The Dallas Mavericks lost the 2006 NBA Finals mainly because the team failed to close out a series of even, coin-flip games, and because the squad had no answer for Dwyane Wade in his peak. Few teams did back then, and it’s why the Heat won the title that year and why Wade nearly dragged an injured Miami squad to the Finals the year before.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, reportedly, wanted to know if there were other, less blindingly obvious reasons behind his team’s 4-2 series defeat. Because Wade averaged a staggering 16.2 free throws per game in the series, Cuban reportedly hired an FBI investigator to see if the Heat had help from the referees, the NBA, or any number of black helicopters along the way.
During the 2006 NBA Finals, Cuban was frustrated after a Game 5 loss to the Heat, and went on the floor to vent to official Joe DeRosa, glaring, too, at Stern in the stands. Earlier that same playoffs Cuban also criticized how the officials are selected for the playoffs. He was fined $450,000 for those two incidents….
Retired FBI agent Warren Flagg, a 20-year veteran of the bureau, said he consulted with Cuban after that playoff debacle. Flagg now runs his own New York-based investigation and security firm. He looked deep into officiating, as Flagg said, Cuban was considering a lawsuit.
“Cuban asked me what he should do,” Flagg said of the 2006 Finals. “I told him, ‘Sue and you’ll win your case,’ but he knew he’d be killing the Golden Goose.”
When asked about his discussions with Flagg, Cuban said: “I don’t remember.”
Even if Cuban does, he’s likely not going to admit to such, and the bravado behind Flagg’s assertions that he’d definitely win a case against the NBA over referee calls is the height of ridiculousness. It wasn’t about the “Golden Goose.” There was nothing there.
Fans might recall Miami’s comeback win in the series, and look to those 16 free throws a game (and especially the 25 Wade took in Game 5), while forgetting the context of what we’re dealing with.
You’ll recall …
1. Adrian Griffin, Jason Terry and Devin Harris could not guard Dwyane Wade. Griffin and Terry could not stay in front of him, and Harris was too thin and too excitable. Wade contributed relatively modest numbers against the Heat in two regular-season games, but that was because he was guarded by the quicker, younger and stronger Marquis Daniels in one game, and because teammate Shaquille O’Neal had one of his best games of the season in another.
2. The NBA was in the middle of a huge cultural shift in that season and the previous one. Hand checks were absolutely out. You could not touch a guy on his way to the hole from anywhere on the court, and some teams, players and coaches were slower to adapt than others. The Mavericks enjoyed terrific seasons in 2005 and '06 because the team was so damn talented, but Griffin, Erick Dampier and Terry just could not get away from trying to hand check or hit in the lane, and as a result the free throws piled up.
3. Mavericks head man Avery Johnson was outcoached. Miami boss Pat Riley maneuvered expert sets late in contests, save for one stroke of luck with the ancient Heat guard Gary Payton hitting an eventual game-winner, and it boggled the mind as to why Johnson continued to insist both Griffin and Terry play Wade with slow feet and outstretched arms. And that’s on top of the misuse of Daniels, then in his third season. He was the perfect Wade antidote, and yet we were all left screaming at the TV while Johnson continually ignored him in favor of Griffin.
Wade saw all this, he knew he could get to the line any time he put his head down, and the referees called a consistent – if frustrating and maddening to watch because of all the breaks in the action – series. It’s true there were some TERRIBLE calls, especially late in games on bang-bang plays, but it’s not because the NBA had it in for the Mavericks. Not for a team playing in a market larger than Miami’s, with an international superstar the NBA could market to no end in the months leading up to the FIBA world championships.
There was no fix worth investigating, no lawsuit worth chasing down. The Mavs lost three very close games against a championship team because both their players and coaches failed to adapt on the fly, and they were blown out in another game that saw Dirk Nowitzki shoot 2 of 14 from the floor.
It wasn’t the Golden Goose that cost Dallas that championship. We remember.
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