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What is dead may never die?
[EIC’s note: This is the final piece in a series we’re calling “Rivalry Week” — talking about Mavericks’ rivals, whether historic, current, imagined, or something else. Catch the other pieces here, here, here and here!]
In retrospect, there was something beautifully full-circle about Dirk Nowitzki playing his final game in San Antonio. Dirk’s retirement was the end of eras across the city of Dallas, the state of Texas, and the NBA at large. I attended that game. I kept every muscle in my face absolutely still in order to hold back tears as the Spurs played a tribute video for their arch nemesis of 20 years. Then I saw something I thought I’d never see in my entire life: a crowd of Spurs fans giving Dirk Nowitzki a standing ovation.
And so, as an act of good faith, I have declared the era of the Mavericks/Spurs rivalry officially over [bangs gavel]. The sentiments have tipped too far away from hatred and towards mutual respect to really consider it a rivalry.
What a feud it was to look back on, though. No other rivalry could boast the two best power forwards of all-time. One revolutionized the game with his three-point shot, came through in the most pressure-filled moments, and wore his emotions on his sleeve. And the other was generally reliable, like a copy machine or something.
They each had a sixth man as the soul of their team. Jason Terry had ice water in his veins and checked into games with the swagger of James Harden sliding into some DMs. And Manu Ginobili soldiered through the punishment he put his body through every time he hit the floor on one of signature flops. You can only imagine the additional chapters to the rivalry if the Mavericks had never let Steve Nash walk away in free agency. You have to give it to the Spurs: They held on to Tony Parker, who was basically like if Steve Nash had to get closer to the basket to make shots and was worse at passing.
Each team’s roster construction was like a back-and-forth chess match. The Mavericks signed Shawn Marion. The Spurs signed a French, grey-haired, unathletic version of Shawn Marion named Boris Diaw. The Mavericks acquired awesome early-2000s players like Michael Finley and Nick Van Exel, and the Spurs waited for them to get old and then also acquired them.
In the time that the two fanbases hated each other, they probably didn’t even realize the similarities between their teams’ narratives. The Mavericks won their first franchise championship the year before a lockout year. And the Spurs won their first franchise championship during a lockout year, which means I’m not even sure if it technically counts.
But both teams are entering new phases now. The Mavericks have two young superstars in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. And the Spurs also have young players, like, Derrick White and whatever second round pick they trade for to get out of DeMar DeRozan’s contract.
I say we move forward, Mavs fans. Spurs fans should be friends, not enemies. It would be a bit unfair to keep the rivalry going considering the Mavericks’ promising future and the disastrous Spurs collapse that will follow Gregg Popovich’s impending retirement. Perhaps we begin anew with a rivalry with Houston, or the Hawks or the Knicks. Let San Antonio go have a rivalry with a city with a similar amount of cultural relevance, like, Milwaukee or Oklahoma City.
Again, what a rivalry it was, though. But personally, I’m just happy to have all that pettiness behind us.
You can find Jonny and the rest of his wonderful work on Twitter @JonnyAuping.