Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, with his daughter Alyssa, rides with the NBA Championship basketball trophy during the team's victory parade.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
DALLAS -- The face of the Dallas Mavericks laughed, sang, and even seemed to tear up.
For Dirk Nowitzki, the only thing that could come close to being an NBA champion for the first time was celebrating it with the fans in his adopted hometown of Dallas.
An expected crowd of 250,000 crammed downtown Thursday morning for a parade in the team's honor, with another 20,000 or so filling the arena for a rally filled with emotional moments.
After waiting 31 years for the franchise to be atop the NBA, fans honored it in a way that many said was worth the wait.
Nowitzki was the unquestioned star of the show, drawing the loudest cheers from start to finish -- usually chants of "M! V! P!"
There were German flags in the crowd, a sign calling him "Der Kaiser" and cut-out letters that spelled "Thank you Dirk."
After the parade and before the rally, Nowitzki and his teammates went to the balcony of the arena and spoke briefly to the crowd. Nowitzki capped it by leading a rousing rendition of their new favorite song, "We Are The Champions."
More singing came during the rally, when team owner Mark Cuban serenaded Nowitzki with "Happy Birthday"; he turns 33 on Sunday. Nowitzki got into it too, pretending to conduct.
But this day had two other emotional crescendos for Nowitzki.
The first came when coach Rick Carlisle said, "You're looking at the best basketball team on the planet. It's also very clear we have in our presence the greatest basketball player on the planet." The overhead jumbo board showed a close-up shot of Nowitzki wiping his eyes.
When it was Nowitzki's turn to speak, his teammates and Cuban were among those standing and chanting "MVP." Nowitzki bit his bottom lip and looked down. He was too overcome with emotion to answer the first question from co-emcee Chuck Cooperstein.
"It's been an amazing ride, an amazing journey," Nowitzki said. "It's been a lot of ups and a lot of downs. This is the top of the iceberg. It feels absolutely amazing."
He relived his journey from a 19-year-old draftee with a bowl cut and a bad earring -- "just a bad look," he said with a smile -- to the greatest player in team history, a former league MVP, and the newly minted finals MVP.
"I didn't really know what to expect," he said of his early days in Dallas. "It's been an amazing ride and you guys have been with me every step of the way. This is for our fans!"
Fans filled the downtown streets starting early Thursday, despite temperatures approaching 90 degrees by noon.
The plaza around the arena was filled to its 3,000-person capacity about two hours before the parade even began.