Michael Finley was one of the Dallas Mavericks’ big stars of the early 2000s. Finley’s hard work and dedication in a Mavericks uniform is something that Mavs fans always remember. Finley, Steve Nash, and Dirk Nowitzki made up Dallas’ big three in the early 2000s.
High School Years
Finley attended Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois. In his senior year at the school, the basketball team won the 1991 Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Boys Basketball Class AA tournament. Finley was named to the all-tournament team.
Finley attended the University of Wisconsin for college. In his first year on the team, he started in 28 out of the 31 games. He averaged 12.3 points per game (PPG), 4.9 rebounds per game (RPG), 2.7 assists per game (APG), 0.9 steals per game (SPG), and 0.8 blocks per game (BPG). The team finished the season 13-18 and ninth in the Big Ten Conference.
Finley started in all 28 games the following season. He took a big jump in his second year as he averaged 22.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.8 SPG, and 0.6 BPG. The team finished the season with a .500 record, finishing 14-14 and eighth in their conference. That same year, Finley was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year.
As a junior, he started in all 29 games for the team. He continued to dominate as he averaged 20.4 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.4 SPG, and 0.7 BPG for the season. The team had their best season since Finley joined as they went 17-10 in the regular season and finished seventh in the conference. The Badgers qualified for the NCAA tournament as the No. 9 seed in the West Region. They beat the No. 8 seed, the University of Cincinnati, in the first round. The team then was eliminated in the following round by the No. 1 seed, the University of Missouri. They finished with an overall record of 18-11 for the season. To finish off the season, Finley was named to the All-Big Ten first team.
In his senior year, he started in all 27 games for the season. He put up 20.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.9 SPG, and 0.6 BPG in his final year on the team. The team finished the season with a losing record of 13-14, ninth in their conference, and missed out on the NCAA tournament. For the second year in a row, Finley was named to the All-Big Ten first team despite the team’s lackluster season.
Welcome to the NBA
Finley was selected 21st overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 1995 NBA Draft. In his first season with the Suns, he was inserted into the starting small forward spot. In his first season, he averaged 15.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, and 1.0 SPG. He started in all but 10 games his rookie season. In the final game of the regular season, he suffered a twisted left ankle that left him off the court during the playoffs. Despite getting injured at the end of the season, Finley’s marvelous rookie year earned him a spot on the NBA All-Rookie first team.
Finley began the 1996-97 season with the Suns, but that isn’t how it would end. In his 27 games and 18 starts with the Suns, he put up 13.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.5 APG, and 0.7 SPG, before he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks on December 26, 1996.
Dallas Welcomes Finley Home
When Finley arrived in Dallas, he fit right into the team. In his first season there, he averaged 16.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.8 APG, and 0.9 SPG while he started in 36 out of the 56 games he played. Finley led the league in games played that year with 83 games, 27 with the Suns and 56 with the Mavericks.
The following season Finley led the Mavericks in PPG and APG. He averaged 21.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.9 APG, and 1.6 SPG in his first full season as a Maverick. He started in all 82 games and led the league again in games played that season.
Dallas’ Big Three
In the summer of 1998 Dallas’ big three of Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, and Finley was formed. Nash arrived in Dallas in a trade with the Suns during the 1998 offseason, while Nowitzki was drafted with the Mavericks’ first-round pick in 1998. It was the Mavericks’ new young trio that helped the team enter a new era of success.
During the 1998-99 lockout-shortened season, Finley started in all 50 games and led the league in games played for the third straight year. He averaged 20.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.4 APG, and 1.3 SPG. In the trio’s first year together, the team went 19-31.
The following year, Finley had the best season of his career when he averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and assists. He averaged 22.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.3 APG, and 1.3 SPG while starting in all 82 games. Finley’s best season was capped off with an All-Star nod for his play during the season. The Mavericks finished the season 40-42, which was a big improvement from their last full season when they went 20-62.
The 2000-01 season was a great season for both Finley and the Mavericks. Finley started in every game for the fourth consecutive year and averaged 21.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.4 APG, and 1.4 SPG. He was named an All-Star for the second year in a row. Ina game against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 23, 2001, Finley tied an NBA record when he recorded eight steals in one half of the game. The Mavericks finished the season 53-29 and clinched a playoff spot for the first time in 11 years. Dallas entered the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference. In the first round of the playoffs, the Mavericks beat the No. 4 seed, the Utah Jazz, in five games. The Mavericks then lost in five games to the No. 1 seed, the San Antonio Spurs. In the playoffs, Finley started in all 10 games and averaged 19.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.4 APG, and 1.2 SPG.
Finley’s streak of playing in every game ended the following season. He played and started in 69 games, while he averaged 20.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 0.9 SPG for the season. The team finished the season 57-25 and was seeded fourth in their conference. In the first round of the playoffs, they swept the fifth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves. The team then got eliminated in five games by the No.1 seed, the Sacramento Kings. Finley averaged 24.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, and 1.5 SPG in the playoffs.
In between seasons, he played for the United States Men’s National Team in the 2002 FIBA World Championship. For the first time since FIBA allowed NBA players to compete in international competitions, the team lost three games and failed to win a championship.
Finley continued to have another successful season as part of the Mavericks’ big 3. He again started in all 69 games he played in for the second consecutive year. He averaged 19.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, and 1.1 SPG for the season. The Mavericks finished with a 60-22 record and entered the playoffs as the third seed in the conference. They took down the Portland Trailblazers, who were the sixth seed, in seven games. The Mavs then beat the Kings, the second seed, in another seven-game series. Dallas’ luck ran out in the Western Conference Finals when they lost to their rival, the Spurs, in six games after Nowitzki got injured in game 3 and was out the rest of the series. In the playoffs, Finley averaged 18.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, and 1.3 SPG.
The 2003-04 season would be Dallas’ big 3 final opportunity to win a championship together. Finley continued to put up great numbers even as the second or third option on the team. He averaged 18.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, and 1.2 SPG for the season. He continued to be a reliable starter for the Mavericks as he started in all 72 games he suited up for. The team finished as the fifth seed with a 52-30 record. The Mavs wouldn’t make it far into the playoffs this time around as they were eliminated in the first round by the fourth-seeded Kings in five games. He averaged 13.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.0 APG, and 0.8 SPG this time around in the playoffs.
That offseason, Nash left the Mavs in free agency to join the Phoenix Suns. That move left Finley and Nowitzki as the lone team leaders. Finley began to decline but he was still an important asset to the team’s success. He averaged 15.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.6 APG, and 0.8 SPG in his 64 starts that season. The team had a strong season as they finished 58-24 and clinched the fourth seed. The Mavericks beat the Houston Rockets in seven games to make it out of the first round. In the second round, Dallas was eliminated in six games by Nash and the Suns. Finley averaged 13.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, and 1.3 SPG during the playoffs.
Finley Finally Wins a Ring
During the 2005 offseason, Finley was waived by Dallas for the team to avoid a luxury tax. Finley then became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Spurs. He spent four and a half seasons with the Spurs. In San Antonio, he split his time as a starter and as a bench piece. In his tenure there he averaged 9.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, and 0.4 SPG. The team made the playoffs in every season that Finley was on the team. In his first year on the team, they got eliminated in the second round. The following year they won the NBA Championship and Finley won his one and only ring. In his third year on the team, they made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before getting eliminated. In his final full year there they were bounced in the first round.
Finley’s Final Season
On March 1, 2010, the Spurs waived Finley, at his request. A few days later he signed with the Boston Celtics for the remainder of the season. The Celtics made it to the NBA Finals where they lost in seven games to the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. Finley called a career soon after, announcing his retirement.
Finley had his best years as part of the Mavericks. He averaged 19.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.8 APG, and 1.2 SPG during his time on the team. Finley played a big role in helping transform the Mavericks from being a team with a losing record year in and year out to becoming a playoff-level team. His leadership on the court and mentoring of younger players made him a valuable member of the team.
After retiring as a player, Finley returned to the Mavericks organization, this time as the assistant vice president of basketball operations. Years later he became the vice president of basketball operations. He held solely that position until 2021, when he was promoted to the assistant general manager position. In his new position, he works closely with Mavericks general manager, Nico Harrison, to help bolster the team. Currently, Finley is the Mavericks’ vice president of basketball operations and assistant general manager.
In 2003, Finley created the Michael Finley Foundation to help children and their families with education and to help improve lives. The Michael Finley Foundation Scholarship is a scholarship given annually to an African-American student-athlete from Finley’s alma mater, the University of Wisconsin.
In 2010, Finley began his production company, Follow Through Productions, LLC. He’s helped produce several movies including The Butler, The Birth of a Nation, and American Made.
Finley had a successful basketball career, winning awards and honors along the way. He had the honor to win basketball’s biggest award, an NBA Championship, during his time with the Spurs. Finley’s time in Dallas will always be remembered for his contribution in helping turn the Mavericks into a winning franchise with help from his big three partners, Nowitzki and Nash. He was a leader on and off the court and when anybody needed help, he always found a way to assist them. Finley’s time in Dallas will be remembered and cherished by Mavs fans for life.