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Maverick Fans Believe ‘Next Year’ Has Arrived With Uwe Blab

The Dallas Times Herald

Time out, Maverick fans. Relax. Sit back down. Ask yourselves these questions.

Could Uwe Blab be the death of the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Assn? Do the Mavericks now really have a center? Have they really dethroned the Cowboys in popularity? Are the Mavericks just another Yuppie fern bar, here today, upscale Laundromat tomorrow?

Please, let’s put Maverick mania in perspective, if that’s possible.

On a bleak morning just six years ago, Norm Sonju convinced Don Carter to meet him for breakfast. Carter wanted to put an NBA team in just-opening Reunion Arena. Carter had closed a deal to buy an existing team--he won’t say which. But the NBA said no musical franchises. Dallas would have to have an expansion team.

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So Carter brought in Sonju from Buffalo, N.Y., where he had general-managed the failing NBA team, and asked Sonju to sell 24 units to investors. By that morning, Sonju had sold six--to Carter. The NBA was taking Dallas for a hayride, suddenly deciding the new franchise could have the 11th draft pick, not the first, as promised. Other teams could freeze all but three, not four, players in an expansion draft.

And by the way, Dallas, the sales price just went from $8 million to $12 million.

“If Norm and I had just talked on the phone that morning,” Carter said the other day, “I don’t believe I’d have gone any farther with it. But after all the trials and tribulations we’d been through, and I looked Norm in the eye and--"

It came that close to there being no Dallas Mavericks. Carter was just Texas stubborn enough to say, “OK, NBA, I’ll pay your price.”

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“The way we were treated really built us a support base in Dallas,” Carter said. “It was like, ‘Hey, we’re really not going to let people do that to us.’ It really made us an underdog.”

Just six years later, some 4,000 Maverick fans overflowed a Hyatt Regency ballroom for NBA Draft Day. It got so crazy that monitors were positioned in the lobby for those who couldn’t elbow their way inside.

“A miracle,” said Sonju, who deserves far more credit than he’s given.

Sonju seriously considered flying in 7-2 Uwe Blab, hiding him behind a curtain and unveiling him when Dallas chose its first giant. But Sonju couldn’t be sure when, or even if, the Mavericks would take Blab. They did, with their third first-round pick, and the ballroom erupted into “Ooo-vey! Ooo-vey!”

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Sonju said: “If Blab had been there, they may have rioted. Frankly, we’re lucky the fire marshal didn’t bang on the door and say, ‘Forget the last four rounds, you’re going to jail.’ ”

This actually happened in Dallas, where basketball wouldn’t bounce.

Last year, the Mavericks say, they sold 12,500 season tickets--an unofficial NBA record. They were second in average attendance with 16,694, but first in gate receipts. Detroit, first in attendance, plays in the 22,366-capacity Silverdome and gives away more tickets than the Mavericks.

The Mavericks probably are the most phenomenal NBA success story ever. Yet think about how lucky Sonju and Carter were. The Mavericks’ first year was the first the Cowboys were without Roger Staubach and the second NBA season of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, who brought a lot of fans back to the game.

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Yet is this all too good to be true? Are the Mavericks indeed just another young professional’s hot spot that will be “out” as quickly as it was “in”? Sonju commissioned a survey last season that concluded the average Maverick fan has “an upscale profile--typically married, well-educated, upper-middle class, with annual salaries exceeding $50,000.” For downtown lawyers and advertising execs, taking clients to week-night Maverick games has become the thing to do.

But for how long? The Maverick brass kept talking about a Five-Year Plan to become an elite team. The Mavericks are entering Year Six. Until now, they’ve had a towering excuse for their steady, but not spectacular, won-lost progress.

No 7-foot center.

From 31-10 at Reunion in ’84, the Mavericks fell to 23-18. The Mavericks won a first-round playoff series with Seattle in ’84. This time, they were eliminated in Round 1 by Portland, which eliminated a 10-point Mavericks’ lead with two minutes remaining at Reunion in Game 2. But lots of Maverick fans still left the arena saying, “When we get our center. . . . “

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Judging from the Blab chant, the talk shows and the season-ticket responses, a lot of those fans think Dallas finally got its skyscraper. It did not.

All Dallas got were two awkward 7-footers who may be no more than backup centers. Figure this: San Antonio, whose 7-2 Artis Gilmore is 35 years old, passed Blab and Bill Wennington for 6-5 gunner Alfredrick Hughes.

Are lots of Dallasites expecting NBA title miracles next year or at least the next?

This is where a little panic creeps into Sonju’s voice: “I don’t want the fans to get out of control because we drafted two adequate centers.”

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Yet of the season-ticket letters sent out so far, 5,615 already have been bought for next season, Sonju says, compared with 4,575 at this time a year ago. Sonju says he won’t sell more than 14,000 season tickets at 17,007 Reunion, always giving the walk-up crowd some hope. Several in the Mavericks office believe 14,000 is frighteningly possible.

Sometimes you get the feeling the underdog Mavericks really don’t want a real center and the rising expectation. It’s as if they’d love to go on forever winning a few more than they lose, putting on a good show in a great building and losing in the first or second round of the playoffs.

No way will Sonju or Carter say--at least publicly--that the Mavericks are so much as rivaling the Cowboys’ popularity.

Sonju: “Not even close. They’ll be king forever. We’re just thankful to be recognized as the third major team in the area.”

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Carter, a huge Cowboys fan who still has a Texas Stadium luxury box: “No way. That would be a dream. I am honored just to be in their league.”

And maybe Sonju and Carter aren’t just letting sleeping Cowboys lie. Maybe they’re rivaling Cowboys’ popularity more in the media and with a very vocal minority than in the masses. Listen to Allen Stone, Mavericks announcer and director of communications, a Dallas native and SMU grad, who notes that regular-season TV ratings don’t even beat the Rangers.

“Which shows me we’re only being watched by Mav fans, a kind of small, rabid group,” Stone said. “We’ve come on so fast that it does have the feeling of a fad--I don’t have a lot of faith in Dallas as a sports town. Our popularity could very gradually fade and we could dry up like the latest bar or disco.

“The year of ultimate reality is setting in.”

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A year from now, if Sonju and Carter meet for breakfast, they’ll have a lot better idea what really happened the last seven.


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