Originally created 04/27/04

Even 20 years later, Mavs-Sonics game still sheer madness



DALLAS -- When the Dallas Mavericks made the playoffs for the first time, everyone wanted to be part of the action, even actor Bill Bixby.

The mild-mannered, alter ego of TV's "Incredible Hulk," Bixby was in town the night of the fifth and deciding game of the 1984 Dallas-Seattle series and asked for a ticket. Team president Norm Sonju knew his youngest son was a fan of the show, so he seated the two together.

The game ended up being so tense, so wacky and so exciting that 20 years later it remains the most memorable in franchise history. Many consider it the night the city fell in love with the team, which was no small feat considering how popular the Dallas Cowboys were then.

"It showed how far we had come as a franchise," former star Rolando Blackman recalled.

David Sonju might have been the only one who didn't fully enjoy it. Every time Bixby jumped and cheered, the youngster was horrified that his new friend was going to change colors and go on a rampage.

Then again, a lot of people felt like doing that on April 26, 1984.

The game was played at Moody Coliseum on the SMU campus because a tennis tournament had been booked at the team's usual home, Reunion Arena. The seating dropped from 17,007 to 9,007, although fire marshals would've been appalled by the actual attendance.

In an indication of the NBA's stature at the time, it was the second venue change. Game 3 was moved from the Kingdome because the Seattle Seahawks had rented it to show their annual highlight film to season ticket-holders. So the final four games of the series were all played at different arenas.

"We were all over the place that series," former guard Brad Davis said.

No matter where they were played, the games were entertaining, with huge comebacks and buzzer-beaters. Game 5 had it all and more, including two endings, with a 14-minute delay between them that left one referee fearing for his life.

When it was finally over, Dallas won by a single point - 105-104 in overtime, no less.

A headline in The Dallas Morning News the next day proclaimed, "Mavs win Moody madness," providing an everlasting nickname.

Game 5 matched Jack Sikma and the 1979 champions against Mark Aguirre and the Mavericks, a 1980 expansion team.

"It was such a convoluted situation. We were tied 2-2 and not playing at home against a veteran team," Blackman said.

During warmups, Seattle's Al Wood complained that one of the baskets was uneven. The Mavericks sent someone to a hardware store to buy a level and were able to prove the backboard was perfect.

The Mavericks trailed by six with 48 seconds left, and rallied to tie when Blackman's jumper hit the rim and backboard before dropping in. The Sonics missed two chances to win at the end of regulation.

Dallas went up by six in overtime and was ahead by three with five seconds left when Jay Vincent, who had made 31 straight free throws, went to the foul line.

He missed both, and Tom Chambers scored to get the Sonics within one with a second left.

After a timeout, Vincent stood at halfcourt ready to make the inbounds pass. Instead of looking for a teammate, he was told to intentionally ricochet the ball off Chambers, who was defending him.

Chambers ended up catching the ball and putting up a 50-footer. It was nowhere near the basket and the Mavericks ran off the court in celebration. In the locker room, they began ripping off their tape and piling up their sweaty uniforms.

But they weren't done.

Although referee Mike Mathis had declared the game over, 0:01 still showed on the scoreboard. Time should've started once Chambers touched the ball, but the two main clock operators were out of town and the backup crew messed up.

While Mathis and officials Jake O'Donnell and Tommy Nunez discussed what to do, the Sonics begged for another chance. Fans chanted, "Go Home Seattle."

O'Donnell decided Mathis blew his whistle inadvertently. Rather than giving Dallas the ball and essentially replaying the final sequence, he said the Sonics deserved the ball because Chambers stole it.

Mathis was so afraid of what might happen if the Mavericks lost that he asked a security guard to protect him.

Sonju went into the locker room to break the bad news and pleaded for coach Dick Motta to calm down. Befuddled players scurried to get dressed.

"I remember Norm coming in and saying we were going to have to go back out and play," said Keith Grant, Dallas' equipment manager then and now the team's assistant GM.

"Dick was just furious. Norm kept saying, 'Don't get a technical. Don't get a technical. Don't get a technical."'

Seattle's big break went nowhere. Steve Hawes tried a lob to Chambers, but two Mavericks knocked it away.

Game over, for real.

Cumulative score of the series: Dallas 486, Sonics 485.

In the next round, the Mavericks lost in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Now in their 24th season, the Mavs have reached Game 7 of the Western Conference finals twice and are in the playoffs again.

If they eventually win a title, fans could have another game that will be talked about for two decades.

But it'll be hard to top "Moody Madness."