn’t have another winning season or playoff berth until 2001 as the 1990s weren’t kind to the team…but that’s for another day.
Easy to say, the 80s got the Mavs off to a good start, but with the 90s being so horrible, did the first decade really help to shape the franchise today? What if the 80s were bad and 90s were good, or both decades were awful…who knows how the Mavs would be today.
1980-90: 405-415, six playoff appearances
1990-2000: 239-549, no playoff appearances
2000-10: 563-257, 10 playoff appearances

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Tags: Dallas Mavericks Dick Motta Dirk Nowitzki Mark Aguirre Mark Cuban Momp Rolando Blackman

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