Our journey through the annals of NBA history continues in Dallas today, as we take a look at the one time in 40 years of basketball history that everything came together and the team got all the way atop the league’s mountain.
Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and the Mavericks got their title in 2011, avenging a five-year grudge against the officiating that many fans argue cost them the 2006 title against the Miami Heat and making LeBron James look like his career was going the way of Karl Malone—it wasn’t until the following season that LeBron finally got a ring.
Dallas went 57-25, taking the 3 seed in the West, and while it was only their fourth-best regular-season record in franchise history—Dallas won 60 games in 2003 and 2006 and 67 games in their ill-fated 2007 campaign that ended at the hands of the 8 seed Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs—it had the best end result come playoff time.
So let’s break down this celebratory season deep in the heart of Texas and see what was so special about this Mavs team that set them apart.
The On-Court Record
As mentioned, Dallas went 57-25, far from the best regular-season record in franchise history. They were eighth in Offensive Rating, eighth in Defensive Rating, and eighth in Net Rating, and out-performed their expected won-lost record by four games (they were expected to go 53-29 based on their differential, which was—surprise—eighth.)
Come playoff time, Dallas held Kobe Bryant to just 22.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc (5-of-22) in a second-round sweep of the Lakers, a sign of what their defense could do on its best day.
Then, they disposed of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that wasn’t quite ready for prime time (they’d reach the Finals a year later), but which got to the conference final thanks to 8-seed Memphis shocking the Spurs in Round 1 and giving the Thunder an easier path through the second round.
That was really the defining element of Dallas’ 2011 season. It never hurts to get a little luck on the way to a title, and having the defending champs go stone cold shooting while someone else disposes of the favorite for you on the other half of the bracket? That’s how a 3 seed rides into the Finals 12-3—after the Finals were over, Dallas posted a solid 16-5 playoff record for the year, better than their regular-season winning percentage.
The Featured Players
Some teams ride into the Finals behind an overwhelming cast of all-time greats (the ’86 Celtics with their five Hall of Famers, for example, or the ’83 Sixers with four Hall of Famers and a guy—Andrew Toney—who was an All-Star the year they won it all.) Others have a Big Three Featuring So-and-So (the ’08 Celtics Featuring Rajon Rondo, for example).
And other teams have two overwhelmingly dominant figures at their position with a solid supporting cast—see the Jordan/Pippen Bulls or…well…the Dirk and Jason Mavericks.
That’s not to say the rest of the ’11 Mavs were slouches. Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, and Shawn Marion may not be Hall of Famers, but all three guys have at least an argument for inclusion, having posted over 100 career Win Shares.
It was Bulls Lite. Sure, teams have won with less talent top-to-bottom (that same Miami team won it all in 2012, after all, and the 2020 Lakers were a G-League team behind LeBron and Anthony Davis), but it never hurts to put solid guys behind your Hall of Famers.
Rick Carlisle managed to do more with that 2005 Pacers team decimated by the “Malice at the Palace”-related suspensions than most coaches could possibly have hoped for, and when he ended up in Dallas for the 2009 season, he took a franchise that had been staggered by one of the biggest playoff chokes ever (that 2007 faceplant against Golden State), a team that had crashed out in the first round against New Orleans in 2008 and looked every bit like a “good but nowhere-near-contending team”, and had them on the top of the mountain three seasons in.
In the years since, he’s had his ups and downs, and Dallas finally got rid of him when it looked like he just wasn’t the coach of the future for Luka Doncic.
But Carlisle’s career coaching record is 836-689, a .536 winning percentage. The Pistons team he left to Larry Brown after the 2003 season won the title in ’04 and made the Finals in ’05. He was going to have his year. 2011 just happened to be it.
The 2006 team deserves a mention because they won three more regular-season games than the ’11 version and got screwed by the refs because of David Stern’s beef with Mark Cuban.
The 2020 squad deserves a mention because they set the record for Offensive Rating by a team in a complete season—a record that, amusingly, lasted just one year—the 116.7 rating Dallas put up in 2020 would’ve ranked eighth in 2021.
And speaking of legendary offenses, the ’04 Mavs put up the highest Offensive Rating relative to league average (112.1 vs. 102.9, fully 8.9 percent better than the rest of the league) in history.
But let’s talk old-school.
In the 1980s, the Mavericks took ruthless advantage of Ted Stepien’s ownership of the Cleveland Cavaliers to grab Cleveland’s first-round pick in 1984, ’85, and ’86—the “Stepien Rule” preventing teams from trading out of the first round in consecutive drafts got its name from this fleecing.
And since Cleveland was awful in the ’80s, those picks turned into Sam Perkins (one pick ahead of Charles Barkley), Detlef Schrempf (who ended up in Indiana midway through the ’89 season), and Roy Tarpley‘s cocaine habit (one pick ahead of Ron Harper.)
Still, that core—along with Rolando Blackman, Mark Aguirre, and Derek Harper—came within a Game 7 against the Lakers in the ’88 Western Conference Finals from challenging Detroit for the title. That squad would be the high-water mark for the franchise right up until Cuban bought the team—Dallas famously bottomed out in 1993 and ’94, going 11-71 and 13-69 (nice) in consecutive seasons while the fans wished the Mavs would unbreak their hearts.
But really, the history of the Dallas Mavericks as a successful NBA franchise is first and foremost about the career of Dirk Nowitzki, and Dirk’s high-water mark came in the greatest way possible in 2011.
NEXT: Denver Nuggets. And no, the ABA doesn’t count (sorry, Dan Issel.) Stay tuned and thanks for reading!