The Dallas Morning News
Mav for a day
Romo cheered in harmless gesture
For the final home game in a largely embarrassing season, the Mavericks could have shined a spotlight on Harrison Barnes, their surprise leading scorer who played in 79 games. Or they might have directed attention to Dirk Nowitzki, finishing his 19th season in Dallas and now the sixth NBA player to score 30,000 points.
Instead, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban focused everything on Tony Romo.
That harmless but bizarre decision allowed the former Cowboys quarterback to hear the local cheers one final time — approval he had been unable to register in 17 months (and one wonders how much joy he recalls from a Thanksgiving 2015 season-ending loss to Carolina).
So what if Romo’s final cheers came ... in pregame basketball warmups?
Look, I can’t argue with Cuban when he says this: “Anybody who thinks [participating in] the layup line is disrespectful? That’s on them.’’ As I said, more than anything else, the entire stunt was harmless.
But the decision not to promote or recognize his own players in the final pregame ceremony of the year? Well, Cuban knows his product better than I do.
The crowd was certainly more engaged than most, arriving early and performing with some measure of enthusiasm a Romo chant led by the club’s venerable mascot, Chris Arnold.
Fans crowded the court early, hoping for an early warmup session from the Maverick for a day. They had to settle for hook shots from Nerlens Noel.
At 7:17 p.m., the full Mavs team came out with Romo receiving sizable cheers whenever he made a layup or, after firing up an air ball, hit a few 3pointers. Romo did it all while wearing his trademark goofy grin, a sign that he recognized this was all a reverse George Plimpton situation. Instead of a man out of his element trying to play quarterback, we had a quarterback shooting jumpers in a sea of oversized NBA players.
Or, as Romo put it earlier in the day, “I look like a turtle out there.’’
The fact that Nowitzki smiled through it all signaled to me that this was, indeed, a no-harm, no-foul production. Even if Fan Appreciation Night had been transformed into Quarterback Appreciation Night.
And, in return, there was little doubt that the former quarterback appreciated what was happening for him.
“It just makes you feel that you accomplished something because, as we all know, I feel like I left something out there that I always wanted to accomplish. And I’ve got to live what that. That’s part of playing sports. It doesn’t always go the way you expect,’’ he said after his morning practice experience.
Just before tipoff, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Nowitzki thanked the fans with Carlisle noting the presence of Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Nowitzki recognized Romo before CBS’ newest NFL analyst took the microphone and said, “We’re going to make the Denver Nuggets wait 10 more minutes here.
“This is an honor I could never dream of. It’s a little embarrassing. I’m a very lucky guy. Thank you, Dallas. I love you.’’
And that was it for Romo because, at that point, an otherwise meaningless game between the Mavericks and Nuggets needed to be played. Romo sat next to Cuban during the game, more opposite his new teammates than with them, which seemed like a good decision.
But it was no surprise that Cuban had planned to make an even larger spectacle of all this. He acknowledged before the game that he talked to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver about signing Romo to an actual contract, one that would have permitted him to enter the game presumably in the final seconds.
“Once [Silver] said that the contract wouldn’t be approved, that sort of killed that [idea of Romo playing],’’ Cuban said, adding that the commissioner indicated he did not wish to set a precedent. Wise move by Mr. Silver. But watching Romo and especially listening to what he had to say, one thing was pretty clear. The fun idea of playing basketball against NBA stars turns to something else when confronted with the opportunity of actually doing it.
“At first, I was feeling I didn’t deserve any of this. No one does,’’ Romo said. “Standing here today I feel a little bit embarrassed to be honest. I’m a lucky guy.’’
Unable to hear the cheers at AT&T Stadium one final time, he settled for a smaller but boisterous crowd at American Airlines Center. One has to figure awkward goodbyes are better than none at all.