So few people have given Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle the chances he deserved and, quite possibly, earned throughout his coaching career.
Carlisle had a semi-successful pro career, playing 188 games in five seasons and playing 77 games in helping the Boston Celtics win the 1986 NBA Championship, but his calling was definitely coaching. He has a .600 win percentage as a coach and a .535 win percentage in eight postseason appearances in his nine years of coaching.
Much like his Mavericks team, nobody seemed to believe in Carlisle despite the success he has had at every coaching stop.
His rookie year in coaching, he helped mold together a rag-tag crew of veterans who had not quite figured out how to play together. Jerry Stackhouse was the scorer while Ben Wallace was a stalwart defensively. Carlisle was named Coach of the Year for leading Detroit to a 50-32 record.
The next year, the Detroit Pistons began forming its identity. Joe Dumars brought Richard Hamilton in for Stackhouse and Chauncey Billups emerged as a solid point guard for the first time in his career. The Pistons had title aspirations then and built a defense to back it up.
With Larry Brown on the market and a bitter sweep to the Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pistons and Carlisle parted ways. The next season, Brown got the Indiana Pistons over the top behind the league’s best defense and the championship was back in Detroit. But Carlisle was in Indiana. The Pistons had to get through the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals to win their championship. Carlisle seemed poised to win his first title.
But something out of his control happened. Ron Artest. He jumped into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills and sparked the fight that may have completely changed the NBA. That Pacers team was never the same again. After going 61-21 in 2004, the Pacers never topped the .600 win percentage mark again and slowly faded out of the limelight.
Again the championship eluded one of the best defensive minds in the league. He was the Tony Dungy of the league — good enough for success in the regular season, but lacking the playoff success record he eventually needed to keep his job.
In 2008, after spending a season working for ESPN where he was (comparatively) a solid analyst, the Mavericks called on him to replace Avery Johnson who had lost touch with his team. The Mavericks knew how to score with Dirk Nowitzki and they knew how to win. The defense was much improved. But like Carlisle, Dallas could not quite get over the hump, haunted by the failure of the 2006 Finals.
There would have been plenty of space for doubt throughout the Mavericks organization after the team’s recent failures and the missed opportunities that have haunted Carlisle’s coaching career. But Carlisle continued to preach to his team one thing: To Believe.
“He just kept telling us to believe in ourselves,” Ian Mahimni said. “Going into a game like this, there’s so much pressure, you don’t want to be the one to make a mistake, and he just kept telling me how much he believed in what I could do.”
“Coach just told us to keep believing in ourselves,” Shawn Marion said, “and that’s what we did. We believed in this team.”
So many pundits, analysts and fans counted out this Mavericks team throughout the season. After they lost a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Trail Blazers, people began to wonder if they would even get out of the first round. But Carlisle continued to preach to his team they could win the championship and continued to push the right buttons.
Carlisle has been an incredibly successful coach throughout his career, there was no doubt he would have his team ready to play and make the right adjustments. But those doubters persisted. Certainly against the mighty Miami Heat.
Instead Carlisle kept his team believing and playing hard and playing together.
Now he finally got over the top and finally has his ring as a coach.
Photos via Daylife.com.