October 30, 2001

Camaraderie of Big Three Keeps Mavericks in Rhythm

Oct. 30, 2001

By JODIE VALADE / The Dallas Morning News

Equations for building team foundations don't always have right answers. It's not like A + B always equals C. You can't just simply combine a rebounding forward with a scoring guard to get a championship team. Don't even try whipping out the quadratic formula to help with this.

This is an inexact science, the melding of personalities, and it doesn't always work just because you throw together a prime number of players. Which is what makes the Mavericks' Big Three an interesting combination, because they share only one real bond. One small thing:

They all get along.

It's as easy as that. Oh, sure it helps that Dirk Nowitzki has the kind of jump shot you dream about, and runs the floor like a guard. It doesn't hurt that Michael Finley can leap halfway to Mars, and still hit all those clutch shots. And it certainly matters that Steve Nash has accurate shooting to go along with his unselfish play and gutsy little heart.

But the reason it has really worked is that they actually get along off the court - which translates to an on-court chemistry that clicks and thrives.

Just watch them. You'll see Nowitzki and Nash, those inseparable gym rats going at it one-on-one after practice again. And Finley suddenly comes up, antagonizing both, smiling all the while, until he finally bears down on Nowitzki and playfully wraps him in a headlock, laughing even harder. And when all three nearly fall to the ground chortling you understand that maybe there is something to the theory that teams that laugh together play better together.

"You try to build a team where your core group is cohesive," Finley said. "For us, it started with our group - me, Dirk and Steve. The guys around us see the relationship we have and it transpires throughout the whole team."

That's why there's a new chapter in threesomes in Dallas. The Big Three - or the Texas Trio as assistant coach Donnie Nelson labeled the group - is only the latest. They followed the attempt to build the team around the Three Js - Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson. That group never worked for all the reasons that the newest Big Three does.

There have been other threesomes. For the Cowboys there were those 'Triplets' of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. Newest Maverick Tim Hardaway remembers when he was a part of "Run TMC" - which included Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin - in Golden State. Maybe it's the biblical visions conjured by groups of three that leads to building teams around that many players. Maybe it just makes sense to have an odd-numbered foundation.

All that makes Mavericks coach-general manager Don Nelson laugh.

"I'd rather have 12 that are really good players," Nelson said with a chuckle. "[But] it boils down to strengths and weaknesses of players and how you blend them together. It's never just three men."

All three of the Mavericks' Big Three agree that they aren't the only ones that make the team run. Which is, of course, what makes them work.

"It's not only us three but the whole locker room," Nowitzki said. "We all have a blast together. We all love to play with each other and swing the ball, pass to the open guy. It's really not only us three, but all the whole team."

There's a pass-the-accolades approach that makes the Big Three unique among NBA types. Ask them who stands out most among the trio and they'll all point to a different player.

"None of us has really dominant personalities," Nash said. "We all feel pretty equal. We're all pretty much low-key."

Said Finley: "We put our egos aside and just do whatever it takes for our team to be a good team."

This Mavericks' Big Three is scheduled to be a lasting foundation, too. With Nowitzki's recent contract extension, he signed on to be in Dallas for as long as Finley's new contract lasts - until 2008. Nash has three years remaining on his own original long-term deal.

Somehow, this group from all corners of the earth, this group from upbringings as diverse as inner-city Chicago to small-town Germany to quaint British Columbia, has come together. Maybe it's because they are bonded by the memories that they were all once doubted.

Remember, Nowitzki was the player who struggled to live up to his early billing, whose Rookie of the Year campaign never even took off. Nash has been booed by his own fans.

Even Finley was never supposed to be able to replace Kidd, the player for whom he was traded.

Alone, none of them was supposed to be a star. Together, they're somehow succeeding.

"We believe in each other," Nash said. "That's the biggest thing."

So they stick together. If you see Nash, Nowitzki is guaranteed to be somewhere close by. Finley drifts easily into the group, and he's also the team clown who makes everyone laugh.

"He doesn't really come across that way in the media, but in the locker room he's always cracking jokes," said Nowitzki, who admitted he loses his own carefree and joking personality in front of cameras, too.

So they'll laugh and point at Finley's choice of velvet loungewear after a preseason game, or the embarrassment Nowitzki fidgets with over the hubbub around his new contract or even Nash's newest celebrity girlfriend.

"When our playing days are over, our families will still be close and we'll still be close friends," Finley said.

Finley plus Nash plus Nowitzki, and the Big Three actually get along. It's amazing how that equation works.