The first ever NBA video game I played was NBA Live 2003. Every time I would play with my big brother, I would always lose to the Dallas Mavericks. He only used three players to score: Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley, and Steve Nash. This is when I started becoming a fan of the Mavericks (Dirk to be specific).
But it wasn’t just in the video game that they were strong. This trio, in reality, was a bunch of misfits. Dirk was the fascination of the 1998 NBA Draft – a German kid that had barely any hype behind him until an eye-opening showing at the Nike showcase in Europe. At the time, scouting international players wasn’t where it is now so most teams and analysts didn't quite know what to make of the wiry kid from Germany. Just watch this video of Dirk getting drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks and then traded to Dallas.
That is the now-iconic introductory press conference where Dallas not only presented Dirk to the local media but also Nash, who was their new point guard. Nash had a couple of solid seasons in Phoenix but the Suns couldn’t see the sense in having him and Jason Kidd on the same roster. Phoenix dealt him to the Mavs for a package that eventually yielded the pick that the Suns used to select Shawn Marion.
Finley was the one many saw as a potential superstar. He came into a league looking for its next Michael Jordan in 1995. He was one of those anointed, along with Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill, for his explosive scoring and athleticism. Though he never quite reached those lofty expectations, Finley was the perfect third option for Dallas.
From 1998 to the early aughts, there were plenty of growing pains for the Mavericks. Dirk eventually bucked the convention of typical power forwards of that era. Nash found his voice in Don Nelson's free-wheeling offense.
This trio is the reason why the Mavericks achieved a 60-22 record in the 2002-2003 season. Finley and Nowitzki were the 20-point scorers for the team and Steve Nash was the playmaker setting everyone up.
The Mavs had one of the best offenses that season and even made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. That series against the San Antonio Spurs was one of the what-ifs of this Big 3. Dallas was poised to make it to the finals but Nowitzki got injured midway through the series and eventually lost.
Basketball-wise, I think this Big 3 was ahead of its time with their run-and-gun, heavy ball-screen offense with Nash and Nowitzki with Finley knocking down jumpers to spread the floor. This trio also developed together as young players. Similar to what the current Warriors did with their own Big 3.
Perhaps the most memorable and tragic thing about this Big 3 was their breakup. Nash and Mavs owner Mark Cuban couldn’t agree on a contract extension in the 2004 offseason. Cuban believed Nash—then turning 31—wouldn’t age well into his contract. But Cuban admitted later on it was something he regretted doing. Nash had no choice but to sign with a team that actually wanted him. He returned to Phoenix and formed another iconic team as a member of another Big 3 with Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion.
Finley left in the next offseason, signing with San Antonio and winning two rings there. Nowitzki was the lone star left in Dallas. He probably had one of the most uplifting careers, failing in the most epic way in 2006 and then winning one of the most iconic titles in 2011.