MIAMI – For Dirk Nowitzki, the résumé is complete. He’s an NBA champion.
For LeBron James, the agonizing wait continues for at least one more year.
A season that began with Miami celebrating the signings of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – along with the promise of championships – ended on the very same floor, with the Dallas Mavericks hoisting the title trophy for the first time in their franchise history after beating the Heat 105-95 on Sunday night. The Mavericks won four of the series’ last five games, a turnabout that could not have been sweeter.
“I really still can’t believe it,” said Nowitzki, who had 21 points and took home finals MVP honors.
He and Jason Terry, who led the Mavs with 27 points, were the two remaining players from the Dallas team that lost to Miami in the 2006 finals.
“Tonight,” Terry said, “we got vindication.”
James scored 21 points for Miami, shook a few hands afterward, and departed before most of the Mavs tugged on their championship hats and T-shirts. Bosh had 19, Mario Chalmers 18 and Wade 17 for the Heat.
“We worked so hard and so long for it,” Nowitzki said. “The team has had an unbelievable ride.”
So did the Heat. Unlike Dallas, theirs wasn’t a joyride.
“It goes without saying,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You’re never really prepared for a moment like this. … Neither team deserved this championship more than the other, but Dallas earned it.”
Make no mistake: Miami lost the finals, but the blame will be directed at James. Even he knew that after the way he left Cleveland with “The Decision” and all the animus that generated not just in Ohio but around the entire league, the only way he could silence some critics was with a title.
“It doesn’t weigh on me,” James said. “At all.”
Still, he got even more criticism – and a thinly veiled jab from his former owner with the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, who reveled in the moment on Twitter.
“Mavs NEVER stopped & now entire franchise gets rings,” Gilbert wrote. “Old Lesson for all: There are NO SHORTCUTS. NONE.”
And the winning owner, Mark Cuban, took what may be perceived as a jab as well: “I could care less about the Heat,” he said.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle joined a highly elite group, those with NBA titles as both a player and a head coach. Only 10 other men are on that list.
“This is a true team,” Carlisle said. “This is an old bunch. We don’t run fast or jump high. These guys had each other’s backs. We played the right way. We trusted the pass. This is a phenomenal thing for the city of Dallas.”
Carlisle said Heat president Pat Riley came down to congratulate the Mavericks after the game, showing “unbelievable class.” Nowitzki and Wade exchanged texts at night’s end, after Wade couldn’t find him during the on-court celebration to shake his hand.
“Their time will come,” Carlisle said. “But now, it’s our time.”
Jason Kidd, at 38 years old, got his first championship. Nowitzki got his at 32, Terry at 33.
Miami had chances to take command and wasted them all. The Heat missed 13 of their 33 free throws, let the Mavericks score 27 points off turnovers and simply could not get a rebound in the final minutes.
Nowitzki finished 9 for 27, and the Mavs still won. He was 1 for 12 in the first half, and they were still ahead, 53-51, thanks largely to Terry’s 19 points.
“This feeling, to be on the best team in the world, it’s just undescribable,” Nowitzki said.