The Dallas Mavericks, are a professional basketball team in the Southwest Division of the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The team officially became the twenty-third member of the NBA on May 1, 1980, when owner Donald Carter’s Dallas National Basketball Association, Incorporated, was awarded an expansion franchise by the NBA and Commissioner Larry O’Brien. The Mavericks’ first President and General Manager was Norm Sonju, who sought to bring an NBA franchise to Dallas since 1978, when the Buffalo Braves nearly relocated to Dallas before becoming the San Diego Clippers. Sonju contacted Dallas mayor Bob Folsom to form a group of eight investors led by the Carter family's Home Interiors and Gifts, Incorporated. Mayor Folsom and the city of Dallas assisted with constructing the 17,007-seat Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas in 1979. Joining Carter and Sonju in the Mavericks initial leadership hierarchy was Director of Player Personnel Rick Sund, Head Coach Dick Motta, and Assistant Coach Bob Weiss.
The Mavericks’ first regular season game in the newly built Reunion Arena occurred on October 11, 1980, and produced a 103-92 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, but it was only one of fifteen victories in their entire opening season. Some investors feared that Dallas, with its rich football tradition, would not support the Mavericks. Yet, after the first season the team finished a respectable eighteenth in the league in attendance. By the 1985–86 season the Mavericks set an NBA record by filling Reunion Arena to 99.4 percent of its capacity.
Following the expansion season, The Mavericks added future all-star cornerstones Mark Aguirre and Rolando Blackman through the 1981 NBA Draft. The Mavericks experienced significant improvement in each of their early seasons before reaching the NBA Playoffs for the first time in 1984 following a 43-39 season. During the 1984 season Mark Aguirre became the first Maverick to play in the NBA All-Star game. Dallas won their first playoff series three to two against the Seattle Supersonics, which concluded with a memorable game. Due to a prior scheduling conflict for a professional tennis tournament at Reunion Arena, the Mavericks hosted the decisive game five at Moody Coliseum on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU). In the presence of an overflow crowd of nearly 9,000, the Mavericks staged a frantic final minute rally, known as “Moody Madness,” to force overtime and won 105-104. Ultimately, they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the second round.
Throughout the 1980s the Mavericks remained a Western Conference Playoff fixture. They added another playoff series win against the Utah Jazz in 1986 before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. In 1987, Dallas won its first division championship, topping the Midwest Division with a 55-27 record, but they were defeated by the Seattle Supersonics in the opening round of the playoffs, which led to the surprise resignation of Dick Motta after coaching the Mavericks for the first seven seasons of the franchise.
The Mavericks hired former Phoenix Suns head coach John MacLeod, and under his direction the team achieved their most successful season in 1987-88. Dallas won a series over the Houston Rockets in four games and against the Denver Nuggets in six games to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. The series lasted seven games, but Dallas lost four games to three. The loss represented the high water mark for that era of Maverick basketball. The following season the Mavericks traded Mark Aguirre to the Detroit Pistons at mid-season for Adrian Dantley. On November 29, 1989, the team fired John MacLeod, and his replacement Richie Adubato rallied Dallas to a forty-seven win season. The Mavericks were a sixth seed in the West, but were swept in the first round by the Portland Trailblazers.
The Mavericks entered into a rebuilding period following the 1990 playoffs. Over the next four seasons the team averaged only nineteen wins per season. The Mavericks traded longtime franchise favorites Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper. A promising young player, Roy Tarpley, faced a drug related suspension, while Richie Adubato, Garfield Heard, and Quinn Buckner experienced brief and disappointing tenures as head coach. In 1994, Dick Motta returned to coach the Mavericks and the team drafted point guard Jason Kidd. Kidd combined with fellow youngsters Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson to form the core of the “Three Js.” The team nearly tripled their win total from the previous season with a 36-46 record, and finished only five games out of a playoff spot. The team regressed to win only twenty-six games the next season. Dick Motta left after two seasons, and the Mavericks traded all “Three Js” before the end of the 1996-97 season. Furthermore, original owner Don Carter sold his majority stake in the Mavericks to Dallas businessman and developer Ross Perot Jr.
The 1996-97 season began the acquisition of some centerpieces of the revival experienced later in the 2000s. The trade of Kidd to the Phoenix Suns brought future All-Star Michael Finley, and Don Nelson joined the front office as General Manager early in 1997. Nelson took over for Jim Cleamons as head coach in December of 1997. Nelson made two franchise changing moves on draft night in June 1998. A trade with the Phoenix Suns netted the Mavericks future All-Star and Most Valuable Player (MVP) Steve Nash. Additionally, a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks allowed the Mavericks to acquire the draft rights to a raw but talented young player from Germany, Dirk Nowitzki. The 1990s ended with Finley advancing towards all-star status, but Nash and Nowitzki struggled to reach similar success. The Mavericks and fellow Reunion Arena tenant the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League (NHL) benefited when a bond proposal for partial public financing of a new arena narrowly passed, which paved the way for construction of the ultramodern American Airlines Center.
On January 4, 2000, an agreement in principle announced billionaire Mark Cuban’s purchase of the Dallas Mavericks from then owner Ross Perot Jr. Cuban, an entrepreneur and longtime Mavericks season ticket holder created an audio/video streaming service called AudioNet (later renamed Broadcast.com). Yahoo acquired the company for more than five billion dollars during the “Dot Com Boom” of the late 1990s, which provided Cuban funding to purchase the Mavericks for $285 million. Cuban’s energy and enthusiasm for the team generated excitement among fans, and the players responded by winning over sixty percent of their final fifty games of the 1999-2000 season, but narrowly missed the playoffs.
The 2000-01 season began with expectations of ending the longest playoff drought in the NBA. Finley reached his second NBA All-Star Game and Nowitzki was selected All NBA Third Team after the Mavericks finished 53-29. Dallas ended an eleven-year absence from the playoffs, and surprised the NBA world by rallying from being down 2-0 to upset the Utah Jazz three games to two in the first round. The Mavericks playoff run, as well as their time as tenant of Reunion Arena ended with a loss in the next round of the 2001 NBA Playoffs to the San Antonio Spurs.
The Mavericks moved into the state-of-the-art American Airlines Center the following season, and defeated the Detroit Pistons in their first regular season home game on October 30, 2001. The Mavericks entered the postseason and achieved a first round series win over the Minnesota Timberwolves before losing in the next round to the Sacramento Kings. The following season the Mavericks won a franchise record sixty games in the 2002-03 regular season. They advanced past the Portland Trailblazers and Sacramento Kings in exciting seven game series. Dallas entered their second ever trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2003, but a knee injury to Nowitzki in the third game proved too much to overcome. Dallas dropped a 4-2 series to the San Antonio Spurs.
The following season the Mavericks exited the first round of the playoffs against the Sacramento Kings. All-Star point guard Steve Nash exited in free agency in the summer of 2004. Meanwhile, the most winning coach in Franchise history, Don Nelson, abruptly resigned in March 2005. Donnie Nelson, his son, eventually assumed the role of Mavericks’ General Manager. Avery Johnson, a recently retired former Mavericks player and first-year assistant coach moved into the head coaching spot. The team responded by winning sixteen of their last eighteen games. Additionally, they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to advance past the Houston Rockets in the postseason before falling in the Conference Semifinals to the Phoenix Suns.
During the 2005-06 season the Mavericks achieved great success and suffered their most bitter disappointment. Following a second sixty-win season in four years, Avery Johnson earned the NBA Coach of the Year award. The Mavericks began the playoffs with a sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies, and followed with a memorable second round series against their in-state rival and defending champions, the San Antonio Spurs. Dallas advanced after winning game seven on the road in overtime. Nowitzki’s impressive fifty-point performance in game five inspired Dallas to defeat the Phoenix Suns in six games to advance to the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. The Mavericks opened the series with two wins at home before losing three straight in Miami and another at home to fall short of the NBA title.
The disappointment of losing served as motivation in the next season as the Mavericks won a franchise record sixty-seven games and became the top seed in the West. Nowitzki’s impressive season resulted in winning the NBA MVP award. However, the Mavericks experienced a historic first round upset by the eighth seed Golden State Warriors, led by former coach Don Nelson. The following season future Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd rejoined the team after an eleven-year hiatus. The Mavericks suffered a first round loss to the New Orleans Hornets in the 2008 Playoffs, and the team parted ways with head coach Avery Johnson. The Mavericks hired former Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle to replace Johnson. The first two seasons under Carlisle propelled the Mavericks to win fifty or more games each season, but struggled in the playoffs during those two years. Dallas defeated the San Antonio Spurs in 2009, but lost in the second round to the Denver Nuggets. In another upset, the Mavericks entered the playoffs as a second seed, but were defeated by the San Antonio Spurs in 2010.
The 2010-11 season began with optimism in Dallas. In the off-season the Mavericks added center Tyson Chandler and began the season 24-5, but in late December Nowitzki injured his knee, which resulted in a three week recovery. Additionally, Caron Butler tore his left patellar tendon during a game in Milwaukee on New Years’ Day of 2011. The Mavericks finished the season with fifty-seven wins and became the third seed in the Western Conference. Still, some analysts viewed them as a possible victim of a first round upset, rather than a team poised to win an NBA Championship.
With a series against the Portland Trailblazers tied at 2-2, the Mavericks returned home to win game five and barely managed to eliminate the Trailblazers after game six in Portland. Dallas prepared for the first playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers since the 1980s. The Mavericks rallied in the third quarter of game one in Los Angeles to win, which provided a spark to carry Dallas to sweep the two-time defending NBA Champions. The sweep concluded with a win known to Mavericks fans as the “Mothers’ Day Massacre,” when Dallas achieved an NBA playoff record of twenty three-pointers in a 122-86 win. The Mavericks defeated Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1 in the Western Conference Finals.
Dallas faced their 2006 Finals nemesis the Miami Heat in the 2011 Finals. With LeBron James leading the way, the Heat captured the opening game in Miami. The Mavericks trailed by fifteen points in the fourth quarter of game two, but Nowitzki and Jason Terry fueled a fourth quarter rally that concluded with Nowitzki’s game-winning basket with 3.6 seconds remaining.
Miami won game three in Dallas. Nowitzki battled flu-like symptoms, but Dallas won game four at home. The Mavericks won a game five victory. On June 12, 2011, the Mavericks celebrated winning an NBA Championship on the opponents’ floor after defeating the Miami Heat in game six with a score of 105-95. Terry led the Mavericks with twenty-seven points in the victory. Nowitzki earned the Finals MVP award. After thirty-one years the Dallas Mavericks became an NBA Championship winning franchise.
The following season started almost two months late due to an NBA work stoppage. The Mavericks struggled to find team chemistry during the compressed sixty-six game schedule. Dallas won only thirty-six games and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Oklahoma City Thunder. A pre-season knee surgery forced Nowitzki out of the first twenty-seven games of the 2012-13 season, and Dallas missed the playoffs for the first time since 2000. In 2014, Dallas bounced back to win forty-nine games and challenged the San Antonio Spurs to seven games before being eliminated. In 2014-15 the Mavericks won fifty games, but lost in five games to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
Following the 2014-15 season, Nowitzki stands seventh in NBA history in points scored with over 29,000. Meanwhile, Rick Carlisle is only one win away from tying Don Nelson as the franchise’s most winning head coach, and Mark Cuban is now in his sixteenth year of ownership. The only retired Maverick numbers are 15 and 22, in honor of Brad Davis and Rolando Blackman.
The Mavericks games are televised on Fox Sports Southwest with Mark Followill, Derek Harper, and Jeff Wade. The radio broadcasts are heard on 103.3 FM ESPN with Chuck Cooperstein and Brad Davis. The Mavericks have sold out 555 consecutive regular season games at American Airlines Center, which is the longest active sellout streak in American professional sports.
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Steve Pate, The Dallas Mavericks '87-'88 (Dallas: Taylor, 1987). Kevin Sullivan, Dallas Mavericks 1986–87 Media Guide. Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell, The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy (New York: Ballantine/ESPN Books, 2010).
Sports and Recreation
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Eric M. Pfeifle
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accessed June 25, 2022,
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