On the Rebound

Mavs dragging old heartache into new season

Avery Johnson went to Africa. Jason Terry to the Bahamas. Mark Cuban went into hiding.

And, in the agonizing aftermath of the Dallas Mavericks' collapse in last summer's NBA Finals, Celia Barshop almost went crazy.

"I was vilified," says Barshop, "and I never even stepped foot on the court."

Cuban stayed in his house for two weeks after the Mavs lost their title shot.
Steve Satterwhite
Cuban stayed in his house for two weeks after the Mavs lost their title shot.

Don't act like you don't remember Barshop. Corralled with David Stern, the referees and, of course, this damn drought as scapegoats tagged for the Mavs' Finals face plant, the veteran city of Dallas special events manager was almost run out of town for having the audacity to do her job. Premature parade plans ring a bell?

While the Mavericks scattered to therapeutic hideaways to deal with their sorrow, Barshop was left to remain in Dallas and deal with threats from distraught fanatics.

Somehow deducing it was her parade route rather than Dwyane Wade that prompted Dallas' demise against the Miami Heat, fans so inundated Barshop's e-mail and phone with I Know What You Did Last Summer creepiness that she asked Dallas police for an escort to and from work. Included in the approximately 250 messages were chilling physical threats.

"Fans were hanging the loss on me," says the 40-something Barshop on a Monday morning from her Convention Center office. "They were unstable. It was scary. Some of them really shook me up. It's a shame, because what no one realizes is that if I didn't make those plans so early, I'd be breaking the law."

Don't pin the most mind-boggling, heartbreaking collapse in Dallas sports history on Barshop.

Blame Resolution 93-4570.

After the Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, the city threw a parade that deteriorated into a riot. A surprising 250,000 crammed downtown and the ensuing random violence, 75 arrests and 50 injured left city leaders scarred and scared. Enter Resolution 93-4570, legislation forcing the special events manager to make a public filing of plans for a sports parade of more than 10,000 spectators to the City Council's Public Safety Committee 45 days before the team's first possible playoff date.

Look closer, misguided Mavs fans. Barshop's plans for a June 20 parade, revealed when Dallas snared a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 Finals lead, weren't drafted overnight, but more than four months earlier.

"I can assure you that in any city you don't just get to the last quarter of the last game and all the sudden decide between beers to throw a parade for half a million people," says Barshop, Dallas' events manager since 2003. "It's all about protecting the public welfare during a mega-event."

That said, Barshop despises Dallas' law. In fact, she's trying to get it canned. With strenuous Homeland Security regulations now also in place, the premature planning amounts to superfluous red tape. How much? To get approved, last summer's detailed parade plans--from the 11 a.m. start to the mile-long route to the six banks of portable restrooms--snaked through 13 departments and required 800 permits.

"The system is outdated," Barshop says.

Class. Character. Composure. Crunch-time shooting. Lots of reasons the Mavericks' parade route dissolved into a funeral procession. The special events manager, however, ain't one of them.

"It wasn't like we stood on the corner and passed out fliers," Barshop says. "Because of the law, it was all public record. I cringed when I saw the maps in the newspaper. And it hurt my heart when Shaq said it motivated Miami. I'm a Mavs fan. I want them to win as much as anyone."

Despite her traumatic summer, Barshop, whose family has owned season tickets since the 1980s, promises to continue both pulling for and planning on a season climaxing in a parade. And despite their similarly sleepless off-season, the Mavericks remain a legitimate contender to return to next summer's Finals.

That is, if they can first mend a broken heart.

Just 104 days after Terry's potential game-winning 3-pointer rimmed out at the buzzer of Game 6 to seal their 4-2 loss, the Mavericks are back in American Airlines Center. Media Day is decorated with high hopes to repeat. But just below the surface lurks an inability to forget.

Who can blame them? With a 2-0 series lead and a 13-point, fourth-quarter Game 3 lead, the Mavericks perched atop the city's first sports championship since the Stars in 1999. Then, just like that, the nastiest fall this side of Kinky Friedman attempting to expound on his one-liners. Dirk missed free throws. Josh Howard called a boneheaded timeout. Avery harassed reporters. Cuban targeted officials.

Instead of grabbing the trophy, the Mavericks clutched their throats.

Abandoned at the altar, Mavs fans spent the summer like zombies dragging Hefty bags of tickertape and using parade maps as coasters for glasses of iced tea that didn't taste sweet even after that fifth packet of Splenda. Happy hours turned melancholy meetings. Heartbreak and devastation, devastation and heartbreak. The two-for-one special ruined July, August, September...

Even now, as training camp commences, it's not about pick-and-rolls as much as therapy-and-hugs.

"It'll probably always live in my mind," Terry says. "If we win three championships someday, we'll always think we should've had four."

In the wake of the collapse, Dirk Nowitzki took solace amongst family in Germany; Johnson toured Nelson Mandela's jail cell; and Cuban yanked his shades.

"I wasn't depressed, just mad," says Cuban, who didn't leave his house for two weeks. "I tried not to think about it. But it wasn't easy."

The emotional wounds may no longer be bleeding, but neither are they sufficiently scabbed. Time heals, but these Mavs need more than one off-season to psychologically recuperate.

"This hurt has been in our guts for three months," says general manager Donnie Nelson. "Best cure is to get back on the court."

The Mavericks take a step toward resurrection Thursday night by hosting their first preseason game at AAC since you-know-what. After that come the season opener November 2 against the Spurs, then the raising of the Western Conference Champions banner November 6 and, eight long months later, who knows, maybe another title shot?

It won't be easy. For the first time in the franchise's 27-year history, the Mavericks are hunted rather than hunter.

"Now," says Cuban, "we're the red meat."

Long before we know if the Mavericks are capable of again reaching the Finals, we'll learn the details of their next possible parade. In keeping with Resolution 93-4570, Barshop will next month appear before the city council and present initial plans for 2007 city celebrations concerning the Cowboys, Stars and, yes, Mavericks.

"Every year I go in there and a couple of city council members joke that I'm jinxing everything," Barshop says. "But I promise, it's not me."

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