The Dallas Mavericks entered the NBA as an expansion franchise in 1980 and in their 31 seasons have piled up achievements, but there has always been a 'but' at the end of all of those achievements.
A series of good trades and draft picks helped fill their 1980s rosters with loads of talent. But they never saw lottery success, and tough decisions like Sam Perkins over Charles Barkley and Detlef Schremphf over Karl Malone (while still solid picks in their own rights) held them back from greatness.
They needed just four seasons to win their first playoff series, a Moody Madness inspired win over the same franchise - the Sonics/Thunder - that they overcame to clinch their second NBA Finals appearance this summer. But the Lakers were there in the semifinals to remind them who they were.
By 1988 they had climbed to the peak of the Western Conference hierarchy. But a devastating seven-game Western Conference Finals loss to those Lakers - their third loss to the Lakers in five seasons, all without ever winning on the Lakers' court - effectively ended their first run, along with the troubles of their most gifted player.
When they turned the page in the 90's, 22, 11, 13, 26 and 24 win seasons, though hard for fans to endure, put them in position to have the ping pong balls to draft potential front court greats like Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Chris Webber. But through all of those tough seasons they never won an NBA lottery. And even when the Mavericks found a fine trio of talents, Jamal Mashburn, Jim Jackson and Jason Kidd could not coexist and had to be broken up. Their exits back little in return - basically Michael Finley and several years of frustrating Shawn Bradley moments.
The arrival of Don Nelson in 1997 and subsequently his son Donnie in 1998 brought about the best off-the-court night in franchise history - the acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki just minutes apart - and the arrival of new owner Mark Cuban in 2000 coincided with a dramatic turnaround on the court. Since the 2000-2001 season, with Cuban and at least one Nelson in charge, the Mavericks have won over 50 games 11 straight times - the third longest such streak in NBA history, and with one more they'll catch the 80's Lakers for second. The 80's Mavs won four playoff series in their run. These Nowitzki-led Mavs have already won 12. They've reached the conference finals three times and the NBA Finals twice. They won a franchise record 67 games in 2006-2007 - sixth most in NBA history. Dirk has won an MVP, and Avery Johnson has won Coach Of The Year.
But they collapsed in their 2006 Finals appearance. Their record setting 2007 season ended in an embarrassing first round, 8-seed over 1-seed loss to their old coach, Don Nelson.
Tonight in Miami, the Mavericks can end the sentence without a 'but' for the first time in franchise history. They can exorcise their 2006 demons and seal the legacies of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Rick Carlisle. Every quality NBA veteran on this roster, including Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic and Caron Butler could then call themselves NBA Champions. All of that could happen tonight, but it won't be easy.
They face a Heat team that is 9-1 at home in these playoffs, though that one loss did come at the hands of these Mavericks, and these Mavericks are a stellar 6-1 on the road since losing their first two in Portland. By some counts Miami had won eight or more NBA Titles before this season even began. The Heat have led them, sometimes by sizable margins, in each fourth quarter. Even after handing the Heat their first two-game losing streak of the playoffs, and even though they need just one win while the Heat need two, the Mavericks are still underdogs to win the series according to Las Vegas.
It won't be easy, but a win tonight would be as meaningful as a win can be to any franchise and in ending a 12-year championship drought it could be the most meaningful ever to Dallas-Fort Worth. Here's hoping. Go Mamricks and Take That With You.