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June 7, 2011

The Utah Mavs

Stop me if you've seen this before --

A disrespected Hall of Fame power forward. An aged, white point guard at his side. A dead-eye three point shooter at the two guard.  All in the hunt for their first ever NBA championship. The obstacles in their path? Only an opponent that stopped their title run once before, some questionable officiating, and the greatest basketballer on the planet.

Sound familiar? It should, provided you are either a fan of the present Dallas Mavericks or the 1998 Utah Jazz. The current Mavs are the then-Jazz equivalent, a team stuck in a similar story, fighting the same enemy for the same prize. Though this year's Chicago Bulls boast three ex-Jazz man on their roster, it is the Mavericks that can't help but remind me of my favorite team of all-time. Consider:

Dirk Nowitzki is as dominant and desperate for a championship as Karl Malone ever was. Jason Kidd's age, style of play and appearance (were he with hair) remind me daily of John Stockton. Jason Terry is the athletic version of Jeff Hornacek, and standing on the other side of the ring is the man with a ring, Dwayne Wade, who forms a formidable Scottie Pippen. Completing the comparison and frowning on Dallas's championship hopes is LeBron James, a chip off the Michael Jordan block, spurred by the chip on his shoulder from absorbing a year's worth of criticism. The Heat are to the Mavs what the Bulls were to the Jazz.

The only real difference between the scenarios of the current Dallas Mavericks and the 98' Jazz is that the Mavs centers are black. That fact alone might be enough to swing things in a direction the Jazz never could with the florescent Greg brothers (Ostertag and Foster, the former of whose Fleer Tradition playing card is on eBay for a mere $1.00). While the colors of the players don't exactly match up, at least the colors of the teams do. Once again -- akin to Jazz vs. Bulls, the annual Holy War, and Pokemon Red and Blue -- it's a battle between, well, red and blue (or purple if you have normal eye sight).

It's not just the Mavericks current situation that has me reminiscing. Sheesh, prior to the Jazz's costume change of the past year the two team's jerseys were nearly identical. Even the names of the two teams sounds familiar to a degree -- Jazz, Mavs -- though using that logic one would be forced to match the Jazz and the Cavs as well, which unfortunately would be an accurate comparison this year (you know your team blew big time when they're drafting in the same neighborhood as the Cavaliers).

These similarities can be the only explanation for why I've been cheering for the Mavericks all playoffs long. At first I thought it was because the Mavs were playing Portland, a team I hate. Then I thought I was cheering for them because they were playing the Lakers, a team I hate. But when I realized that I had remained supportive of Dallas even when they were playing the Thunder -- a team I do not hate -- something clicked in my usually unaware mind.

I liked the Mavericks. Which is strange.

Strange because the Mavericks 2001 playoff victory over the Jazz signaled the death of the Stockton-to-Malone era. Strange because Dirk Nowitzki once injured Andrei Kirilenko on a cheap foul. Stranger still because I often mocked Dirk for looking more like a WNBA player than a German score machine.

But the Mavs' journey to win the title by beating the team that previously drilled them while facing this generations Michael Jordan is so familiar to me that I am forced to root for this group. And Dirk has been so good that his obnoxious hair and fouls have been quickly forgiven (but never forgotten, thanks to YouTube). In fact, I might be experiencing an American first which has nothing to do with banking. It's tough to admit, but I can't deny it: My favorite NBA player is from Germany.

Surprisingly, Dirk isn't the only product I love that has come out of Germany as of late. The 1995 Spiel des Jahres Board Game of the Year, Settlers of Cataan, is my number one game and the building block of my reborn love life. Likewise my favorite author, Marcus Zusack, was born of a mother who hails from the land of fathers.

It's a short list of favorites, but at least I can say I'm beginning to get over World War II.

Speaking of heartache and catastrophic loss, I hope the Mavs and their fans can avoid it. I don't want Nowitzki and Kidd to be questioned for the rest of their lives like John and Karl. I don't want them to have to blame Bennet Salvatore for a lost championship like I blame Dick Bavetta. And most of all I don't want them to be on the receiving end of this:

No one, not even one of Germany's finest, deserves torture like that.

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