Since the All-Star break, the Mavs are 24-7. They won 55 games, second in the Western Conference only to the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. They have home-court advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

They are in a rarefied air of success, with only Bill Russell's Boston Celtics, Magic Johnson's Lakers and Tim Duncan's Spurs managing similar decades of dominance. Mostly, they have Nowitzki.

"If the fans are more excited, hopefully we'll prove them right over the next two months," owner Mark Cuban said from atop his locker-room Stairmaster before Game 1. "I know this: We're better suited for playoff basketball than last year. There's more excitement. More energy."

Dirk Nowitzki is the most underappreciated athlete in the history of Dallas sports. 
Could it be because he is white?
Dirk Nowitzki is the most underappreciated athlete in the history of Dallas sports. Could it be because he is white?

Not bad for a team that was almost blown up in late January. Languishing around the middle of the pack in the West, Cuban one night sat in his shower and contemplated wholesale changes geared not at winning this season, but waiting for free agency in the summer and rebuilding around Nowitzki.

"I'm serious," Cuban said. "Ask my wife. We weren't playing well and there was no immediate prospect for us getting better."

The trade reshaped Dallas' roster and rebooted a city's interest. The bar, set just above mediocrity the last two seasons, is now again raised to championship heights.

"It's going to be another disappointing season for me if we don't win it," Nowitzki said before the playoffs. "Losing in the first round, second round or third round, it doesn't matter. If we don't win it all, that's another lost opportunity, another year in my prime gone."

It's not just Nowitzki that polarizes the races in Dallas. Throw out a topic these days—Terrell Owens, Tony Romo, Tiger Woods, Ben Roethlisberger, Ron Washington—and you can demark opinions almost directly along the color barrier.

If Nowitzki wins a championship, maybe he'll win over his critics. But, sadly, probably not.

What if I told you we'd made great strides on this planet? Indoor plumbing. Remote controls. Five-Hour Energy.

But, somehow, what if I told you we haven't progressed anywhere at all? When it comes to Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas still drinks from separate water fountains.

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