Three old friends teamed up for the first time in a few years — oh, and there was a basketball game too

On a night that features taking in a pro basketball game — something I haven’t done in decades — you’d think the game itself would be the highlight. But you’d be mistaken.

I had that opportunity Monday, when I sat in nosebleed seats to join 20,000-plus other fans in cheering the Dallas Mavericks to a 111-103 victory over the Utah Jazz at American Airlines Center. I’m no NBA fan — I don’t care for the style of game the pros play these days, and I prefer college sports and pro baseball anyway — but it was fun to see Mavs phenom Luka Doncic in action for the first time. He’s definitely the real deal.

But the best, most memorable part of the evening was most definitely (as Mavs coach Jason Kidd would say) the people I was with in Section 328, Row O. That would be two of my dear friends and former Dallas Morning News colleagues, Frank Smith and Joel Thornton, along with Frank’s 20-year-old son, Kyle.

The Fab Four: From left, it’s me, Joel, the other Frank and his son, Kyle. (Frank Christlieb photo)

Frank, Joel and I hadn’t seen one another in several years, as they left the newspaper in 2018 and 2017. They’re awesome people and I’d worked with them for almost two decades, from the moment Joel, our longtime copy desk chief, hired me in February 2000. Getting to see them and spend a few hours together watching a sports event was truly special.

To say we all had a great time would be falling way short of reality. It was a fantastic reunion of friends that I wish could happen more often in my life — not only with Joel and Frank, but with other longtime friends. We picked up right where we left off, talking sports and sharing memories of good times spent together.

I was proud of myself for getting a couple of decent action shots from the rafters. (Frank Christlieb photo)

As for the game, not surprisingly, Doncic, the Mavericks’ 23-year-old superstar, led the way with 35 points and 16 rebounds, falling just three assists short of a triple double. He’s a smooth, smart, aggressive player and so much fun to watch.

One component of the game that I hadn’t expected, since I don’t watch NBA games on TV, is the constant sounds filling the arena. The PA announcer (longtime local sports radio voice Chris Arnold) chatters from start to finish, imploring fans to chant “Defense!” and “Let’s go Mavs!” along with his creative shouts of players’ names after they score. There’s also a lot of music being played, even while the action’s going. It’s all just so different from the college basketball experience — or that of any other sport.

As a former sports writer, I can certainly appreciate the talent on the floor, and it’s downright amazing to see what these guys can do. But the pros’ tendency to gun from long range practically every possession (the 3-point line is 23 feet, 9 inches) just isn’t a brand of hoops I get into.

Joel and me at halftime. (Frank Christlieb photo)

It seemed like almost every time someone would drive the lane, he’d dish the ball out to someone behind the arc and that guy would fire up a 3. And we saw plenty of shots that missed everything, which prompted me to say something about how players at this level shouldn’t be shooting so many air balls. Am I right?

For the game, Dallas attempted 46 3-pointers and made 17, a decent 37% clip. But the stat showing that 52% of the Mavs’ shots were taken outside the 3-point line is pretty telling. So is the fact that two nights later, on Wednesday against a weak New York Knicks team, Dallas woefully missed its first 19 shots from 3-point range.

The Mavs ended that game shooting a miserable 6 of 44 from long range (13.6%) and 31.4% overall. They fell behind the Knicks by 28 points in the first half and pathetically trailed 61-34 at halftime — this after leading a much stronger, first-place Jazz team 60-49 after two quarters in the game we attended.

Cool photo of pregame introductions of the Mavericks’ starters. (Frank Christlieb photo)

For a team leading its division and carrying serious playoff aspirations, I don’t see how settling for 3-pointers with regularity is going to get you where you want to go. Then again, the Mavs don’t have a strong inside presence, so maybe that’s why a run-and-gun style suits them. At any level, you have to play to your roster’s strengths.

But I really don’t follow the NBA or keep close tabs on the Mavs, so it’s highly possible I have no clue what I’m talking about. ☺️

Yeah, Luka’s a pretty spectacular player. (Frank Christlieb photo)

And like I said, the night was all about three old friends and colleagues teaming up for the first time in too long. When the night ended and we dropped Joel off at his home, we brought up the possibility of getting together again for a Rangers game — *if* we have baseball at all, considering how negotiations during the MLB lockout have been progressing.

Thanks for a great game and a great time, fellows. Hope to see you again soon.

Who knew so many people could be on the floor after a pro basketball game? (Frank Christlieb photo)

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