Beyond the Boxscore
Where's the class champs? Dirk Nowitzki running away at Finals end rings of poorsportsmanship
Even before it was officially over, even before the last buzzer sounded on one of the great NBA Finals ever, the biggest winner of the series ran away. Dirk Nowitzki played taller than a King and a T-Mobile spokesperson (which may be a status greater than royalty in sports today) in this series.
He squashed any of those doubts about his softness — or the ridiculous notion about European players in general being soft which still persists in certain NBA circles. He established himself as a great closer with a playoff run for the ages, the kind of run that you're supposed to be able to sustain in a six-game march to an NCAA Championship maybe, but not in a 21-game, four-series slog to a pro title.
But Nowitzki also left the stage without shaking the hands of his vanquished, hurting foes. He didn't stick around to give LeBron James or Dwyane Wade any love at the final buzzer. Instead, Nowitzki jumped over the scorer's table with four seconds left and the Mavs dribbling out the clock. He went straight to the locker room even as his Dallas Mavericks teammates — Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion especially — lingered to celebrate on the court and to hug LeBron, Wade and the rest of the Miami Heat too.
You can argue that Nowitzki was simply overcome with emotion on finally winning the title that fumbled out of his grasp in 2006, that he felt he just needed to get away. Or maybe, you believe that LeBron and D-Wade didn't deserve Nowitzki's respect after they poked fun at his Game 4 sick win with that comedy cough routine.
But, the truth is Nowitzki should have stayed. Even ABC play-by-play man Mike Breen seemed shocked to see Nowitzki sprinting right for the locker room. No matter what he really thinks of LeBron and Wade, no matter how overwhelming the moment felt for him after Dallas' 105-95 Game 6 clincher, he needed to be on that court.
Leaving showed poor sportsmanship at best. It rang of a little classlessness, which is all the more shocking considering it came from Nowitzki.
Can you imagine if James or Wade pulled something similar? That'd be getting crucified. But because it's Nowitzki and he comes across as a humble superstar, he'll get a complete pass. Sorry, it shouldn't work that way. Nowitzki should have to be just as accountable as LeBron or Wade.
Remember how LeBron was ripped from coast to coast when he walked off the court without shaking the hands of the Orlando Magic players after his Cavs were upset in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals? How is Nowitzki's excuse Sunday night any different than LeBron's that night? It's OK to be overcome by winning but not losing?
Is the message you're allowed to be a poor winner but not a poor loser?
By all accounts, the Miami Heat — who've been branded as the villains of sports world, largely because they wanted to make their own decision on where to play basketball — displayed great grace in defeat. Kidd raved about how Wade, LeBron and Chris Bosh all sought him out after this crushing loss for Heat. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle went out of his way to mention how Heat president Pat Riley came into the visitors locker room to congratulate the new champs.
"He showed unbelievable class," Carlisle said in a press conference broadcast on TV.
"All three of them," Kidd said of LeBron, Wade and Bosh, the only three players anyone ever talks about on Miami, "said that if any of us are going to win it but them, they wanted it to me."
There were classy touches all around on this night, the night that Dallas joined Houston and San Antonio as Texas NBA title winners. Even from Mark Cuban, the owner who shut up to help his team win and still refuses to boast now that it finally has (with the exception of saying "shit" on national TV). For there was Cuban, who deserves more credit for sticking up to the often-arrogant NBA commissioner David Stern over the years than he's received, bringing up the original owner of Mavericks Don Carter to receive the championship trophy first.
Wade was great as usual in his post-game press conference, once again showing he gets it. He knows when you need to just recognize the team that beat and befuddled you over six games.
"The word choke is overused in sports period," Wade said, disarming another borderline ridiculous question directed at the most overanalyzed team in recent sports history. "We lost a ballgame. We lost the Finals. We lost to a team that was better than us. Give them all the credit."
LeBron veered toward self indulgence when he answered a question about his critics by basically saying that those people would still wake up to crappy lives in the morning while he continued to live his fantastic superstar one. But despite that fumble, even LeBron largely followed D-Wade's admirable lead.
"Much respect to them," LeBron said of Mavs.
Strangely, almost inexplicably, only Nowitzki flipped the mutual respect script. Only Dirk ran away without acknowledging his opponent.
"I had to get a moment," he later told ESPN's Hannah Storm of his decision to flee. "I was crying a bit. I was a little emotional. I actually didn't want to come out for the trophy (presentation), but the guys talked me into it."
An understandable, relatable reaction? Sure. But then again, so is LeBron storming off the court after that devastating loss to Orlando. There are a lot of grown ups who aren't professional athletes who cannot handle losing games of much less significance.
Bottom line: Nowitzki needed to stay. He needed to slap hands with LeBron and Wade, to recognize their fight.
It doesn't make what he accomplished any less impressive. (The Mavericks went 16-5 in these playoffs, never once faced an elimination game on the way to a title that no in their own city even thought they could win at playoff's start.) It doesn't make the championship hollow.
But we should expect more class from Nowitzki in triumph. More importantly, he should demand more from himself.
Watch Nowitzki run away for yourself: