When Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook step on to the hardwood at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, Texas, they will be the center of attention in a very foreign territory.
On the other side of the court, Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki will be treading in familiar waters that they’ve been yearning to return to since their last dip in that pool during the peaks of their careers.
The stage the four players will play on is the 2011 NBA Western Conference Finals as the Oklahoma City Thunder face off against the Dallas Mavericks for a chance to compete in the 2011 NBA Finals.
Intrigue will be a theme that dominates each minute of this series; but a more overbearing concept will be laminated into this battle once game one tips off: legacy.
Determining where a player sits in the echelon of NBA greats will always be measured by a player’s accomplishments. How many MVPs a player wins, the number of times he tops the league in scoring, or other awards and statistical categories he dominates each year will forever be placed side-by-side when comparing one another. Yet, one area of a player’s resume ultimately decides their ranking amongst the all time greats: championships.
Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, Reggie Miller, Allen Iverson, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, and Karl Malone all had sparkling NBA careers and could form one of the most elite teams every assembled. Despite their awesome abilities, the only flaw that will forever haunt them and keep their names out of discussions as the greatest players of all time is not having that chance to clutch the Larry O’Brien Trophy as their own.
For the Thunder and Mavericks, it’s this theme of legacy that will be at the heart of this series.
Oklahoma City is in a unique position to cement their legacy in such a miniscule time frame. A team that lost over 60 games under their previous alias just over three years ago (Their last season as the Seattle Supersonics in 2007-08) and were eliminated in the opening round during their first trip to the playoffs in 2010, they are now just one step away from contending for top honors in the NBA.
Along with the four-year transitional period the team endured, the Thunder’s chance to carve their legacy in the NBA history books at this point in time is astonishing because most of their personnel are still entering the infant stages of their careers.
Of the fifteen players on their current roster, only two of them are older than the age of 30. Five of their players have more than five years experience in the league and only three have made it to this point in the playoffs on previous teams. The core of the team is comprised of guys who should be finishing up college at this point in their lives (Durant and Westbrook are 22, James Harden and Serge Ibaka are 21).
Despite that inexperience, Oklahoma City has a golden opportunity to seize the moment and control their own destiny moving forward. Chances to etch a legacy in history don’t come along very often, regardless of how off-the-charts a person or team’s talent may be (look up Dan Marino for evidence).
One team with a group of individuals who understand this is their counterpart in this series; the Dallas Mavericks.
While the Thunder were brought together to form a youthful core comprised of enough talent to be contenders for years to come, the Mavericks were assembled with one notion: to win and to do it quickly.
The Dallas roster is peppered with veterans with at least nine years of experience in the league (nine of their fifteen players) and most of their squad is 30 years of age or older (also nine of their fifteen players).
Although most of their roster is made up of stars with illustrious NBA careers, many are missing that one label on their resume as NBA Champions that would allow their careers to come full circle
Nowitzki is always in the discussion as one of the best, big man scorer ever with the ability to score from anywhere, but has been more tormented throughout his career for his inability to bring home the title to the city he’s played in his whole twelve-year career. Kidd is arguably the second greatest point guard ever (behind Magic Johnson), but will never be able to defend that honor in any discussion until he wins a title.
Peja Stojakovic is one of the best three-point shooters ever, but came up short on his numerous attempts to become a champion during the Sacramento Kings’ glory days. Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, and Tyson Chandler all have immaculate NBA careers, but each have yet to complete a season on a team that was crowned as the best that year.
Not only is everyone on their roster gunning to win now to complete their legacy, but their also hoping to erase the notion that this franchise has been notorious choke artists in the past despite their consistency as a playoff entrant.
Since the start of the new century, Dallas has never been below a fourth seed in any post-season. In the past five years, the Mavs have been division title winners twice (2007 and 2010), the top seed in the West twice (2007 and 2010), and won the Western Conference once (2006).
Although they have all that acclimation, they have yet to call themselves NBA champions. In their only appearance in the Finals during the 2006 season, they were ousted by the Miami Heat in six games.
Defeat is perception that will last a lifetime for whichever team losses this series. This Western Conference Finals will feature two franchises on different ends of the spectrum; one with a bright future ahead of them and another nearing the twilight end as of their tenure of dominance.
Either way, one thing is for certain: a legacy will either be paved or nearing culmination once the horn sounds in the final elimination game.