Sports, Dirk and the Pursuit of Happiness

I have watched sports for approximately 5,530 hours of my life. I have experienced true happiness in five of them.

That is an awful ratio.

I thought of quitting plenty of times. “Why do I watch sports again?” I always asked myself. It was an honest question. I invested so much time and emotion into something that almost never panned out. The percentage for satisfaction was usually 50-50, but to discover the true bliss of ultimate fulfillment, it takes that five out of 5,530.

Happiness = .09 percent.

There is nothing in the universe like sporting events. You can’t predict them. You can’t write their scripts. The story writes itself in front of you. They are riveting. There is a certain inexplicable elation that comes from being a fan. I first experienced it watching Dante Hall’s punt return against the Denver Broncos in 2003, the day I stopped hating sports.

And so began my search for the Happiness Formula.

For years, my investigation attracted despair. The 13-3 Kansas City Chiefs lost a shoot-out in the first playoff game that I ever gave a crap about. The San Diego Charger dynasty fell apart before it ever had the chance to rule. I only liked the Denver Nuggets because of Carmelo and they couldn’t keep it together. The Kansas Jayhawk’s winning the 2008 championship was cool, but it didn’t do it for me. I didn’t feel like it was MY team.

The Dallas Mavericks had an agonizing two-year span where they lost a 2-0 lead (and should have been 3-0 had it not been for Dwyane Wade) to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. They continued the next year with an absolutely sickening upset dished out by the No. 8 seed Golden State Warriors. To this day, that is my worst experience as a sports fan. The blinding yellow shirts of Oracle Arena as Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and Jason Richardson continually jacked up confident boosters no other man would take for an excruciating six-games. There was no hope.

And that’s when the doubts surfaced. Too much pain was invested into a game. A frickin’ game.

I gave up believing in teams. Happiness could not be found here, or so I thought.

 —

Drew Brees, who is and was my favorite NFL player, signed onto the New Orleans Saints in 2006. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. I loved the guy since coming out of Purdue for his short stature yet his effective, anti-gun slinging arm. He was going to a dump of a team and I half expected him to rot with the struggling city.

Well, that didn’t happen. Linked to Brees and my heritage, I became a Saints fan. The nation was caught up in the team being a savior for a city forever scarred by Hurricane Katrina. Really, Brees was that savior. He was mine, too.

He was not a household name at this point, and still may not be. I just had admiration, a feeling, some strange bond.  I’m not sure I will ever understand it.

Forget the fantasy leagues he helped win. Forget that fairy-tale encounter at a Louisiana airport.

It was on February 7, 2010, that the Happiness Formula was discovered.

I was in a hotel in Austin, Texas. No one was around. Perhaps it was for the best because I really needed to cherish this one.

As Darren Sharper returned a Peyton Manning interception for a touchdown, everyone knew the Saints had the Super Bowl in hand. No one objected to the victor because they were coined “America’s Team” for resurrecting hope in a city that needed it most.

But there was my man, Drew. He hoisted up his young son, posing for the most precious picture of all time. He held the Lombardi Trophy and beamed as confetti rained down. They announced the Super Bowl MVP: Drew Brees.

My eyes welled up and a I smiled so big that it hurt. A person you believed in, a man you looked up to was the center of the universe, if only for this moment. And man so humble and deserving just received everything he ever wished for. He had his son there to make it all the more precious.

That was an inspiring image. Every dream is attainable. I wish I could share this moment with everyone I know.

Feeling good is one thing, but feeling good for someone else is where true Happiness exists.

Everyone has a different answer: Kevin Garnett, Kobe, Shaq, Kevin Durant, LeBron, Amare Stoudemire, D-Wade.

You ask me who my favorite basketball player is and I say Dirk Nowitzki. I’m serious. And I’m sad to say it, but it started as kind-of-a, sort-of-a joke.

In 2006, I took a trip down to Dallas. I was a budding NBA fan with no roots, seeing as how I was from a town without a team. Dallas gave me one.

You couldn’t miss it. Draped on the side of the American Airlines Center was a 100-foot Mavericks banner with the German god of basketball in all of his brilliance. We drove by it multiple times daily. His name was kind of funny, so I kept saying it. “Dirking off” is my popular phrase. “Dirk” was my go-to word when I was on a scary roller coaster.

Then I found myself in the Galleria, the gargantuan mall of Dallas. I came face to face with a ‘41’ Nowitzki jersey. The cobalt blue was too good to pass up, plus I was in the hometown. So I forked over my 75 bucks. If anything else, it was a souvenir.

I returned home and found myself backing up my purchase, rooting for this team I had a connection to. The Maverick playoff heartaches were discussed earlier, so I wish not to revisit them.

In 2011, not even I thought much of the Mavericks. Without Caron Butler, there was no beating the perennial power of the Lakers or the ageless Spurs. And the Thunder were a horrifying bunch of young stars. So did I ride my own team off? Shamefully, yes.

The past feelings of shameful defeat were resurfacing in the 2011 playoffs. A 23-point lead and you let Brandon Roy score a four-point play and you lose? Don’t bother pulling the knife out of my chest, Dallas, I’d rather die here.

But they didn’t let me die. They crushed the Lakers. They taught the young Thunder their greatest lesson as basketball players. They made the series against the Heat one of the greatest Finals ever. I had no idea what was happening. This couldn’t be real.

 —

So when my answer was “Dirk” as my favorite player, ridicule followed.

They called him soft. They said he was a choker. They made fun of his nationality. But I never let them sway my opinion.

Now look at him. Everyone knows him because of the 2011 NBA playoffs. It’s like he was ignored despite his 7-foot jump shooting, free throw sinking frame, resulting in 23 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in his career. People don’t have enough good things to say about him now that he carried his team to a championship. But Dirk has always been a great and stoic basketball player.

He never changed. You did.

Dirk hit a layup with a little more than a minute left to go in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. He buried his face in his jersey to either wipe the sweat or hide his emotions. The Mavericks were up 10 and on the verge of solidifying a dozen careers, including Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion.

This was the overwhelming thought. It was happening again. A brilliant career that was always in question has now been justified by this title. Dirk will not get shoved in the corner of “great player rejects.” He is now in the discussion for one of the all-time greats. Yet another humble man deserving of a championship gets one. That trophy represents he the sole reason he played basketball.

So I cried. Because this is the greatest satisfaction sports can ever give. You sacrifice time, money and emotion, and in the end, you know only one team can win it all. But it wasn’t about me or the Mavericks. No, this was about Dirk.

I can say with pride that Dirk Nowitzki is my favorite basketball player and people will finally respect it. They will respect him. And for me, that is what this is all about.

I have endured plenty of heartache on behalf of another’s loss, but these are the instances us as sports fans live for. Dallas fans: Take this moment and capture it, own it.

Even if you are truly happy less than 1 percent of the time, that’s still a big enough percent to fight for.

It’s for these moments I keep watching. Thank you, Dirk.

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One thought on “Sports, Dirk and the Pursuit of Happiness

  1. I never liked Dirk until a couple of years ago. To me he was just the dorky big man who made plays he shouldn’t have been able to make. His surprising athleticism frustrated me while he tried to oust teams I cheered for (The Heat, and only because I was a casual Shaq fan—the movie Shazam had nothing to do with it). Then I read an article about him in ESPN the magazine (no plug intended) that revealed him to be a humble, workman-like teammate. When you see him in interviews he’s honest and straight-forward. He gives credit to his fellow players, but avoids cliches more so than you’d expect—given that he’s a quiet foreigner. My point is, Dirk makes himself easy to root for. There’s just something genuine about him. Kobe’s a competitor, he’s a winner, he’s incredible. But when Kobe talks about the contributions being made by Pau Gasol in a press conference, it’s hard to take him seriously. Titles mean everything sports, and I’m glad Dirk finally has his. I think you’re absolutely right, “He never changed, (we) did.”

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