Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How I spent my summer vacation

This Year Is Different is a new ebook about the 2011 Dallas Mavericks World Championship from Diversion Books. A free sample of the book is available at their website, and the ebook can be downloaded on any e-reader instantly. The book is currently #1 on for basketball books.

The last year has been a truly memorable 12 months for many of us in the sports world. And for me, it was absolutely highlighted by the NBA title won by the Dallas Mavericks in June. The story itself was more than any one team winning a championship, as there are many teams who have won titles and several who have won many titles. Winning it all is special, but it certainly doesn't make it rare.

What made it rare was the way they won it. Against all odds. Against any logic from the experts. They figured out a way to win the trophy while ignoring any available templates. They really did it their way.

That is why the idea occurred to me on the airplane returning from Miami in June to write a book about the Mavericks championship. I had never written anything close to that length (the book spans roughly 100,000 words) and the idea to write the book may demonstrate my general naivety about how books are supposed to be written. Accomplished authors are no doubt supposed to take on these gigantic projects, not newbies like me. Nevertheless, this idea in my head kept talking to me, and therefore, a few days after the title was won, I started writing.

Before long, I reached out to Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban about his interest in such an idea. I did this partly because I knew he could appreciate the idea of making sure there was some sort of historical record and partly because I had no idea how to get a book published. He has a knack for getting things done, so I thought he was the one unique guy in the world to make it all happen. He told me, "Go for it. And do it fast." Without fully knowing what "fast" meant for a book, I did just that. Popped open my laptop at the kitchen table and attempted to document what I thought was one of the best sports seasons a fan could ever hope to enjoy.

Without knowing for sure how much time it took to write this book, I feel rather confident to say that it required every waking hour from the time the parade ended until early August, I was writing and writing and reading and watching and doing everything to write this record of an amazing year with an outstanding team that we may never see again. I knew that every day we removed ourselves from June 2011, that memories were going to become weaker.

The motivation was simply this - I wanted to try to preserve that feeling of elation on the page as well as humanly possible. To a sports fan, when you are in the moment of a championship that you never thought you would actually enjoy, you go out of your mind with happiness, but you slowly lose perspective. You lose the idea of what is normal and what is rare. You buy your championship t-shirt and you take pictures at the parade, but some setting in your head instantly moves to whether or not you can repeat as champions and what it would take to re-sign this guy (Tyson Chandler) or acquire this free agent (Dwight Howard) or that one (Chris Paul). As rare as the moment was, it then vanishes into thin air and sports continues on whether we are ready or not.

Years later, the details fade from your memory and the specialness of it all sometimes escapes your mind. Maybe Tyson Chandler signs in New York and suddenly your mind attempts to rationalize that losing him won't be so bad. Before long, you have talked yourself into forgetting how important Chandler was to the entire operation. It doesn't matter how true it is. The fact is that as fans we all have a coping mechanism when we lose players that we really loved to watch.

That is why I wanted to take on this massive project. One could make the case that surely someone else, who has written a book before and was embedded with the team all season, would be far more qualified to write this record. But, I wasn't going to wait around and hope that they wrote it. I also wasn't going to hope that they would remember it like i did. I had to do it myself.

So, the process for my project was likely different from others. I talked to everyone that I could think of on the team and around the team as soon as possible. Some of the members of the story literally spent hours with me. Their generosity with their precious free time made it possible to capture in the book the perspective from the inside. Trainers, equipment guys, P.R. staff, coaches, broadcasters, and of course, the players.

Now, the player-interview process was a bit complex because of the NBA lockout that started at midnight on July 1. This meant that any communication with players after that date would not be assisted by the team. Usually, when you wish to visit with a player, a member of the media relations team with the Mavericks will coordinate the conversation according to the insane schedule of the player in question. For instance, I visited with Jason Kidd while he was grocery shopping in Phoenix. He had an hour to talk as he stocked up on food and pushed a shopping cart.

But, by July 1st, I had not been able to get with the main character of the book, Dirk Nowitzki, to find an opening in his schedule. If you recall, his late June schedule was nothing short of fast and furious, as he celebrated on late night television, parades (on 2 continents), and just living his "life achievement" as you hoped he would. Selfishly, I hoped he would work me in before the lockout, but it didn't happen. I then pondered the prospect of writing a book without visiting with the main character. I didn't like that reality, but, I was too far down the road with the book to stop now. I would have to figure something out perhaps without talking to Dirk.

And then, I was hit with a stroke of good fortune as someone close to me found Holger Geschwindner's email address. Holger, of course, is Dirk's personal coach and agent and is headquartered back in Germany. I took a shot, and he advised me that Dirk would be back in town before heading to the ESPY awards around July 10. He even offered me Dirk's email, and before long I was able to spend 90 minutes with Nowitzki that pushed the book from strong to quite strong. He is the reason why this story is so phenomenal. It is a story about a lot of people, but in the end, if there was no Dirk in this story, it would be just another title.

The reason I wanted to write this book was because it proved that sometimes the boyhood sports dream can come true. He showed up as just a boy, and those of us who have followed his career in Dallas know that we saw him grow up over the course of the last 13 years into a grizzled veteran who learned that all of the points and dollars would not take away his burning desire to be a champion. That day in July he told stories of every step along the way that I asked him about. I tried to put every last morsel in the book in some way shape or form. He put himself out there for all to see on the road to victory which took him through prolonged trips in agony and defeat. And now that he stood atop the mountain, if only for a short time, I wanted to make sure that those who want to would always remember that moment in time as he saw it.

I have no idea if I will ever write another book. It seems a lot like running a marathon in the "bucket list" category of life. When you are done, you are proud of what you showed yourself you could do, but you also realize how many hundreds of hours you just spent doing it. I suspect, if I do, that I will need my editor, Ken Daley, right next to me. For it was Ken that helped a blogger look like an actual author. His work was phenomenal and now I see how vital the right guy in that spot can truly be.

Right now, the book is only available in "E-book" form. That means anyone with a Kindle, Nook, IPad, PC, or Mac can read it, but those who desire a physical copy will have to wait a bit longer. But, my dream is that it becomes a keepsake or memento for those who lived one of their happiest sports moments last spring with Dirk and the boys. The links above will even take you to a free sample where you may read the first few chapters at no obligation.

But regardless of which medium you use to read it, if you loved the story, I really hope you will have a chance to read it. This season is here, and it will bring its own excitement and headaches, victories and defeats, but I am willing to bet you will never see another season like the Mavericks year in 2011. A year that was truly different.


johnnybrower said...

Almost done with it!
I Really appreciate your writing style. It has allowed me to re-live all of the excitement, anxiety and joy I felt in the postseason.
Thanks for being a sports nerd!

Beardog said...

Congrats to you; I am off to manage my Kindle and grab the first few chapters (sorry) - but I am sure I will buy it. It sounds great (gotta admit, I have been a lifelong Rockets fan) - I write a review on Amzaon after reading the opening chapters.