Mavericks celebrate championship
DALLAS -- After their victory parade snaked through the sun-baked streets of fan-frenzied downtown Dallas, and before moving the party inside the chilled American Airlines Center for a final championship send-off, NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, owner Mark Cuban, coach Rick Carlisle and the rest of the Dallas Mavericks delighted thousands of fans with an impromptu appearance from the balcony overlooking the arena's south end known as Victory Plaza.
As the crowd cheered wildly and rushed forward to get a closer glimpse of their 2010-11 NBA champions, Cuban, with a microphone in one hand and cradling the championship trophy in his other arm, thanked the throng for their undying support. As he continued to engage them, the crowd sent up chants of "MVP! MVP!" to their shaggy-haired superstar Nowitzki, who raised his massively long arms spread-eagle style high into a pristine blue sky.
Cuban passed the mic to Nowitzki, who was wearing a white championship "Raise the Banner" T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his shoulders and a grin that seemed to stretch from each end of the packed plaza.
The cheering grew louder as the man of the hour requested the crowds help in belting out an old favorite: "We are the Champions."
The scene epitomized perhaps the most unassuming face of any professional sports franchise -- at once goofy, spontaneous, classy and gracious. His unpolished singing voice crackled from out of the plaza speakers as thousands of Nowitzki's closest friends joined him, sans music, in a moving, mutual serenade.
Then the band that had been playing in the plaza for those fans that didn't join the estimated 200,000 on the parade route, provided the familiar and stirring instrumental as the sing-a-long reached a magical crescendo.
"It's unbelievable," Nowitzki had said earlier before boarding his float with teammates Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. "If it hasn't sunk in yet, it will now. ... We're on the top of the world now so it feels amazing. For 13 years I've waited for this moment. It's amazing and we're all going to enjoy it."
Fans filled the streets and sidewalks all along the roughly mile-long route between the convention center and the arena. Franchise founder Donald Carter and his wife, Linda, for whom he started the club as gift, were in the lead vehicle, a white convertible.
"Fantastic," Carter said.
In a waiting area at the start of the parade, Cuban clutched the championship trophy as entertainer Jamie Foxx, who is from the Dallas area, joined the fun. Most wore the "Raise the Banner" shirts and other championship gear. Cuban tweeted several pictures from the holding area.
2011 NBA Finals: Champion Mavericks
Game 1: Heat 92, Mavericks 84
Game 2: Mavericks 95, Heat 93
Game 3: Heat 88, Mavericks 86
Game 4: Mavericks 86, Heat 83
Game 5: Mavericks 112, Heat 103
Game 6: Mavericks 105, Heat 95
More: Mavs Center » Mavs Blog »
At the end of the parade, those who rode along said they were overwhelmed by the turnout -- people as far as they could see.
"I'm numb," said Donnie Nelson, the team's president of basketball operations.
The crowd was peaceful unlike the scene in Vancouver following the end of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday night, and the commotion during a Cowboys championship parade in 1993.
Dallas police said the biggest problem was a fight that resulted in three arrests. There also were 145 minor medical treatments, mostly because of heat that approached 90 degrees. Nine people were taken to hospitals for heat exhaustion.
Once inside the arena filled to near-capacity with most fans wearing blue, Cuban, the coaching staff and the team gathered on a raised, square stage erected at center court under the giant video board. Temporary seating was set up around the stage and Carter, who Cuban presented with the Larry O'Brien Trophy during the ceremony after Game 6 in Miami, and his wife Linda, wearing a blue vest bearing a patch of the original team logo, were among those seated in the first row.
Carlisle opened the proceedings by thanking the fans and telling them, "You're looking at the best basketball team on the planet." And then he continued, "Also, the best basketball player on the planet, Dirk Nowitzki."
Nowitzki again showed just how human and relatable he is as he wiped away tears upon hearing the compliments.
Mavs TV play-by-play broadcaster Mark Followill introduced each player, who then took a seat next to radio play-by-play broadcaster Chuck Cooperstein and the Larry O'Brien Trophy perched on a table.
In sit-down interview style, Cooperstein opened the stage for each player. Terry told Brad Davis and Rolando Blackman, the only former Mavs with their numbers retired, to move over: "There's new jerseys coming to town," he said.
Center Tyson Chandler, the defensive force who Nowitzki said changed the course of the Mavs with his arrival, might have had the line of the afternoon. Cooperstein asked Chandler, a free-agent-to-be on July 1, if he's ready to win a second title.
"I hear they do things big in Dallas," Chandler said, "so if we do it big, it can't be just one."
Then Chandler tore a page out of LeBron James' book. Chandler held up his hand and counted off, "Two, three, four, five."
Nowitzki was the last player to address the assembly, and again emotions probably got the best of him as the 7-foot native of Wurzburg, Germany, who was still wearing his scruffy beard, mixed metaphors in describing his elation.
"We've had a lot of ups and downs," Nowitzki said. "This is the top of the iceberg and it feels amazing."
He said his decision to stay last summer to re-sign with the Mavs and not take his talents and championship quest elsewhere started and ended with Cuban.
"He said, 'We're in the same boat. We're in this together,'" Nowitzki said. "We agreed to give this another shot, bring some veterans here and get it done with class."
Nowitzki again wiped away tears as an unusually choked-up Cuban stood on the stage with microphone in hand, but unable to speak. Carlisle stood up and tried to help him out. Carlisle, who managed to convince Cuban to be content in the background during the two-month championship run, spoke up for his boss.
"There is a difference between success and fulfillment," Carlisle said. "Mark has obviously had success. The thing you have to understand is to him it doesn't matter the cost. To him it's to bring this moment to you."
When Cuban steadied himself to speak, he told a favorite story of when he ran into Nowitzki at a local bar. Cuban had just reached a deal to buy the team, but the news had yet to break. Cuban said he approached Nowitzki, who had known of Cuban only as a loudmouth fan, and offered to buy him a drink.
"Dirk shook his head and walked away," Cuban said.
The next day Cuban was introduced to the team as its new owner. He and Nowitzki made eye contact.
"He shook his head again. That's been our relationship ever since," Cuban joked.
Cuban finished the festivities by telling the fans he has always promised to be opportunistic and always try to win. He then asked if they remembered what he said after clinching the Western Conference championship.
In unison, the arena echoed: "We ain't done yet."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.