An NBA season is a long, arduous process.
A championship season is even longer, even though at times it goes by in the blink of an eye.
The Mavericks started this trip to paradise in late September when they convened for training camp on the SMU campus. Nearly nine months later, they were certified as the best team in basketball for the 2010-11 season.
Along the way, there were ups and downs, miserable moments and uplifting, unifying times that shaped the Mavericks' season. Through it all, they tried to stay on an even keel. That was one of this team's calling cards.
But there were moments that won't be forgotten. So here's a six-pack of moments -- some obvious, some from behind the scenes -- that helped make these Mavericks.
The season saver, Part I
Looking back, there was not a darn thing the Mavericks could do about the uncomfortable situation that ended up being their crowded center position.
Looking back, thank goodness there was nothing they could do about it.
"We didn't have a center on the roster," President Donnie Nelson said. "I mean, that's a scary thought."
They fixed that when they re-signed Brendan Haywood, admittedly to a high-priced contract. But at least it gave them a true center to rely on going into the season.
Then, the Charlotte Bobcats decided another year of Tyson Chandler at about $11 million wasn't all that appealing. He'd been hurt and he'd been unproductive as a Bobcat.
So they traded him for Erick Dampier, who was waived, meaning the Bobcats were happier with nothing than Chandler.
One man's trash ...
Chandler was the missing piece for the Mavericks, a treasure of talent and vocal passion that made him a favorite among fans and teammates.
"Man, I'm so proud of my teammates," Chandler would say 10 months later when he had a championship in hand. "It takes a special team to be able to win an NBA championship and it takes a special type of player to be able to listen to another player with the type of accolades that these guys have. You got Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, two future hall of famers, Jet (Terry), who has had all the success in the world, Shawn Marion. For those guys to allow me to be vocal and be myself was incredible."
It made all the difference.
That fateful night in Milwaukee
Everybody knows about the injury that befell Caron Butler on New Year's Day. Everybody knows how he shoved his kneecap back into place and walked off the court at the Bradley Center so his family and friends who showed up in strong numbers from nearby Racine where Butler grew up wouldn't have to watch him wheeled off the court on a stretcher.
What people don't know is the reaction after that game.
At least a couple members of the Mavericks' staff walked solemnly to the team bus after that game and couldn't mask their disappointment.
The Mavericks had something really special going at that time. They had started out the season 24-5 and momentum was swelling through the organization that something really special had a chance of happening here.
And then, Butler, who was playing so well he was starting give the appearance that he was very capable of being the No. 2 player on the team, a legitimate sidekick for Dirk Nowitzki, went down in a heap.
Many Mavericks figured that was it. They would never get back what they had going. It would be impossible to re-create that strong foundation without Butler, who was lost for the season.
But that feeling didn't last. In time, the Mavericks found a way.
"The importance of just kind of staying the course and going day to day with it is kind of like playing a game whistle to whistle," Carlisle said. "You can't play with hope or fear. You've got to play with an alert attitude of indifference in some respects. Go through every day working to get better, working on the system that we're implementing both offensively and defensively.
"We just had a lot of faith in Mark and Donnie that when Caron went down, we'd find a way to get the team back on track."
The season-saver, Part II
The island of misfit toys needed another Slinky that had lost its spring or Mr. Potatohead without an ear.
Voila! Peja Stojakovic, at your service.
It took more than three weeks for the Mavericks to make a play for Stojakovic, who had to get bought out by Toronto, then clear waivers, then be signed by the Mavericks. It wasn't all that complicated, but until it happened, the Mavericks knew they had no chance of replacing Butler.
Upon signing on Jan. 24, Stojakovic needed two weeks of training-camp-style work before he was ready to suit up. Fully healthy, he was in the starting lineup on Feb. 7 and made his presence known the rest of the way with his next-level shooting.
"The Stojakovic thing was a great opportunity for us," Carlisle said. "I know that they beat the bushes and tried to find every opportunity that may have been available. Peja Stojakovic saved our season, because we needed another player. We were not going to be a championship-caliber team if we had not had a guy with his kind of skill, his kind of experience, step into our situation and perform the way he did. Let's not forget that he started a lot of games for us.
"You're talking about a guy that's a multiple All-Star and one of the greatest shooters in the history of the game. In fact, before we went on one of our last trips, I sat there and watched him make 95 out of 100 threes. I mean, that's ridiculous. You just don't do that. Having a guy that's that kind of threat was a big lift for us."
The fact that he'd been injured virtually the whole season helped him fit right in with Chandler, Terry, Dirk, Kidd, Marion and all the other Mavericks who were either castoffs or were otherwise doubted by the rest of the NBA.
It was Nov. 7 and the Mavericks had lost at home to Denver the night before. Jason Terry was the starter at shooting guard.
But not after that day.
Terry, Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki went to Carlisle the following morning and lobbied for DeShawn Stevenson to go into the starting lineup. Carlisle saw the wisdom in the idea and went with it.
The Mavericks would go 38-16 in games when Stevenson started. And, of course, they were 13-5 with him as a starter in the playoffs. That changed in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, when it was clear that the Mavericks had to find a way to get Shawn Marion more rest, so J.J. Barea started for Stevenson, who then could back up Marion and Barea.
Stevenson handled that move perfectly. He seemed to thrive in the off-the-bench role, giving Terry a good accomplice to supply reserve scoring.
The failed experiment
Nobody knew how fortuitous it was going to be that Roddy Beaubois suffered that sprained left ankle in the regular-season finale.
By then, it had become obvious to everybody that starting him was not the right thing to do for the Mavericks' short-term health. In Portland during a late-season game, Jason Kidd has said that the Mavericks have to find out exactly what Beaubois can do.
By the time the last regular-season game came along, they knew. If Beaubois was a cornerstone for the future and he may yet be he was not ready for prime time now.
So that opened the door for DeShawn Stevenson to go back into the lineup and the rest is history. He supplied defense and enough 3-point shooting to keep the defenses honest.
San Antonio where bonding happens
There normally is nothing fun about spending holidays on the road in the NBA. And by the way, the Mavericks can expect to be playing on Christmas Day, probably against the Heat, next season, assuming the lockout is over by then.
So spending Thanksgiving Day on the road was not exactly the highlight of the season. The Mavericks had won at Oklahoma City the night before and woke up in San Antonio with no practice planned because they were coming off back-to-back games.
At 1 p.m., a Thanksgiving feast was prepared for the team in one of the hotel ballrooms.
Everybody in the traveling party was at the lunch, which became an afternoon-long affair that included family members who drove down from Dallas and members of the flight crew from the team charter.
At mid-afternoon, with football games showing on big-screen TVs, poker games began breaking out around the room different stakes for different tastes, of course.
And as the beverages and more food kept piling up, it became obvious that this team was very much a bunch of guys who truly enjoyed each other's company.
Days like that contribute to a bunch of individuals becoming a team. If you didn't realize this group had a chance on that day, you weren't keeping your eyes open.