Sports, just like movies, are driven by narrative. Everything is a story and we’re all looking for an angle or a new way to tell it. The games are unscripted, live action improv theater and that’s what we love about them. Announcers remind us of this fact all of the time when they blurt out phrases like “You couldn’t write this stuff!”
Each game is a single scene in a motion picture called the season. What makes sports different than drama, and perhaps better than any other form of entertainment, is that nobody- not the audience or the crew or even the actors- knows how the story will end. We spend months watching the season unfold and then suddenly everything moves to a climax and BAM!- its all over.
The Dallas Mavericks season is now rapidly moving towards its climax. The Mavericks have what is widely considered one of the most difficult remaining schedules in the league. They are in the thick of a tightly contested playoff race in a historically good Western Conference that boosted seven teams who reached the All Star break 15 games over .500 for the first time ever in NBA history. If you were going to borrow a movie title to describe the West right now, you could summarize what’s to come with “There Will Be Blood.”
Still, one of the most crucial parts to any story is the set up. Before things really start moving, the stage has to be set and the players introduced. A team has to be built. The Mavericks, under Mark Cuban, have always gone about this differently than most other franchises and that leads us to the topic of our comparative study.
Fifty-five years ago, MGM released one of the greatest pieces of cinematic art ever crafted by human hands. The movie was called “The Magnificent Seven” and it was a westernization of a film released six years prior overseas called “Seven Samarai.” I’m going to go ahead and inform you, the reader, right now that this piece may contain spoilers. Fifty-five years is more than adequately beyond the statute of limitations for revealing crucial plot details in a public setting, so buckle up and no complaining.
The Magnificent Seven is a movie about team building. It’s also the story of how this Dallas Mavericks squad came to be. That may sound implausible, but hear me out. The tale is about a small town (let’s just call it Dallas for metaphor’s sake) that scrapes up all of its available resources to assemble a crackpot team of hired guns to defend the city’s honor against an impossibly massive and intimidating band of bandito marauders (the rest of the Western Conference). The banditos are lead by the treacherous Calvera (Steph Curry, James Harden, Marc Gasol, etc.- take your pick) who leads regular assaults on the town’s defenses and threatens to destroy everything the villagers (Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson) have worked to build.
But the general plot isn’t the only thing that lends itself to this Mavericks team. Parallels run between the characters on the cast and this roster. But who exactly is who in this season’s production? Well, I’m glad you asked…
Dirk Nowitzki as Chris Larabee Adams (Yul Brenner)
This one is easy because there is no Seven without Yul’s character, Adams, who is veteran gunslinger from Dodge that’s seen it all. He was the first one to be approached by the villagers and he is where the story begins. He is the character that the townspeople decided to place their trust in and their unspoken leader.
Adams, just like Nowtizki has been in the past, is the unwavering, consistent beacon of hope in the film. He’s the one who recruits everyone he can for the cause he’s willing to see to the end. Dirk had a chance to bail on the Mavericks. Nobody would have ever questioned him had he decided to sign with or ask to be traded to another contender. Nobody would have called him out if he had asked for more money this off-season instead of taking the significant pay cut that he did. But he didn’t. He decided to go all in with this kooky plan to build a contender, knowing full well that there was a chance that he could wind up strapped down to a sinking ship. When someone who ranks as one of the seven best scorers off all time refuses to jump ship, it gives others the sliver of hope that maybe he’s on to something.
This season hasn’t been Dirk’s best, but it doesn’t have to be. Yul Brenner didn’t win an Oscar for Best Actor in his appearance in The Magnificent Seven (he won that four years prior in The King & I). It wasn’t his job to dominate the screen because he had a much stronger supporting cast to back him up. Still, when Yul was called on perform he did. Dirk isn’t at his best, but he’s still averaging right at 18 points and 6 rebounds a game. And just like Chris Larabee Adams before him, Dirk Nowitzki is still more than capable of delivering the final blow to an opponent.
Monta Ellis as Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen)
Just like Monta Ellis, Steve McQueen’s character is a talented gunner who’s never really been able to find a home. Vin Tanner is a gambling drifter, an adjective that describes Monta’s offensive mindset followed by a noun that summarizes the frequent change of scenery during his career.
Monta Ellis is a lot like Steve McQueen. Whenever either of them shows up on your TV screen, they demand your attention. They exude an aura of cool and effortlessness that makes whatever they’re doing seem so easy; even when the reality is that they’re performing an impossibly difficult task. Need to break out of a Nazi POW camp or rid your town of gelatinous man-eater from outer space? Don’t worry, McQueen’s characters have a plan. Do you need someone to take over a close game in the closing seconds of regulation? Have no fear because Monta has it all under control.
Tyson Chandler as Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson)
When we first encounter Charles Bronson’s character, Bernardo O’Reilly, he is chopping an endless supply of full sized logs into kindling and splinters, breaking his back to make sure he gets the job done right. When Yul Brenner rides up to this scene to recruit Bronson, he remarks, “Morning. I’m a friend of Harry Luck’s. He tells me you’re broke.” To which Bronson retorts, “Nah. I’m doing this because I’m an eccentric millionaire.”
That is Tyson Chandler in a microcosm- physically imposing, relentless, and demanding of both himself and those around him. He’s also a disciplinarian, calling out his teammates in an attempt to mold them into better defenders just like O’Reilly chastises the town’s youth to make them better people more suited for what life brings their way.
Chandler is the heart of this team just like Bernado O’Reilly was at the heart of the movie. All seven of those valiant gunslingers were in the fight, but O’Reilly made it personal much in the same way that Tyson takes every loose ball, rebound, and challenge at the rim as a personal challenge and moral obligation. Tyson Chandler grew up on a farm. He knows how to work hard, and the Dallas Mavericks are better off because of it.
Chandler Parsons as Chico (Horst Buchholz)
Enter Chandler Parsons, the Dallas Mavericks’ $15 million investment. Parsons is the least experienced starter by far and one of the youngest players on this roster. Just like the youthful, hotheaded Chico, his game has been volatile at times. But potential is an alluring prospect and one that was powerful enough for Dallas to bring him on board.
Parsons has been good, but not great this year averaging roughly 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game. He’s had his fair share of screen time while ranking second in minutes per game (behind only Ellis), but he’s gotten lost at times in the flow of the offense. With a tough stretch looming ahead and the possibility of people missing time with injury, Dallas needs Chandler to be healthy and active now more than ever.
Rajon Rondo as Harry Luck (Brad Dexter)
Harry Luck receives a bit of a bad rap in this film as being a sort of a treasure seeker. Observers of the film point to his decision to flee the village before the final showdown as an act of cowardice and indication of his true motivations – greed. But Harry is actually a pretty good guy, and his return at the most critical time in the conflict is what saves the day. Despite how you feel about Harry Luck, the movie doesn’t end well without him.
While absolutely no logical observer has claimed that Rondo is holding back to save himself in his play with the Mavericks, there is speculation as to whether or not he will resign with Dallas this off-season (and that was before last night’s flare-up with coach Rick Carlisle). That’s premature and a little unfair, but Rondo is the only starter on this team who didn’t choose the Mavericks or didn’t have any previous ties to the franchise.
Rajon Rondo has a skill-set that doesn’t always stand out to the casual observer and a personality that has rubbed people wrong in the past. But the Mavericks are still undeniably better with him on the floor. Rajon Rondo is a true professional that is going to have to make a professional decision at the end of the season. In the meantime, I don’t think there’s a single one of us who wouldn’t want a guy like him on our side in a fight.
The Bench as Britt (James Coburn)
Dallas starters account for 80% of their top-heavy payroll, but they’ve been getting some exceptional production from players on deals right at or around the veteran minimum. That speaks in part to the Maverick front office’s ability to identify talent that fits their system and Rick Carlisle’s ability to integrate and maximize that talent. But it also speaks to the motivations of the individual players attached to those deals.
In The Magnificent Seven, the cowboy Britt joins the team because he’s looking for a challenge. He wants to be a part of something bigger, something meaningful. Would players like Richard Jefferson, Al-Farouq Aminu, J.J. Barea and Devin Harris been able to make more money elsewhere? No, not really. But they did pick the Mavericks for a reason. They wanted the challenge and they wanted to help shoulder the load on a genuinely good team.
You can be forgiven for forgetting Britt as a crucial character in the movie, just as you may not always pay attention to the guys who come in off the bench. But without Britt, they aren’t the Magnificent Seven… they’re just the “Hey, These Guys Aren’t So Bad Six.”
Amar’e Stoudemire as Lee (Robert Vaughn)
Amar’e Stoudemire is a classic case of last, but not least. Dallas’ latest addition is probably it’s most important piece off the bench and maybe one of the most crucial cogs on the entire roster.
In the movie, Robert Vaughn’s character is a decorated gunfighter on the run who’s lost confidence in his abilities with a revolver. He was the final addition to the Seven and dressed to the nines. In both of those last two regards; Lee and Amar’e are the same. While I don’t think Stoudemire is the midst of paranoid crisis of confidence like Lee was, there is pressure to perform coming from a team that was hunting for lottery pick to one in the middle of the playoff picture.
In the final battle, Lee finally overcomes his doubts just in time to take out a bunch of banditos before getting shot down himself. That is kind of dark and not a parallel I am attempting to draw on. But I do think that Amar’e may discover that he’s still got a lot more left in the tank here in Dallas. That he’ll soon realized that he can still cause a lot of damage, just like Lee did in his final blaze of glory.