Choke City Hopes to Rewrite History

2 Jun

Choke city. Thanks to the 2006 finals in which the Mavs lost to the Heat, that’s Dallas’ well-deserved nickname.

The city and its residents swallowed the bitter pill of defeat along with the Mavs five years ago. I can’t stomach it again.

A sports team is a region’s greatest unifier. Barriers of age, gender and race disappear as residents share their joy or shame over their team. This week talk in churchs, barber shops, bus stops and offices across the city was dominated by the NBA Finals.

We puff our chests out with every subsequent win and lower our heads a bit with each loss. As silly as it sounds, our personal ego is intricately attached to the welfare of local sports teams. In cities where teams are good, their apparel and caps are worn like banners. In those where teams stink, you can’t find a t-shirt bearing the loser’s name to save your life. That’s how it was historically for the Texas Rangers, who for most Dallasites, have also lived in the shadows of the legendary Dallas Cowboys.

Even after year of losing, Cowboy memorabilia still dominated. Last year’s Texas Ranger World Series run finally made the diehards quickly swap their silver and blue stars for the red and blue one. Dallas refuses to multi-task. Only one team allowed a run at success a year, thank you very much. And this year, the Mavericks are the bandwagon we’ve all eagerly jumped on.

This weeks, the Mavs face the team that stole its thunder and smattered its confidence back in 2006. Of course, things are different. “King” Lebron James joined phenom Dwyane Wade on the roster.  

But the Mavs have changed as well. Dirk is better. Terry is stepping up. Little Barrea and the Fountain of Youth, Jason Kidd, have been gamechangers. Oh, I love me some Tyson Chandler.

It’s a pretty good match-up.

Game 1 simply revealed the presence of the ghosts of yesteryear. The Mavs played horribly and cowered behind their old label as Chokers. But Game 2 is most important. This game will reveal whether the Mavs can rewrite history or will submit themselves to a truly humiliating case of de ja vu.

I watched the first game of the finals surrounded by thousands of others at the American Airline Center seated behind two rows of young Southeast Asian, presumably Indian students, who tossed back beers and tossed profanities at the mega-screens. I must admit, I was impressed.

An article in the Financial Times highlighted the NBA’s new marketing push in India, a country where I thought intellect and education is supreme.

But it is similar in this characterization to China, which is current the league’s biggest foreign market. I thought back to my visit to China.

Basketball courts were prevalent, especially in Shanghai. A bus with Yao Ming’s picture splattered across its side whizzed past, much to my delight. Many say that the league requires the Indian equivalent of Yao Ming for traction in cricket country, which the NBA seems to be cultivating with its  Mahindra NBA Challenge.

I agree. Investing your emotions in a sports team requires some form of affinity. Whether regional or ethnic, fans need someone to connect with and root for. At Game 1, as we hissed at the Heat, my sister’s friends couldn’t help rooting a bit for Chris Bosh, who is a native of South Dallas. Cheering for the opposing team’s player because of his roots demonstrates affinity’s power.

It’s easy when you are immersed in an environment, to shed previous taboos. I still root for the Boston Celtics, which became my surrogate team while I attended college in Boston. It’s harder to accept a part of a culture that has been conspicuously transplanted into your own. I will be watching the NBA’s

Indian initiative closely. Its hold in China took 20 years to build. Successfully importing another culture never happens overnight.

Delhi-Mahindra NBA game

Though the team was in Miami, the atmosphere in their stadium held all of the excitement, shrills and thrills of a normal Mavs game. The dancers paraded about with silver pom-poms. The beer-bellied Maniacs shook their stuff for our amusement. It was great, until the Mavs started playing horribly.

I sincerely hope the boys looked back at the tape from Game 1. I want them to see the pitiable half-hearted attempts at rebounds. The lax defense. And, most importantly, the look of resignation that flooded their eyes whenever Wade or James was passed the ball.

I want them to snap out of it. The Heat players put their pants on one leg at a time just like the Mavs. They are not indomitable. They are not invincible or infallible.

I hope the Mavs are sick of failure’s aftertaste and are ready to bounce back with a vengeance.

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