4,178 days: Gritty, gusty, tough and resourceful.

Congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks for becoming the 2011 NBA Champions. The Dirk Side won over the Dark Side.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle used terms such as grit, guts, mental toughness and resourcefulness to describe his team, saying the men he coached embodied those attributes more than any other team he’d been around. (That’s saying a lot; he played on the ’86 Celtics.) [See a great article by ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande.]

The most outspoken and fan-like owner in sports was especially silent during this trip to the NBA Finals. After the game he said:

“I learned chemistry matters, that it’s a team game. That you have to have players that believe in each other and trust each other and trust your coach. And that it’s a process. And that it doesn’t happen overnight.”
—Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (breaking his media embargo for the NBA Playoffs and Finals); via the Daily Dime on ESPN.com

MavsThere are few shortcuts in life. Sports and business commenter Darren Rovell noted that Mark Cuban had to wait 4,178 days for a title. Perseverance and faithfulness pay off. This morning he had company on the plane back to Dallas. I don’t know much about Mark Cuban, but it appears the man is growing in humility and gratitude, which is helping him muster the courage to be generous towards others.

Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team LeBron James left last July in “The Decision” to “take [his] talents to South Beach” after six years together, tweeted that there are NO SHORTCUTS. There may be some shortcuts, but ultimately we won’t be successful in life over the longhaul if we take the easy road.

Let’s be clear: neither road for either team was easy.

The constant scrutiny, the overplayed commentary on the faux coughs (D-Wade and LeBron apparently mocking Nowitzki, caught on local media). Some would say they did this to themselves. I agree. But it still has to be an overwhelming ordeal, self-inflicted or not. They began the year celebrating themselves, long before the season. And today the Miami Herald has a Macy’s ad offering Heat championship gear. Oops.

The Miami Heat of 2010-2011 have been together for about 340 days. Under Cuban’s leadership the Mavericks invested 4,178 days pursuing a championship. That should be celebrated. It’s not so much that they waited so long. It’s that the persevered so diligently.

I wasn’t able to watch game 6, but was rooting from afar for the Mavericks. Something about their non-superstar superstar Dirk Nowitzki makes we want to root for him and their team. (And not just because we were born two days apart.) His whole adult life is wrapped around pursuing the great prize, and in the off-season he holes up in a gym and works on his game. Gritty, gutsy, tough. No excuses. During interviews he grabs the mic and speaks eloquently, never deriding the opposition or mocking them. The young man from Würzburg, Germany seems like a class act to me. One of those people who is the same from far away as when you see them up close.

The fallout from the Heat’s loss will be as big a story as the Mavs win. The Heat were supposed to win; they almost bought themselves a championship, and the fear was this would become the new norm. The Mavs took a different route, and though they too are spending millions there are no easy fixes. After the game LeBron James commented on those who were rooting against him:

“At the end of the day, all the people rooting for me to fail, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live. . . . They can get a few days or a few months on being happy about not only myself but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal, but they have to get back to the real world at some point.”

He’s right. We all woke up to our same mediocre lives. He woke up to the same personal problems he had yesterday as well. That’s true of all of us. Sports give us a mini-escape from reality, but we must face our problems and persevere through them. We are all witnesses to the challenges of life.

In the face of Dirk’s brilliant fade-away jumper, the Miami Heat probably wish the criticism would just go away. Of course they will rebound. Life treats talented people very kindly, especially those who are a business-in-and-of-themselves; LeBron’s ‘brand’ will take a hit, but after next year’s pending lockout he’ll have another chance to courageously pursue faithfulness and perseverance.

Actually, during the lockout, when the games are not televised or scrutinized — that’s when one must persevere and be faithful. If we would be awesome when everyone’s watching, we must do the daily work when no one’s there to see. If we’re honest, that’s the title we desire: to be called faithful and courageous. It takes grit, guts, and resourcefulness. A ring is just bling; becoming a faithful person who perseveres is the real deal.

All of it makes we want to get a new shirt.

[Thanks to @darrenrovell for most of these links.]