I have been a fan of the Dallas Mavericks for well over a decade. There have been gut-wrenching losses, thrilling victories, horrifying injuries, disappointing free agency failures, and heart warming playoff successes. There are 2 events, 2 nights, however, that stand out to me most emotionally and vividly. One was magnificent, one was torturous, but they each lose meaning without the other.
The first is June 20, 2006. A few days earlier, I listened to and belted out We Are The Champions after the Mavericks won their second game of the series in Dallas. It seemed real now–this was happening. Dirk was going to prove his worth. I was going to have so much to brag about. But that overexposed Queen song soon became the haunting soundtrack to a sad, painful punch in the gut known as the 2006 NBA Finals.
Game 5 still makes me twitch. I can’t see it clearly; there are just Wade free throws floating around like cartoon birds after a blow to the head. I only remember shot after shot after shot, and the 67-win season slowly beginning to feel like a figment of my imagination.
At this point I still managed to pull out some optimism. It’s not over! It could happen! Didn’t you see Miracle? You LOVE Rudy! Oh, young Caitlin.
Game 6. Wade scored like a madman again. Jason Terry missed a potential game-tying 3. The buzzer sounded. The Miami Heat celebrated. I died a little inside–or a lot.
I started sobbing. I lay on the floor, indifferent to the fact that my roommate probably was not equipped to deal with this kind of situation. I read text messages blearily through tears, family and friends sending me condolences like someone had died. I was miserable.
And I would not give that night up for anything.
Five years later, the Mavs were on a mission. They weathered the incredible Brandon Roy storm, slaughtered the defending champion Lakers in four games, and shut down the up-and-coming Thunder in five. Then along came the Heat like some kind of mutant hybrid of Darth Vader and the Icelandic hockey team from Mighty Ducks.
My sports heart was still a little sore from 2006, and now they had formed into a 3-headed monster that embraced its role as a villain. They were cocky. They were talented. I wanted them to lose almost as much as I wanted my Mavericks to win.
When the Mavs lost game one, I was nervous. The media played it off as expected and almost inevitable. It seemed as though they were right, until in a moment of utter 2011-Heatery (I’m coining this term,) when Dwyane Wade posed just a little too long after draining a 3 in front of the Dallas bench to put his team up by 15. Looking back, I can say I felt a shift. Despite losing the following game, that was it for Dallas. A metaphorical flip had been switched, and they were not going to go back.
The Mavericks won games 4 and 5 to gain the lead in the series, and to bring me to the second of the 2 most important sports moments in my life. June 12, 2011.
I locked myself in my room. Maybe I was scarred by 2006, or maybe I just feared that my new roommate would start immediately looking for vacancies elsewhere. I watched much of the game through my fingers, peeking over the top of the pillow on which I had a death-grip, refusing to look at the screen, opting instead to check the score compulsively on my laptop.
The Heat went ahead. The Mavs responded. The Heat came back again. Dallas entered the final quarter, potentially of the series, with a 9-point lead.
Much of that final quarter was a blur. All I could do was alternate between pacing the room and bouncing on my bed like any semblance of relaxation would benefit Miami. My fidgeting and the Mavs success were unalterably linked.
A lot was made of Dirk exiting before the clock even showed all zeros. It was a beautiful moment, and one that was a microcosm of his entire career. Dirk is determined but humble, confident but thankful. The moment overtook him and I will always love that.
Despite that moment’s perfection, what stood out most clearly for me came the minute before. A time out. Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler both walked, out of breath but elated, with hands on their heads, mirroring each other perfectly. The feeling burst right out of them, spreading to the ecstatic teammates on the bench, the huge portion of Dallas fans who had invaded American Airlines Arena, to me, watching in my bedroom.
They knew that they, the Dallas Mavericks, were going to be champions. It was not just a feeling of celebration. It was relief. It was karma. It was retribution. It was the kind of glory that could only come from a place of frustration and pain, and its resulting determination.
The bitterness of 2006 did a lot of things to me as a fan, but nothing more than adding to the sweetness of that day five years later. That agonizing experience made June 12, 2011, one of the most memorable nights of my life.
Editor’s Note: You can and should follow Caitlin (@CaitlininTexas) on Twitter. She’ll fill up your timeline with Mavs and puns, but it really is worth it.