Dynasty Busters (Blue Collar Titles)

Since 1999, only ten different franchises have won NBA titles. Dynasties are sexy, but there is a large segment of NBA fans who love underdogs. While dynasties steer the NBA’s marketing success, there are occasions where collections of scrappy role players provide the perfect support for unheralded and underappreciated All-Stars to go on memorable post season runs, and lift up the Larry O’Brien trophy. This chapter celebrates my favorite collection of said teams from the past 20 years.

2004 Detroit Pistons

Head Coach: Larry Brown

Starters:  Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince

Role Players: Darvin Ham, Mike James, Lindsey Hunter, Corliss Williamson, Elden Campbell, Antonio McDyess

One of the best defensive teams of all time. Going into the NBA Finals as underdogs, the Pistons snuffed out the Kobe and Shaq era Lakers last gasp, a vet team featuring the aging Karl Malone and Gary Payton. Many thought this was a wrap before the series even started. Outside of the late great Ralph Wiley, most media didn’t even think it’d be much of a series. Turns out they were right, but things didn’t go the way they thought it would. The Lakers were a Kobe Bryant desperation heave from getting swept in four games. After beating the back-to-back Eastern champion Nets (remember them?) in the second round, a Tayshaun Prince block on Reggie Miller turned their playoff run into something that felt destined. 

Most of the scoring brunt was taken upon by Sheed, Hamilton and Billups, who got buckets when they needed. The ’04 Pistons squeezed the life out of opponents on the defensive end and won by being efficient on the offensive end. They had a long, and physical front line, and Hamilton, Hunter and Billups guarded the perimeter (although 3’s weren’t quite as formidable of a weapon as in today’s NBA). Billups ran the offense with precision, getting the ball to people in the spots they needed to score. Ben Wallace was on his way to being the best defensive player in the league, controlling the block and the boards. Rasheed Wallace was a mismatch for any power forward who dared to check him. Too quick for bigs and too big for smaller forwards; his outside shot forced big men to play him close. Sheed embarrassed a lot of guys at his peak. Their bench players provided big minutes in Ham, Hunter, and Corliss Williamson. Somehow they just got it done. If you looked at the lineups, you wondered how they would get enough points to win, but somehow they always did. Eventually their entire starting lineup would make All-Star teams for the east, and could’ve conceivably been a dynasty had they drafted anyone but Darko Milicic. But for the blue collar fanbase of the Pistons, this was the perfect team, winning through grit and defense. No flash, but all substance. 

They put on a defensive clinic in the NBA Finals, employing the strategy to allow Ben Wallace to guard Shaquille O’Neal one on one and harass Kobe Bryant into taking ill advised shots against double and triple teams of defenders. The strategy worked as Kobe declined to pass to Shaquille and with an ailing Gary Payton and Karl Malone, the Lakers did not have a third scorer to counter this strategy.

2008 Boston Celtics

Head Coach: Doc Rivers

Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Bench: Glen Davis, Scot Pollard, Sam Cassell, Eddie House, Tony Allen, Leon Powe, James Posey, PJ Brown

Some believe this is the first super team to be created in the Free Agency era, with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce joining forces, but all three players careers had already plateaued. Neither player were strong enough to carry their teams to the Finals by themselves so sacrificing numbers wasn’t a big issue for anyone. Garnett embraced his role as the defensive captain hitting outside jumpers whenever he was open, but he mostly focused on leading the defense and hitting the boards. Paul Pierce put up his 15-20 shots, while Ray Allen (who may have had the biggest adjustment) only showed glimpses of his Jesus Shuttlesworth persona. 

Their supporting cast was as strong as any championship team you’d ever see. James Posey, Leon Powe,  P.J. Brown, Kendrick Perkins, and Tony Allen provided the muscle on the defensive end. Rajon Rondo was still a young pup, but proved he was capable of running an offense. Eddie House, Sam Cassell and Brian Scalabrine helped spread the floor with their outside shooting. The Celtics came up in a vacuum between the Pistons descent, and the ascent of Lebron’s dominance. This was a team perfectly constructed for a playoff run with a healthy balance of young legs (Powe, Rondo, House, Kendrick Perkins, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and Tony Allen), veteran leadership (PJ Brown, Garnett, Pierce, and Allen, Scot Pollard) and championship experience (Sam Cassell, James Posey)

Doc Rivers had a very strong coaching staff with future Head Coach and defensive specialist Tom Thibodeau.

To get to the chip and hoist that trophy, the C’s had to get through the reigning Detroit Pistons who’d been to four straight Eastern Conference Finals, a talented, but still emerging, Lebron James who’d just been to the Finals the year before, and a Kobe Bryant led Lakers who were on their first of three Finals trips with a Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum front line. Although the Celtics would make it back to the Finals again in 2010, that team didn’t have the depth and balance that the 2008 roster displayed.

2011 Dallas Mavericks

Head Coach: Rick Carlisle (Terry Stotts, Dwane Casey, Darrell Armstrong were assistant coaches on that staff)

Starters: Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic

Role Players: Corey Brewer, Deshawn Stevenson, Brendan Haywood, Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, Brian Cardinal, Ian Mahinmi

The 2010-2011 season created a power vacuum. The initial blowback from the infamous “Decision” created an easy villain in the Lebron James /Dwayne Wade/Chris Bosh triumvirate in Miami and some of the usual vitriol reserved for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers was redirected in the direction of south Beach. Unlike the ’08 Celtics who’d acquired an aging Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in the twilights of their careers, the Heat assembled a core of rising superstars who still had strong seasons on the horizon (it was basically like the Heat had somehow gotten three top ten picks in the 2003 lottery draft). The Mavericks, however; were third in the western conference behind the Lakers and the Spurs.

In hindsight, perhaps the West was more wide open than it appeared at the time. Although the Lakers had been to three straight NBA finals, and were poised for a three peat, looking back, things seemed to have been fracturing at the time– due to some internal strife and disgruntled big men.

The Dallas Mavericks would not only upend any chance of a media dream matchup of a Kobe and Lebron NBA Finals, but then would vanquish the “mighty” Heat in 6 games to undermine Lebron’s predictions of “not one, not two, not three,” prediction of consecutive titles at the gaudy South Beach press conference upon he and Chris Bosh’s signing with the team.

The Mavericks opened their 2011 playoff campaign with a wildly entertaining series with the Portland Trailblazers( Shout out to the Brandon Roy game 4); beating them in 6 games. Then they ruined the network wet dream of a possible Kobe-Lebron NBA Finals by sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in spectacular fashion, as the defending champs folded like lawn furniture after going down 3-0 in the series. Then they embarked on a gentleman’s sweep of the upcoming RUNOKC Thunder, coming back from 15 pts down in games 4 and 5, to snuff out the upstart Thunder’s building momentum. The NBA Finals had more than a few subplots, with Dirk trying to get the playoff monkey off his back, the first super DUPER team put together in the league, and Lebron himself having a playoff monkey of his own to shake.

The Mavericks, historically known for being a team full of finesse players, had the perfect mix of grit, basketball I.Q. and great coaching. Even with the loss of Caron Butler (Tuff Juice) in the regular season, the Mavs had a great defensive presence in Tyson Chandler (the defensive captain), Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, and Corey Brewer. Jason Kidd had seen better days on the defensive end of the court, but his I.Q. made up for whatever physical limitations he had at this point in his career. 

Dirk consistently hit big buckets after big buckets whenever it counted the most, but he had help with perimeter scoring from J.J. Barea, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Peja Stojakovic. Brian Cardinal and Ian Mahinmi provided big minutes when called upon as well. This was the ultimate team of role players, where on paper, there wasn’t much flash, but their collective substance led them to a title. A lot of teams had bigger stars, but Dallas had a group of savvy veterans with high basketball I.Q’s who played well within their defined roles. Defensive captain, Tyson Chandler cleaned up any offensive penetration that resulted from perimeter leaks. Marion and Corey Brewer and Stevenson locked down the wings, and Marion and Chandler cleaned up on the boards (not to mention one of the league’s best rebounding guards in history with Jason Kidd). The defining moment of the series came with five minutes left in game 2 of the Finals with the Mavericks down by double digits with 5 minutes left and the Heat up a game already. The Mavs embarked on a huge comeback; punctuated by a Dirk off-hand layup to take the lead with 3.6 seconds left. With 6:20 left in the 4th, the Mavericks were down by 15 and ended the game on a 17-2 run. The Mavericks would go on to win the highly contested series in 6 games. When Lebron detractors argue why he can never be as good as Michael Jordan, they typically point to this NBA Finals as their closing argument.

2019 Toronto Raptors

Head Coach: Nick Nurse

Starters: Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka

Role Players: Fred Van Fleet, Norman Powell, Patrick McCaw, Marc Gasol

One of the more interesting playoff runs we’ve seen in a long time. The conventional narrative will forever be that Kawhi Leonard carried the team throughout the post-season (he will forever be remembered for his series ending shot that sent the 76ers packing and made a 7’2 Cameroon giant crying home), but no player has ever carried a team to a title by himself. A different player stepped up every night to contribute on the offensive end to help supplement Leonard’s scoring. One night it would be Gasol, the next night Siakam and Green, Fred Van Fleet (after the birth of his son) chipped in 3 point shots on a nightly basis off the bench, and Kyle Lowry was able to shed the ghosts of playoffs past and get buckets whenever the team needed him to score. 

Down the road, I can see history glossing over the fact that this team was loaded with All NBA defenders. The Milwaukee Bucks that season were one of the highest scoring teams that season and Toronto was able to hold them below their scoring average. Against the hobbled the Golden State Warriors, Van Fleet and Lowry were able to hound Steph Curry into some uncharacteristically bad shooting nights. The front line won their nightly matchups against the Warriors in the Finals; trotting out bigs, Siakim, Ibaka, and Gasol (Ibaka and Gasol both former all NBA defenders) with Danny Green and Lowry both known for their defensive prowess on the perimeter. 

Kawhi will get the credit for this team winning this title–as he should, he was their closer whenever they needed key basket–but he certainly had a lot of help from the collective. 


Don Carter’s Search for the Great White Stiff: Why Growing up in Dallas Forced Me to Become a Spurs Fan.

I’m not your typical sports fan. My fandom runs pretty counter-intuitive to someone who was raised in Dallas. People are usually surprised that I grew up rooting for the Miami Hurricanes in football (so much in fact that I wanted to attend the school and be the football mascot). My love for the New York Mets can be traced back to childhood legends, Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry (and later in life a deep love for the city of Queens), even though I openly root for my grandmother’s favorite team, the Texas Rangers.

Basketball didn’t officially become my favorite sport until about 2008. My dad took me to a playoff game in 1986 between the Lakers and the Mavericks. I enjoyed the game, but I was also 7 and didn’t really care who won. Every time the Mavs scored, I would do the Junkyard dog dance to catch the attention of the pretty white lady with big hair sitting next to us. That was the only Mavericks game that I remember from the 80’s.

By the 90’s I watched more baseball than anything and kept up with the other sports just enough to gamble on them. I remember one particular game that I bet on in high school involved the Rockets and Spurs. Otis Thorpe was out with an injury, and the Spurs had just gotten Dennis Rodman. I put twenty bucks on the Spurs and told the guy, Rodman is getting 20 boards tonight. Spurs of course won, and I was able to afford a pack of donuts and a pack of cinnamon rolls to go with every meal for lunch that week.

Many people have trouble comprehending how I became a Spurs fan. Of all the teams I root for, this one causes folks to scratch their heads. It is a question that I get all the time: How does someone who was born and raised in Dallas become a Spurs fan? Like most loves, this wasn’t something that happened overnight, it developed and blossomed over time. I came out of the closet with my fandom about ten years ago, and I’ve rarely looked back–except today. So how does someone born and raised in Dallas become a Spurs fan? Let’s explore this shall we?

1) I spent part of the 80’s living in Houston. 


From 1988-1991 I lived in Houston, Texas on some Prince of Bel-Air shit. Let’s just say that my parents were really worried about my grades and overall behavior and sent me to live with my aunt and uncle in the suburbs of Spring, Texas (hometown of eventual World Series Champion Josh Beckett).

My three years living in a disciplined environment there straightened me out, but it was hell. I had to go to private school for a little bit, and I had zero privacy when I was used to having my space. My allergies were always bothering me and no matter the season, I was always sweating. But the worst part of this situation was that I had to endure the Houston Rockets fandom, and watch Rockets games on television almost every other night. Seeing Otis Thorpe’s ugly mug on the television almost gave me an aversion to pro basketball completely.

While the Rockets were quietly building a competitive team that was only six years and a Michael Jordan retirement away from being NBA champions, the Dallas Mavericks were setting themselves up for a decade long drought with bad trades, and questionable draft picks (If you ever want to get an old Mavs’ fan started just ask them what players they missed out on picking back in the 80’s drafts). When I returned to Dallas in 1991, the Mavericks were unwatchable and nationally televised games were only on once a week. Any around-the-league news I got was attributed to NBA Inside Stuff with Ahmad Rashad. Besides, basketball was barely on my radar at the time; I was way more interested in baseball then.

2) The 1990’s was a really bad decade for the Dallas Mavericks.

I can’t even exaggerate how poorly the Mavericks organization was run during the 1990’s. Being a Mavs fan was the basketball equivalent of rooting for the New Orleans Saints. Their ineptitude was so great that a running joke in the early 90’s was who would win more games, the Dallas Cowboys or the Dallas Mavericks (The Cowboys went 13-3 in 1992 and 12-4 the following season. The Mavericks were 11-71 in 1992, and 13-69 the next season. This should give you an idea of how ludicrously bad the Mavs were back then.


Only twice did the 90’s mavericks win more than 30 games, the 1994 season (36-46) and the 1999 season (40-42). They won less than 20 games three seasons that decade, and only won 40 games or more once, and that was 1999; arguably the most entertaining team they had that decade.

Any momentum that was built during the 3 J’s era (Jimmy Jackson, Jason Kidd, and Jamal Mashburn) washed ruined by ill-advised attempts at implementing the triangle offense, bad coaches (Richia Adubato, Dick Motta, Quinn Buckner, and later Jim Cleamons), locker room egos, and possibly Toni Braxton.

3) Dallas front office chased white players like Captain Ahab chased Moby Dick.

Q:What do Raef LaFrentz, Shawn Bradley, Cherokee Parks, and Eric Montross have in common?

A: Millions$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

I can understand why people want to look onto the court and see a face that looks like theirs.It is for the same reasons that blacks cheer on Tiger Woods (who says he isn’t black) or why black people really want the show Atlanta to be good (even to the point of delusion). Everyone wants to feel represented, but at the same time you can’t force these things. Choosing Parks, LaFrentz, Bradley, or Montross as the next Great White Hope is as much of a reach as Donald Glover or Rembert Browne being the spokespersons for Black America. Sometimes you just gotta wait until the real deal comes along.

Once Larry Bird retired, NBA GM’s clamored among themselves to find the next LB, every white player got hyped incredibly only to get paid handsomely for meager to above average performances. Eric Montross and Cherokee Parks were out of the league before I’d even had a chance to blink. LaFrentz is still a subject of salary cap folkore, in much the same way people talk about Bobby Bonilla’s epic contract with the New York Mets (one that still continues to pay him to this day).

Shawn Bradley was dunked on so many times that it soon became a rite of passage for an NBA player to yam on him. “Bruh you aint’ dunked on Bradley yet? Whhhhhhhhaaaaa!!!! Bruh you gotta dunk on Bradley if you wanna be part of this team dawg. What? You don’t believe me? HEY! HEEEEEYYYYYYYY! Who all on this plane has dunked on Shawn Bradley?” The whole team raises their hands and even a couple of the coaches and trainers. “See I told you. Next week when we play the Mavericks you better go right at him or we gon’ tease you for the rest of the season rookie. Nah man. Don’t laugh. I’m not even joking.”


4) Dallas couldn’t handle the truth.

College basketball phenom Paul Pierce left the University of Kansas early to enter the 1998 NBA draft. With the 6th pick in the draft the Dallas mavericks drafted Robert “Tractor” Traylor ahead of Paul Pierce, then traded that pick to Milwaukee Bucks for the rights to 7’1German 17 yr old named Dirk Nowitzki–another tall white player. I thought Paul Pierce was exactly the type of player they needed and was initially put off with this selection.

At the time it seemed like the same old Mavericks chasing that great white whale, but things turned out for the  best for everyone involved. Dirk was an immediate fan favorite and had an *ahem* interesting relationship with new owner Mark Cuban.Though he suffered some growing pains (I might have secretly derived some pleasure out of Stephen Jackson manhandling during that 2007 playoffs–his MVP year), his career was validated after finally getting his own title in 2011.

There is no telling if Paul Pierce would have gotten a ring out west like he eventually did in Boston. His career path might have taken a drastic turn had he started in Dallas (who is to say that instead of getting stabbed at the club he doesn’t get shot in Dallas?. It seems like a moot point now. Both players will be in the Hall of Fame, but I can honestly say, that this was a swing moment in my fandom, when my NBA loyalties were still in the balance.

5) Dallas fans are pretty insufferable


Except for a handful of people who I’m personally friends with, Mavs fans are pretty fucking annoying. When I went to college in Denton, I preferred to go to the bar and watch playoff games. At the time I was more into players than I was teams, and unless Kobe Bryant was involved, I didn’t give a shit who won NBA games. This started changing around the year 2004.

Although it was cool that Dallas fans finally had something to cheer about, they didn’t know how to handle their team’s success (or failures) with grace. If I even cheered a good play by the other team, I was met with looks of scorn and derision. The ’05 playoff series between Phoenix and Dallas made me hate Mavericks fans. Girls in Dallas Mavs t-shirts would yell at me stuff like “How the fuck can you root for them? Didn’t you grow up in Dallas?” because I screamed in joy at a Pick and Roll/ Nash to Stoudemire dunk. By the time Jason Terry punched Michael Finley in the junk, I was going to Mavericks watch parties and openly rooting against the home team.

By 2006 I was spending a lot of time in Austin with Spurs fans, and they struck me as a rare breed of fans. They of course expected to win, but the friends that I had who were Spurs fans, were super cool about it. They enjoyed the competition, and had no problem giving other teams props. I would secretly find myself rooting for the Spurs not necessarily because I liked the Spurs (even though Tim Duncan was one of my favorite college basketball players of all time.) I wanted to see my friends happy (especially my friend Louis who was the biggest Manu Ginobili I’d ever met).

The more I learned about hoops the more I enjoyed and appreciated the Spurs success and method of conduct. I would never feel right wearing a bunch of Spurs gear, and I’m still sheepish about calling myself a Spurs fan. I’m a fan in much the same way that someone converts to Judaism. My fandom can only be traced back to a certain point in time. I never saw George Gervin play, I initially didn’t like Gregg Popovich taking over the head coaching roles, and  I did not believe that the Spurs would ever win a title with Avery Johnson as the starting point guard.

Just as my love for basketball has grown to religious proportions, so has my love for the San Antonio Spurs has grown. To this day I’ve never seen a more beautiful, egalitarian way of playing basketball than I did during the 2014 playoff run; which is something  that even a non-Spurs fan could appreciate.

As for the Dallas Mavericks, well I appreciate them too (I guess). Mark Cuban isn’t as annoying as I once thought he was, and I’ve even grown fond of old man Nowitzki at this point in his career. So to show there is no hard feelings Mavericks fans, I’m going to list my top five favorite Dallas players of all time.

5) Sam Perkins: the last holdover from when the 80’s teams that were good. Big Smooth still gets a lot of love in the Big D.

4) Jason Terry: despite dickpunching Mike Finley, I fucks with Jason Terry. His confidence and big shot making, was a big factor in the 2011 team toppling the Lebron led Miami team in the NBA Finals that year. Fun Fact: Jason Terry won a championship in high school, college and in the NBA. That is pretty rare company.

3) Jason Kidd: had two stints with the Mavs, and his second one ended in a more idyllic fashion. One of the best point guards to ever play the game.

2) Antawn Jamison: I really enjoyed watching him play for Dallas. He put up points and he was a great locker room guy. I was actually surprised he didn’t finish his career in Dallas.

1)Jerry Stackhouse: dude was something fierce coming out of college. He was athletic and a volume scorer when he first got to the league. By the time he got to Dallas he hung his hat on his toughness and defense, but could still get baskets when needed. I thought Stackhouse alone was enough to predict a Dallas victory over Miami in the 2006 NBA Finals. David Stern and Tim Donaghey didn’t agree with me though. Stack is one of my favorite players to ever lace them up.





 profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at FullsassStudios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com