“Back in my day, kids actually had to win something to get trophies.” -Craig Groeschel
“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”-St. Paul
So it’s been 17 years since a team I’ve rooted for has won a championship in anything. For those of you keeping score, that means I was barely a teenager the last time I’ve felt like I do this morning. There is something pretty remarkable about watching a team you care about reach what they had been chasing for so long.
I’ve said a lot over the past couple of weeks, that this series is the most captivating basketball I’ve seen since the days of the Bulls/Jazz. Maybe it’s because of Dirk’s playing sick, or the fourth quarter comebacks, maybe it’s because of the closeness of the games or because both teams had so much on the line.
But there is something deeper here too.
The author Donald Miller points out that the book Friday Night Lights was actually written about a season that the Permian Panthers lost the championship in. The book could have ended differently, the Panthers won the Texas State Championship the very next year, but the author chose not to tell that story. And what is interesting is why.
He chose to tell the story about the previous year, the one they lost, because that year they tried harder. Even though they lost, they played with more passion and sacrificed more to get there. And that, according to Donald Miller, is what matters.
It’s also what makes the Mavericks season so great.
It seems like in professional sports, there is a new way of winning championships. Since the introduction of the free agency, people have no longer been expected to stay at a certain city or team. After a contract is up, they are able to chose in their own self-interest. But what is interesting to me is what those self-interest are starting to become. You might expect that a professional player might gravitate toward the city that could pay the most, or could offer the best long-term package. But that’s not the newest trend. What most of the superstars these days are chasing isn’t more money, but trophies.
Which makes sense. Part of me blames the sports commentary that is everywhere these days. The running narrative is that if a superstar doesn’t win a ring they aren’t really a legitimate superstar. The players these days have grown up under the shadow of Michael Jordan, and are judged by his accomplishments. It’s like the great lie, if you repeat it enough it must be true. And it has become the dominant story of every sporting event. These people matter because they have a trophy, and these people do not because they don’t. But there are some unintended consequences to that kind of thinking.
Because money is no longer the driving force, the new idol is that elusive trophy. And anything should be sacrificed to make sure you get it.
If that last sentence doesn’t sound crazy to you, you’ve been watching to much ESPN.
The sad part of this whole series for me is that I actually like the players for Miami. I think that DeWayne Wade, Lebron James and Chris Bosch are classy people. But what they did was the natural outcome of putting this kind of pressure of players to pursue a trophy at the expense of all other good things. Like the love of a city, or the ability to inspire children with the virtue of loyalty.
I like the way that the Sportswriter Rick Reilly talked about this series:
“Pull for Dallas because Nowitzki stayed with his team, never took his talents anywhere but to the gym every day. Pull for Dallas because Nowitzki has stuck it out through 13 seasons so far with this one team, stuck it out through all those depressing playoff springs, all those one-and-dones, all those words people called him — “loser” “choker” “soft” — stuck it out even when Steve Nash left, leaving Nowitzki with a lot of nobodies and some mops.Pull for Dallas because when you ask Nowitzki why he didn’t bolt the way everybody else does, he simply says, “Because this is where my heart is.”Pull for Dallas because Nowitzki didn’t try to win a title the new way, didn’t pick the best kids on the playground and take on everybody else, didn’t get a bunch of super-human friends and schedule himself a ring, like you might a birthday party.Pull for Dallas because Nowitzki has this crazy idea about trying to win one the old fashioned way, by getting better.”
Now that’s not to say anything against the Miami Heat, individually I like them, it’s just the whole system around them that I dislike. Because there is something counter-intuitve about what we have witnessed the last few weeks. Common sense says the team with the most talent should win. And while there has been nothing common about these playoffs, there is something else that this series has taught me.
Dirk said last night, that this was a win for team basketball everywhere. And he’s right. Because that’s what we witnessed these playoffs. A team. There were no ego’s or inflated levels of pride. Even Mark Cuban deferred to a previous owner. And here is a bit of wisdom I’ve learned from the Mavericks this week. Trophies are a good thing, but they are should always be a secondary pursuit.
Like any idol, a trophy cannot bear the weight of being a primary thing. It’s the recognition (at least in team sports), not of great individual play, but a group of people coming together to form a team. Because winning alone is really called losing.
So thanks Dallas Mavericks, I’m proud of the way you won.