When the interview was over, Erik Spoelstra expressed curiosity with the line of questioning. Why, he wondered aloud, was ESPN.com so interested in taking such a deep look back at the 2006 NBA Finals?
"Just because it was 10 years ago?" the Miami Heat coach asked. "To be honest, I never hear people really talk about this series.
"Well, only Mark Cuban."
With all due respect to Spoelstra, we simply found it imperative to hearken back to what many consider the most controversial Finals in NBA history. A series with that many layers, and with so much frostiness between the two teams, demands an autopsy.
Especially when there's so much lingering tension that the Dallas Mavericks' spirited owner -- having made his voice heard often on the matter in the ensuing decade -- has suddenly decided to stop talking about it.
Long before LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers started working on their own historic resurrection, which suddenly only requires a Game 7 triumph Sunday to complete the same comeback from 2-0 down that the '06 Heat made, ESPN.com had begun a series of interviews with key figures on both sides to try to recapture it all.
Cuban, though, refused numerous requests to share his recollections, apparently spent from years of railing about the role Finals MVP Dwyane Wade's parade to the free throw line, featuring 97 attempts from the stripe for the series and 73 alone in Miami's four straight wins, played in the Heat's comeback.
"You're asking me for a root canal," Cuban explained, rejecting one of the attempts to interview him as forcefully as Alonzo Mourning swatted any of the five Dallas shots he blocked in the Heat's title-clinching Game 6 win.
Cuban apparently wasn't kidding in February, when the Heat visited Dallas and the Mavericks' typically loquacious boss said from his traditional perch aboard his Stairmaster: "It will go down in history as the worst officiated Finals in the history of the game. And I don't even think the league will disagree with that. But I think at the 10-year anniversary, I'll stop talking about it."
Yet here's the consolation: Virtually every other prominent participant in that unforgettable series agreed to speak with us and help reconstruct what was, to that point, only the second Finals comeback from a 2-0 series deficit in league history.
Up 2-0, Dallas' parade plans leak
The Mavericks, who swept the regular-season series against the Heat, won the first two games of the Finals at home in relatively convincing fashion. Led by Jason Terry's 32 points, Dallas won Game 1 90-80 despite a 4-of-14 shooting night by Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki had 26 points and 16 rebounds in the Mavs' 99-85 victory in Game 2, but the big story was that veteran center Shaquille O'Neal scored only five points. As the series shifted to Miami, The Dallas Morning News printed the City of Dallas' official championship parade plans, and Cuban repeatedly gloated about planning to wear only a Speedo when he accepted the Larry O'Brien Trophy from commissioner David Stern.
Jason Terry, Mavericks point guard: At that point, you're thinking if you're in a Mavericks uniform or you're a Maverick fan, we're well on our way to winning a championship. Miami wasn't a team that we had problems with during the regular season, so we had no doubt in our mind that we could go down to Miami and not just win one game but maybe two of the three games. ... Now, had we known what we know now, we probably would have had a different mindset. We were excited. I wouldn't say we were overconfident, but we were confident. We thought we had it in the bag.
Pat Riley, Heat head coach: We got beat pretty good the first two games in Dallas. They were competitive, but they were, like, double-digit losses. I never felt comfortable at all with those two losses, and I do think that probably our confidence was a little bit shot and I think theirs was soaring, really soaring. I do believe that they felt, Dallas, that this was finally their time, and Dirk's time and Dallas' time and everything.
Udonis Haslem, Heat power forward: Yeah, we were worried. We knew it was all or nothing at that point. It was pretty much over if we went down 0-3 in that situation. You're in trouble if you can't get a win on your home court, and you're already down 2-0 in the series. It was time to get it together. As much as Pat was saying, we had a lot of veteran guys who had big-time NBA experience. So it was on us to do it. We started figuring it out.
Shaquille O'Neal, Heat center: Definitely nervous. And I did something that I hadn't done with D-Wade and the guys all year: curse 'em out. Because I was having a terrible Finals. I was getting fronted, back hit, side ... [Mavs coach] Avery [Johnson] made a conscious effort that I wasn't going to beat 'em. ... He was like we're not going to let Shaq get off, so they were doubling, tripling. ... Hey, everyone knows Finals is my time, so guys were trying to get it to me, get it to me, get it to me, get it to me, but it wasn't working. So, finally I went off on [Gary Payton], I went off on D-Wade, I went off on Antoine [Walker]. It was after practice. And you know, my question to them was: "What the f--- are y'all gonna do? Whatchu' gonna do?" So, you know, like we couldn't make an entry pass, and when I got it, I couldn't make my move. I was older; I was starting to feel a little bit older. It just wasn't working. And D-Wade was open a lot, so I was like: "Hey, man, whatchu' gonna do? You wanna be a star, you wanna be like Kobe and LeBron? This is your time." I mean, he was a great team player. He always looked for me first, a lot of times too much, but that was the first time we gave him permission: F--- Shaq. Go to work.
Darrell Armstrong, Mavericks reserve guard: Even though we won those first two games, we didn't play well. We didn't play our style of basketball. I was still concerned.
James Posey, Heat reserve forward: Did we think they were soft? Um, you could say that. You could say that because they didn't have just that inside presence. They were a jump-shooting team. So it was like, "Aw, man, you shooting all these jump shots." Whatever, but we was down 0-2. [Laughs.]
Erik Spoelstra, Heat assistant coach: They won the two games fairly convincingly, but after Game 2, Pat wrote up on the board, "6/20/06" and we're looking at each other and like, "What the hell does that mean?" And he goes, "It's the first day we can win the NBA title."
O'Neal: Mark [Cuban] got on TV and started pronouncing the parade routes. That's when I really f------ jumped into the guys because I was the one that brought 'em in like: "See, are we done? This is it?"
Alonzo Mourning, Heat backup center: A difference? No. Did it give us a little jolt? Oh, yeah. [Laughs.] It did. Because it was posted on the board in the locker room. The article [about Dallas' parade route] was posted on the board in the locker room, so don't think that subconsciously that doesn't fuel people to saying, "OK, you basically wrote us off." You still gotta win two games. And we got three at home. In a row. And we've been playing relatively well at home. ... So yeah, when you do stuff like that, there's consequences and repercussions.
Wade won't let Heat roll over
The good times kept rolling for the Mavs until midway through the fourth quarter of Game 3. Suddenly, Wade seized control of the series, dominating during the Heat's rally from a 13-point deficit to pull out a 98-96 win.
DeSagana Diop, Mavericks center: The whole game, I felt like we were a better team than them. I still feel that way now, that we were a better team. Being young and happy, I was like, "Man, this game is over." Then Pat Riley called a timeout. I remember the crowd was booing them. They came back, and from there, Dwyane Wade just took over the series.
Haslem: In the timeout, Pat Riley wrote on the [dry erase] board, "This is the season." And we knew we had to make a push at that moment. That was it. The season was pretty much on the line at that point. So we basically put the whole season into that last sequence of plays.
Riley: I wrote on my tablet in a timeout huddle, and I looked down at the Dallas bench, and they were celebrating and high-fiving -- you know, nothing really out of the ordinary -- but they felt they're confident that they were going to put us away. And Dwyane just stood up and said something like "Bleep this" or "Bleep that" or "Bleep them, I'm not going out like this!" and it was our season.
Spoelstra: That's the mural, the picture that's on the wall at the arena, a picture of Dwyane coming out of the huddle, yelling, "I ain't going out like that!" He had done it the year before, he had shown flashes of it, where he could absolutely put his fingerprints on literally every single play to impact the win. In those six minutes, that has become what we know as Dwyane Wade. He became an absolute force of nature. In my 21 years, I can't name five guys that can command and impose a will on the game on both ends of the court, like Dwyane did in those final minutes. Where he's literally running to the ball defensively and trying to make every single play -- a charge, a block, a rebound, a disruption, mess up the timing on the play ... and then offensively making every single play and making the plays that everybody thinks are the toughest shots in the league. The runner. The contested pull-up jump shot from mid-range. He became an angry force of nature when he came out of that huddle. But he was able to balance and have such a poise, play so fiercely. I've never seen it. You just don't see that in the league. To be so angry and impose such a will on both ends. He did it like the game was being played in slow motion for him.
Dwyane Wade, Heat shooting guard (as told to Stein on ESPN Radio in February): I started attacking the basket. They like to talk about the fouls in that series, but I was attacking every play. You gonna foul me, I'ma finish. That's the way my mentality was.
Gary Payton, Heat backup guard: We told Shaq, "We can't go to you now, Big Fella. This young boy is killing. Let him get on and let him do what he's gotta do." We rode his back. We rode him.
Wade: Coach Riles called one play, it was a play with me and Shaq, and I end up scoring 9 out of 13 [attempts from midway through the third on]. Shaq ended up making two big free throws. Udonis ended up getting a big steal to making free throws to get us back in the game, and it was just the perfect storm.
"In those six minutes, that has become what we know as Dwyane Wade. He became an absolute force of nature. In my 21 years, I can't name five guys that can command and impose a will on the game on both ends of the court like Dwyane did in those final minutes."Erik Spoelstra, then-Heat assistant coach
As dominant as Wade was, it was a Payton jumper with 9.3 seconds remaining -- his only basket of Game 3 -- that gave the Heat the lead for good. Nowitzki had a chance to tie it with 3.4 seconds left, but he missed the second of two free throws.
Payton: Coming out of the timeout, Pat had drew up something for D-Wade. When we got out of the huddle, [point guard Jason Williams] was like, "Look, G, if he ain't open, man, I'm coming to you. I'm going to kick it, penetrate, and you make the shot." They were pressuring D-Wade. Avery didn't want to take a chance and let D-Wade beat him. All he did was kick it to me. As soon as I saw them jump at me, I escape-dribbled and made a shot. I hadn't scored that whole game.
Terry: It was a defensive breakdown on our part. We left Gary Payton, and obviously that was a mistake.
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks forward: We ran a pretty decent play at the end. I actually drove, got fouled and had a chance with two free throws to at least push it to overtime. I'm not sure how many seconds were left, but I was so sure [I'd make both]. I made the first one, but the second one was a little short and came out.
Wade: And once we got that one win -- because we haven't beaten Dallas up until that point -- once we got that one win, our confidence level just went to another level.
Spoelstra: What happened was a f------ tornado for six straight minutes, and we win the game. And walking back after the game, it was like, Jesus, what the -- what the f--- just happened?
Adrian Griffin, Mavericks shooting guard: That's when the Miami Heat started to believe they were the better team. And we could never get back on track.
Armstrong: From there, we were never the same team again.
See ya, South Beach
Game 4 was nothing short of an embarrassment for the Mavs: a 98-74 loss that evened the series and prompted Johnson to pull the players and coaches from the team hotel and relocate 45 minutes away in Fort Lauderdale.
Wade: In Game 4, we just, we blew them out. We pounded them. And then from there, it became more than just about basketball. Now we started seeing that they were talking to themselves a little bit. The conversation on the floor was a little different, so we knew we had them.
Haslem: We tied it 2-2 at home and had that momentum, that confidence, and we just had that feeling that if we get that third one at home, we're going to go out there to Dallas and finish it. By the time we tied it up, we felt like we had cracked the code in Game 4. We cracked that code. We finally started to put it all together, and we knew we had it where we needed it to be.
Mourning: We're like, "Oh, it's a new series now."
Griffin: We switched our lineup for Game 4. They put me on the bench and they inserted [Devin Harris] into the lineup because the Heat were not playing me on the offensive end. I believe they were putting Shaq on me at times, so I guess the staff believed that they needed to switch it up and give us more offense. But I think that being up 2-1, it probably wasn't the best time to make adjustments. Because we had that Game 3, we just didn't close it out. That happens sometimes, but we'd have a lot of success because of our chemistry. Switching the lineup is always common, but usually you do it because you're behind and you need to shake up the lineup or whatnot. So I think we may have pulled the trigger a little too soon, may have panicked a little bit instead of sticking to the game plan, sticking to what works best for us. Being a coach now, I can understand it, because you're trying to juggle 100 different things. You have to go with your gut feeling. You have to go with all the data and the film you've watched. You have to make a calculated decision. Saying all that, I don't think we were able to bounce back. It seems like a slippery slope.
Armstrong: We weren't even there. I don't know who those guys was. We weren't there in Game 4. That's what I knew what Avery did [was right], taking us out of that hotel and getting us re-focused. We didn't play worth s--- in Game 4. I think the reason in that is because we were still in Game 3. We were still there. Giving up [a 13-point lead] in 6 minutes, 39 seconds, our guys were probably frustrated and upset and never came to Game 4. We knew we gave that game away, and that's the worst feeling for a team.
Nowitzki: And that's when Avery kind of lost it [on the Mavs] after the game on the bus. He announced on the bus that we're moving tomorrow. And then the next day after practice is when we moved to Fort Lauderdale or wherever it was. That Marriott. ... He completely lost it, yelling and screaming. "There's too much family here, too many distractions."
Jerry Stackhouse, Mavericks sixth man: It was part of somewhat of an unraveling from all sides. We weren't executing, we weren't getting calls, whole lot of different storylines with Dirk and the 'Knight Rider' guy. [Laughs.] ... It was just crazy, man.
Avery Johnson, Mavericks head coach: We, to me, were a little bit of a distracted team on the road. By the time we got hammered in Game 4, I was looking at my coaching staff and Mark and he was like, "Man, what's up with our team?" And the hotel was just, we had families, I mean it was just a circus, so we made the decision to just try to move the team and have little bit more of a bunker mentality.
Nowitzki: The next day we had our stuff packed. We went to practice, and then straight from practice we got on the bus and drove to Fort Lauderdale. ... I think there was two days in between Game 4 and 5. We practiced that day, drove out there. Then the next day we had to drive down for practice, so we actually had two nights in Fort Lauderdale, if I'm not mistaken.
Griffin: Miami is notorious for distracting players. Great weather, you have South Beach, you have parties. One could easily get distracted. If you're Avery Johnson, you understand that you only get one opportunity for this, and you've got to get it right. He thought it was the best decision that we move away from the distractions, and you have to respect him for doing that.
Diop: He wanted us to be more focused. I mean, there were some rumors that guys were going out. I know I didn't go out. I went out to dinner, but that's it. There were some rumors that guys were going out, but I don't know nobody that went out the night before a game.
Armstrong: I heard the same thing. Guys are gonna do what they do. I don't care who you are. When I played, I was a big person who liked to go out. I didn't like to go to too many clubs. I'm not a club type. I can go to a bar, but in that Finals, I never went out. I went out with Stackhouse and his wife and my ex-wife. We went to dinner, but that was it. That was the only time I ever went out. I'm a big go-out guy, and I stayed in and didn't go nowhere. I heard that a couple of players was out, but that doesn't bother me, especially if you're doing it with your teammates. If you're fellowshipping with your teammates, that's good. That didn't hurt us. It was our play.
Terry: If guys went out, I wouldn't put it past them, because that was the makeup of our team. But in that moment, that was a situation where we probably did need to refocus and get locked in. Coach Avery thought the best way to do it was to get off of South Beach. And get away from our families, too. Because that was our first Finals experience on the road, and I remember very distinctly that everybody had at least five or six family members -- immediate family, cousins, uncles -- in the team hotel. That in itself was a distraction to me. I was deep. We were 15, 16 deep. That was a distraction -- figuring out people's rides to the game, how they were getting back from the game, what we were doing for dinner, all of that was a distraction.
Del Harris, Mavericks assistant coach: [Partying] was not happening. That was absolutely not happening. Some writers have said that, but our team was not that sort of team. ... Jerry Stackhouse rented a yacht to be moored there in Miami so his mother and family and friends would have a place to stay there. Now, his mother is a pastor. Jerry's mom was not a party animal, and neither was Jerry. Jerry sang the national anthem, [is] a strong Christian guy. He wasn't a guy of the streets. He wasn't that sort. Our team wasn't that way. We never had any problems throughout the year with crazy stuff. ... Anyway, word got out that guys had gone to a yacht and partied on a yacht after the game or after we arrived. So when we lose Game 4, boom, pack your stuff up, we're moving out. Didn't want anybody leaving the hotel. Locked in.
Diop: We had roommates and all that. It was like we were back in high school or something. We went from the Four Seasons to I think it was a Marriott. It wasn't no Ritz or nothing, that's for sure. But when you're in the moment in the Finals, you just want to win. You can put me in the Motel 6. If we're going to win, I'm going to do it. I'll tell you the truth: Everybody was cool with it.
Terry: I think it was like a Marriott or something. I don't know if it was a Courtyard or Renaissance or something like that. It wasn't a five-star. It was about two and a half.
Armstrong: I wanna say it was a Motel 6, where they leave the lights on for you. Maybe a Holiday Inn. I'm not for sure. It wasn't no four-star hotel. It was something like a Holiday Inn, could have been a Courtyard Marriott. It was right there on the beach, and the crazy part is Avery told everybody you cannot leave the hotel. That was the biggest thing: Do not leave the hotel.
Nowitzki: And here's the funnier part: When we get to this Marriott, all the keys are downstairs, I go in my room, click click, I'm fine. I was like "Oh man, sweet, there's two beds in here, it's a double room." So I throw one of my bags on one bed, then lay down on the other bed. Then two minutes later, click click, I was like "What the hell, is it room service? One of the maids?" In walks Darrell Armstrong. And I'm like, "We have f----- roommates in the Finals." So my roommate was D.A. for the rest of that Miami trip. And it was an absolute sideshow.
"I was like 'What the hell, is it room service? One of the maids?' In walks Darrell Armstrong. And I'm like, 'We have f----- roommates in the Finals.' So my roommate was DA for the rest of that Miami trip. And it was an absolute sideshow."Dirk Nowitzki
Armstrong: As were riding up there, Avery says [Armstrong impersonates Johnson's unique Louisiana accent], "Uh, D.A., we're going to have roommates. Dirk is your roommate. I want you to get him right. Get him right." ... I don't sleep a lot. I can wake up in the middle of the night and get to walking. [Laughs.] I don't think he was expecting that. He's a big fella. Them big fellas, they got to go to bed. They get their rest. But me, I'm just sitting up. I'm over there watching boxing. I'm showing him boxing. I'm a big boxing fan. I'm always on boxing, so I was showing him all this. And then I had to listen to his German rap. [Laughs.] Oh, Lord, let me tell you something ...
Terry: My roommate was Erick Dampier, and Dirk's roommate was Darrell Armstrong. You can ask Dirk to this day -- that didn't work because Darrell doesn't sleep, and he couldn't get no rest. Those guys stayed up and watched TV all night. I don't know if that quite worked out. And mine was Damp, and Damp doesn't talk. So, here we were, trying to figure out how we were going to win Game 4 and we were in the room with guys who wouldn't rest or wouldn't hang out.
Johnson: We just needed to get that focus again. We needed to have a little bit of a bunker mentality. Football teams do it all the time before Super Bowls. People think they're in one hotel, then they switch hotels and if you win, it's great decision. If you don't, you kinda overreacted. ... I thought we were focused. I thought we played good enough to win that game.
Terry: People will say what they will about Avery, but I thought it was the right strategy. I may have sent the family members to that hotel and not us, but that's just me. But I think he was doing the right thing -- just trying to get refocused and realize the opportunity ahead of us.
Armstrong: We came out and played well. That's when the free throw situation came up, with Wade shooting 25. I mean, I thought [changing hotels] worked. We had an opportunity to win. That's all you ask, especially on the road.
Nowitzki: We had enough chances in Game 5 down the stretch. The hotel switch isn't why we lost. We made enough plays.
The 'Phantom Call'
The most memorable game in the series -- a 101-100 overtime win for Miami in Game 5 -- featured 25 free throws by Wade, matching the Mavs' total. Perhaps the most controversial call in Finals history, made by referee Bennett Salvatore from near halfcourt, sent Wade to the line for the tying and go-ahead free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining. In the heat of the moment, small forward Josh Howard called Dallas' last timeout between free throws, meaning the Mavs couldn't move the ball to halfcourt to begin their final possession, forcing them to settle for a 60-foot prayer by Devin Harris that missed at the buzzer.
Armstrong: We were missing our spark off the bench for one game. [Stackhouse] gets suspended for a flagrant foul on Shaq. I don't know how. Lord, Jesus! C'mon, now. C'mon, now. That's Shaq. It's a big boy. If anybody took the lick, it was Stackhouse. He kind of took the lick more than anything. But c'mon, that's not a one-game suspension, I don't care what nobody say. But it happened.
Stackhouse: You got the biggest guy in basketball going to the basket and obviously you're not gonna let him get an And-1 or get a dunk. So it was a good basketball play. I think probably for every generation that played before me, they'd have it as a good basketball play. A hard-nosed basketball play. Since then, probably not so much. ... At the end of the day, I know that [suspension is] the difference. I make the difference in that Game . I mean, I'm averaging double figures coming off the bench, so just add or figure in, whether I had a great game or not, when you look at a [one]-point game, that could've been there difference in us taking that pivotal game going up 3-2.
Diop: Not to take away nothing from Dwyane Wade -- he's a great player and he played great in that series. He made a lot of tough shots. Everybody knew about Dwyane Wade before that, but that Finals, that's when he became a star in the league. Not to take nothing away from him, but that's a lot of free throws. I mean, 25 free throws for one player? You couldn't be around that guy and them not call a foul. To this day, when I talk to people about it, they still say how many free throws he got and the calls he got in that series.
Armstrong: I mean, I can understand if it was Hack-a-Shaq, but Dwyane Wade shoots  free throws in one game? That's unbelievable in a Finals. Unbelievable. They were superstar calls. One thing about it, he was a guy who attacks the rim. I understand home-court advantage. That's what home-court advantage gives you. You get those calls. He took advantage of the rules.
Terry: I don't know if they were quite charity, but a lot of those calls, let's be honest, if you call those for us, Dirk would have went to the free throw line just as many times. It didn't really even out to us. That's what we thought. But hey, they were the aggressor. Dwyane, to his credit, stayed on the attack. Just to see the determination on every offensive possession that they had after they were down, he played it like he should have. He had nothing to lose and he was going to be the aggressor. Referees tend to give the calls to the much more aggressive team.
Payton: I think he was deserving [of the calls], because he was playing that hard and they couldn't guard him.
Bennett Salvatore, Game 5 referee (said after reviewing Game 5 video for an ESPN.com story in 2007): I cannot be concerned, nor can any referee be concerned with the amount of times someone goes to the free throw line or doesn't go the free throw line. We can only be concerned with if the call is correct or not correct, because that's what our job is based on.
With 9.1 seconds left in overtime, Nowitzki hit a 19-footer to put the Mavs up 100-99.
Del Harris: They had the ball out of bounds on the side away from the bench, and we had good pressure on them on the inbounds play. They threw the ball to Dwyane Wade, who jumped up from the frontcourt, caught the ball and landed in the backcourt, which is a violation. It was a violation, yet they did not call it, and he drove from that position from the far side of the court to the bench side of court, going from his left to his right, and was fouled on the play, supposedly. We questioned that call, but the play should never have even materialized, because it was a violation. The league later said his momentum carried him into the backcourt. Well, so what? Your momentum, if it takes you out of bounds and you land out of bounds, you're still out of bounds. It has nothing to do with momentum.
The NBA explained at the time that Wade did not commit a backcourt violation.
Terry: I fell down by the bench. We were definitely trying to trap him. I slipped by the bench. Had I not slipped, maybe I stay in front of him, but I doubt it. He was so determined, he was going to get to the basket. Whether he made the shot or not, that's neither here nor there, but he was determined. ... It was a helter-skelter possession. All kind of things were happening on that one possession. He had the backcourt. He almost slipped and fell on the drive. When he did trip finally, I think he stumbled over his own foot and they called a reach-in. That was a ghost call to me. You know Dirk ain't fouled nobody in 17 years. So that couldn't have been the call.
Diop: Hey, nobody touched him. But the refs saw something different than everybody else. He had two free throws and he knocked them down. It was tough, man, it was tough.
Salvatore: I want you to do one thing. Look at Dirk. Dirk knows that he fouled him. You don't see any reaction from Dirk at all. Dirk knew.
Nowitzki: I'm still not sure I fouled Wade on that last drive.
Terry: The phantom call.
The play can be viewed in full here. NBA commissioner David Stern declined ESPN.com's request to be interviewed.
Spoelstra: [Wade] being so desperate to impose his will to not let us lose the game, tie game, he goes one on four, he gets turned around basically to half court, attacks again, turned around, gets through everybody, and gets fouled at the rim, and gets two free throws. That's Dwyane. He says I'm going to do whatever it takes, not going to let us lose and makes the right play.
Joey Crawford, referee (as told to a pool reporter the night of Game 5) : Josh Howard goes to [referee] Joe DeRosa and not only once but twice asks for a timeout. [We were] forced to call it, simple as that.
Armstrong: There's so much pressure. The game is mental. You've got to think. A lot of times, you can get flustered. You can get in situations where you make the wrong decision, you make the wrong call or you call the timeout in the wrong situation. .... It could have been that there were so many other things that were going on with the referees and people arguing calls.
Del Harris: That was inexperience, but we wouldn't have been that far without Josh. He was a very good player, though a young player.
Diop: I felt like the refs should have known better. Why would we call a timeout after the first free throw? It's a tough call, though, you know, because if a player calls a timeout, you've got to give it to them.
Josh Howard declined ESPN.com's request to be interviewed.
Terry: I just remember we were kind of disorganized and didn't really know what we wanted. The communication was bad, but obviously at that point, we're just thinking about Game 3, Game 4 and now throwing away Game 5. Really, it was utter disappointment. Our confidence really wavered at that point. Even though we were going home for two games. ... It was more the psychological breakdown, because of how they came back, the events that occurred. Game 4, Stackhouse gets suspended for a flagrant foul on Shaq. All those little events started to build up and weigh on us more than one single event.
Armstrong: I was right there beside [Cuban]. I was yelling at the referee, too. I just saw Cuban come up. I don't know what he said. I couldn't even tell you what I said, but I knew I was hot about that play that they gave Dwyane Wade, that missed call. But Cuban was there and he was hot. It was just one of those moments. When we ain't playing good, sometimes you look over there and his face is all smushed up, looks like he's about to explode, but I never saw him that hot.
O'Neal: I love him to death, but you know that's what he does.
Mourning: That's Mark. That's who he is. That's not who Micky [Arison] is, that's not who a bunch of other owners is, that's just who he is. He's very vocal. There's not too many owners that are as vocal as he is. I mean that's who he is. That defines him. He's very passionate, and he's vocal.
Riley: Mark made a point about a lot of things, but he also disrespected, in some way, the emergence of Dwyane Wade because all of his vitriol I think went toward this young player who simply put his head down in every situation and attacked the basket. Everything we did from an offensive standpoint was to get him to the rim or into the paint, and he was fearless, so he would get in games where he would get 22 or 23 free throws, or something like that, but he deserved them. He earned them. And I remember [Cuban] ... that he looked up at the commissioner sitting in the middle, and they're yelling and screaming at him and yelling and pointing at him and shaking his fist at him, and I don't think that helped his team, to be honest with you. That's all. It may have gotten something off his chest, and he might have been able to make a point about rule changes and things like that, but I don't think you want to be so vocal during the course of a series where it might actually hurt the efforts of your team.
Nowitzki: A lot of things happened in that series that don't sit well with me. Even now. But the less I say is probably better.
Heat hold a party
Wade scored 36 points in Miami's title-clinching 95-92 victory, but Game 6 wasn't settled until the final shot, when the officials swallowed their whistle instead of sending Terry to the line for the potential tying free throws.
O'Neal: [Riley] said: "OK, we're going back to f------ Dallas, and I'm checking everybody's luggage. We [are] only going to play one game. Whoever has more than one f------ outfit, you ain't f------ coming on the road." So when we got there, he actually checked our bags. Pat Riley. He was at the f------ gate checking everybody's bag. ... And there was one guy, not a player, but another guy that had more than one outfit, and f------ Pat made him go and catch a commercial flight. He really did. It was like a video guy. Pat was serious. Like, "I told you this was gonna happen, motherf-----!" And he was just like a different, mean. ... Not mean, but he was like a different energetic Pat. "We gonna pack one f------ bag. They're done."
Posey: Nah, I brought my two suits. ... I didn't even know he said what he said until, like, after.
Riley: I would have worn the same suit. I would have worn it. ... I think my wife, she ended up cheating and putting another one just in case, but I told her, 'Don't you dare tell me.'
Mourning: We know we did not want to play a Game 7 there. So we knew Game 6 was our deciding game. Game 6 was it for us.
Riley: What a lot of people don't remember is that we were at one hotel, and I felt at one time the hotel was overrun. Everybody got all hyped up about the team being in the Finals, and so then all the families came down and friends and everything. Everybody thought we were going to be staying at the Hyatt or wherever it was. We ended up changing hotels so it was just players and the coaches and the immediate staff stayed at another hotel, which I thought was great for us to set apart from all that. ... I would not go back to that hotel; it was an absolute s--- show. You couldn't even walk through the lobby and stuff, so we went to a place, and I don't think anybody knew it and it was just quiet.
Griffin: My back went out, and I wasn't the same. I tried to get injections. I think that hurt the team, because of some of the intangible things I would bring to the team as far as defending, diving on the floor, getting loose balls. If you look at Game 6, there were times where I just couldn't get to the ball or I couldn't finish, and I think that really hurt the team. I thought we had a chance to bounce back at home, but you have to give credit to the Heat. They seized the moment. When the momentum shifted, they didn't look back.
Armstrong: That day, I talked to Avery Johnson, and I told Avery, "Let the Incredible Hulk guard Dwyane Wade." I left it on his desk in a letter, because that year Avery always knew how to press the button and change the game with my defense and my tempo. Avery always knew how to press that button and get it going. I told him in a letter -- he called me the Incredible Hulk -- "Let the Incredible Hulk guard Dwyane Wade." I was locked in, ready to change the game. I had already visualized what I needed to do, how I needed to do it, but I never got the opportunity to get into that game.
Terry: The guy that actually changed that game and really changed the series was Alonzo Mourning, and nobody ever talks about what Alonzo Mourning did for that team coming off the bench. He not only blocked shots -- blocked one of mine; I had a clear path to the basket. Can remember it like it was yesterday -- and he blocked it at the rim. But he altered four or five other shots that guys took. Big rebounds. He had a huge impact on that game. Just his energy alone that he brought to his team, it helped them win that game.
Armstrong: I tell you, Alonzo Mourning had a hell of a third quarter. He probably lifted them to a victory, because he came in in the third quarter blocking everything, changing the game.
Mourning: Hey, if that moment ever happened, knowing that I was brought to Miami initially to bring a championship here, and if that moment ever happened and we're out on that stage and I have an opportunity to contribute, you treat it like it's your last. Because it really was, my career was coming to an end. So I treated that moment like it was my last. I think if every player approaches it that way, you'd get some different results. Because guys think that they're going to play forever and none of us know when it's going to end but if you approach it like it's your last, and I had these conversations with young guys then, you gotta approach it like it's your last breath. Then you'll get better results, if you have that mentality and that moment. Game 6, when I came into the game, I knew I wasn't going to be out there long, but I wanted to make it count considering where we were as a team at that moment, being down on the road in a Game 6.
Riley: Right down to where Gary Payton grabbed a hold of Jason Terry's jersey, and he missed that wide-open 3, I never thought we were going to be able to probably win it until that moment. That's what championships are about.
Payton: Oh, yeah, I grabbed him. Fouled him. Did whatever I could. It was all about winning a championship there. If you're the player I was and play the defense I was [playing], referees let you get away with it. I did whatever I had to do. I didn't get caught with it.
Terry: Down three, we got the ball, break up the right sideline. As soon as I come off the screen, I raise up to shoot the 3 and I definitely realize Gary Payton had a whole fistful full of my jersey as I'm going up. So I'm thinking I'm getting an and-1. I'm going to make the shot and I'm going to the line to put us up one, but there was again no call and obviously I missed the shot. And the confetti just started flying. Hit us all in the head. That was the longest walk back to the locker room that I've had in my career. Back there, it was nothing but tears. It was quiet. It was silent. It was just speechless. There was nothing we could say. We knew in our minds that we'd just squandered the opportunity of a lifetime.
Riley: This one was, "You never know you're going to win until you win," and it wasn't a surprise, but it was gratifying to be able to, after 18 years, go back down on the floor and win a championship. It really was gratifying. I would say it's probably my favorite for me other than the 1985 game at Boston Garden ... [after] the Memorial Day Massacre. We won then, four out of five games after that against the Celtics. But this one in particular championship, was an out-of- the-box, nobody expected us to win it. We were sort of an old team and not together and all of that, and then they played incredibly well in the playoffs.
Posey: We got in the locker room and we had the little bin [that sat in the middle of the locker room with a "Do Not Touch" sign throughout the playoffs, containing pieces of paper placed by players with the team motto "15 Strong" on one side and pictures or motivational sayings on the other]. We got in there and Coach Riles' ring fell off. We going crazy -- "dun dun dun dun dun" -- and then we like "Ohhhhhh, wait!" So everybody's looking for his ring or whatever, then we found it. Then we just got to partying again.
Scott Tomlin, Mavericks public relations representative: Right after the loss when we had to open up the locker room to the media, all the guys [were] just sitting around. Everybody was still in their uniform. I don't know if they'd even taken their shoes off. A lot of guys were just sitting in their lockers with their heads down, thinking, "Did that just happen?" It was just surreal, a certain devastation in a losing locker room that I hadn't seen that before.
Al Whitley, Mavericks equipment manager: To be honest with you, I'd compare it to a funeral. It was just one of the worst experiences of our lives to be up 2-0 and then to lose four straight the way we did. It was really like a funeral. There wasn't a lot of talking. It was just silence and people staring into dead space almost in disbelief of what just happened. ... I've got to think [Nowitzki, Tomlin, Whitley and athletic trainer Casey Smith stayed] until at least 3 a.m. I don't know for sure, but it was pretty late, just sitting in the training room trying to figure out what just happened.
Tomlin: It just wasn't time to go home, it felt like. It just wasn't time to admit that it was over. We all felt that that was going to be our series. Just like we weren't ready for our season to be over, we weren't ready to leave the gym. We weren't ready to go home, so we just sat around. I can't remember exactly what we talked about. I just remember us just sitting around and it was a real melancholy-type atmosphere, commiserating together instead of going home and commiserating by ourselves.
Casey Smith, Mavericks athletic trainer: I think the biggest question at that point is not only, "How did we f--- this up?" but "Can we get back to this position? Can we get back to being on the doorstep?" Or, "Can Dirk get back?" I guess is the more accurate description. That's kind of the prevailing feeling at that point.
Payton: Pat Riley, he took us all, he rented out the hotel. He got us one of those boutique hotels. They had ice sculptures, everything. It was live. All of our families were there. All of our wives and kids were there. The next day they let all our kids and wives go back on the plane with us
Shaq: It was fun, especially for me. For Pat, for D-Wade, for those guys, it was great. Our families were there, we had a party that night and then we partied in Miami for about a month straight.
Nowitzki: We were up 2-0 and you get your hopes up. In one week, you go basically from having high hopes and great feelings to everything is shattered. That's how sports goes. It was one bad week. In the regular season, it might be nothing. But in the playoffs, one week, we lost the Finals.
Wade: Well, Dallas was a better team than us I felt at that time, for sure. I felt that individually I went to another place, and I just felt that everyone played their role to the team.
Riley: While we were building confidence, there was a lot of complaining coming from their side about it. And at the end of the day, we ended up winning the championship that a lot of people didn't think we were good enough to win.