Years ago when I came home from college, I got into a basketball arcade game called Run & Gun. It had two big screens, five-man teams and you could play two against two facing each other. Konami didn’t have licensing from the NBA, so they had teams like Chicago and Salt Lake City and the players looked familiar, but they weren’t allowed to call them Michael Jordan, Karl Malone or Magic Johnson.
Walter and I pumped a lot of quarters into that game. He was usually Los Angeles and I was Salt Lake City. Since this was an NBA rip-off I decided that my Mailman should be called The Milkman and I’d shout “The Milkman delivers!” when he’d finish an alley-oop dunk or “The Milkman rings twice!” when he’d make another great play. In 1997 and 1998 when the Jazz played the Bulls in the NBA Finals, I was a Jazz fan and much of that was tied into how much fun I had with Walter on that arcade game.
Watching the Dallas Mavericks sneak by the Jazz in a five-game series in 2001 was depressing for a Jazz fan, but I got to watch an exciting new Western Conference powerhouse up close. I went to college in Fort Worth and worked in and around Dallas and saw probably 50 concerts at Reunion Arena — now the American Airlines Center — so following the new Mavericks wasn’t difficult. Of course when I lived in Texas the Mavericks were on the decline and even the Dallas Cowboys had an embarrassing 1-15 season.
Stockton retired. Malone spent a single season looking for a championship ring with the Lakers that looked great on paper but ended with a surprising exit at the hands of the Pistons. Malone retired.
There was no real reason to follow the Jazz anymore, but plenty of reasons to watch a winning Mavericks team. Mark Cuban has been blogging in my Blogsmith system, I got to meet Dirk Nowitzki at the All-Star game in Denver last year and I have gone from wanting to see the Jazz get a championship to wanting to see the Mavericks get one.
Their game seven overtime win in San Antonio was tremendous and even Steve Kerr wrote “The transformation of Dallas from a free-wheeling, jump-shooting finesse team to true championship contender is complete.”
If Dallas goes all the way, they might have this year’s screwed up playoff system to thank. By playing the Spurs in the second round they have already defeated their rightful third round opponent and their actual third round could be an easier one right before the Finals. We’ll find out.