Posted Dec 24 2011 10:04AM
DALLAS -- For Dirk Nowitzki, maybe it came during one of those loud, joyous, croaking renditions of "We Are the Champions!" Or maybe in that time between the final horn and the trophy presentation, when he had dashed off the court in Miami and taken a few quiet minutes to reflect on the long, hard path he'd traveled.
For Jason Terry, maybe it came in that last wings-extended flight up and down the floor from foul line to foul line, when "Jet" had finally been given clearance to land on that private runway reserved only for the ultimate winners.
It's that moment when it finally, happily hits home, simply washing over you in a warm, satisfying glow of accomplishment.
For Rick Carlisle, the coach, it came somewhere along the road of one of those "if-it's-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium" tours of Europe, when the feel of the champagne victory spray and the roar of the celebrating crowds had just begun to fade.
"My family and I went to Europe for a week after the season," he said. "And I was approached countless times and told, 'Listen, I'm not that big an NBA fan. I never watch basketball that much. But I started watching you guys play. You guys play so hard and so much together, the way you move the ball. I watched the NBA Finals to the very end because it was wonderful to watch.'
The tale of a franchise's sudden, unexpected rise from far off everyone's radar to the top of the heap can also be transformative.
Nowitzki, the long-toiling, long-suffering face of the Dallas franchise for more than a decade, went from playoff fader to Finals finisher. Terry's rep went from that of a streaky actor who often shot from the lip to clutch performer with the season on the line. The 38-year-old Jason Kidd went from being venerable to victorious.
Carlisle leaped from out of the pack of coaches who perennially chase the grail to becoming one of only 11 men who have won a championship in the NBA as both a player and a coach. After nine previous seasons of coaching in Detroit, Indiana and Dallas, now he begins Year 10 on Sunday seeing the banner unfurled at American Airlines Center in the opener against Miami (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
"It hasn't changed me at all," Carlisle said. "But am I different? Sure. I would have been anyway, just from experience, just from being around this team, even if we hadn't won it. There's growth. Unless you're a complete fool, you're going to get better at what you do, because you've done things and failed and done other things and learned what works. It's not that complicated.
"I don't look at it as validation. What it does it validates that there's been growth with my career. I've become a much better communicator. That's something that I constantly work on."
The Carlisle that much of the world got to watch during the Mavericks' playoff drive last season was often portrayed as a laconic, gruff, always intense from the moment he stood on the sidelines listening to national anthem through all of the days and weeks of practices and games where a magical postseason run had to be constructed by the unglamorous task of tending to all of the details.
The thing about the extreme length and the cocoon-like existence that is required to become a championship team is that while fans all over the globe might be having the time of their lives, those on the inside are often too tied up in the battles to fully gulp in the excitement.
The Mavs played 21 playoff games at maximum capacity, conditions that might be the most challenging they'll ever face in their career lives.
"The thing that I have learned is sort of the altered state of being in an NBA playoff series and that you have to embrace the discomfort that comes with that," Carlisle said. "It's one reason I always talk about pressure. We talk about pressure a lot with our team. We talk about wanting to be in pressure situations, because that's what's gonna allow you to do things that you may not have thought you were able to do. So I freely and openly talk about it. I look for situations and opportunities to put myself in pressure situations, because that's what helps the human spirit evolve to higher levels.
"The reason we won it was because we all stayed completely engaged in what we wanted to do on a day to day basis to the point where when it was over, it was like, 'Wow! I can't believe this is over.'
"At times, yeah, it's agonizing. It's an awesome experience. And it is fun. Though frequently you don't view it as fun, because of what's at stake. There are rewards and consequences for winning and losing. So when you get yourself completely engrossed, engaged, focused on something, the word 'fun' doesn't come into your mind all that much. But when you look at it a step away, it's unbelievable fun. That's because it challenges every bit of who you are."
He is smiling a lot these days, in part because of what's behind and also what lies ahead for an organization and a team that at long last shed a label of doubt for determination.
"Just getting in that position and doing it just makes you hungrier to do it again," Carlisle said.
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