If you had told me ten months ago that Kyrie Irving would be the mentor and role model I would want influencing Luka Doncic, I would have assumed you know absolutely nothing about the Dallas Mavericks or basketball in general.

Today, I would agree with you. We are living in an upside-down world, my friends.

With the little Mavericks headed to the NBA Finals after demolishing the Timberwolves in the Twin Cities, it seems to me that we’re watching a fluky, out-of-nowhere, miracle explosion of unexpected chemistry and talent. The Mavericks didn’t even make the playoffs last year. They were 26-23 on February 23. That’s one of the things that makes this so fun. Dallas has dispatched the 51-win Clippers, the top-seeded 57-win Thunder, and the second-seeded 56-win Wolves to advance to the NBA’s biggest stage. And I believe the foundation and the driving force behind the surprising success is that Luka and Kyrie need each other. They really need each other.

Every conversation about the best player in the NBA includes Luka somewhere in the first two sentences. He’s a deadly scorer, a triple-double machine, and a cold-blooded competitor. He’s well on his way to becoming a top-three guy in every NBA all-time offensive category. He’s going to give you several jaw-dropping shots every night. But he’s sometimes very hard to root for. No other player in my memory spends so much time after every single shot, every single trip down the floor, complaining to the referees. Griping. Pleading. Rolling his eyes. Racking up technical fouls. Luka, you’re maybe the best player on the planet! Please, get back and play defense! I’m not a fan of his on-court vocabulary. Some words are super easy to lip-read and those are the ones Doncic typically chooses. The way he lashed out at Rudy Gobert after his game-winning three in Game Two, the way he curses at opponents’ fans who are trying to get under his skin — he might wind up being a better player than Dirk, but Luka will never be the humble, gentlemanly, beloved Hall of Famer from Wurzburg who spoiled us so. And maybe he doesn’t have to be. Maybe it’s okay to bask in Luka’s brilliance and marvel at his talent and leave it at that.

Kyrie’s issues are well documented. He’s been his own worst enemy with his crazy flat earth theories and anti-vaccine conspiracies and anti-Semitic videos and selfish attitude. He’s been the opposite of a team player. He’s blown up several locker rooms and destroyed some pretty decent team mojo over the years. When the Mavs traded for Kyrie and got him at a bargain basement price because nobody else wanted him, I decried it as the last straw in Mark Cuban’s litany of bad basketball moves. You’re going to ruin this generational talent in Luka by pairing him with Irving. Both these guys operate as point guards. Both of them create their own openings and shots. Both of them are scorers first. And Kyrie’s attitude is going to rub off and make Doncic worse than he already is. This whole thing is going to blow up, the Mavs will miss the playoffs, Luka will want out, and it’s over.

Seems like a long time ago.

How in the world is this happening?

I think Luka and Kyrie need each other.

Luka needed an older guy on the team with just as much talent as his. Someone he could respect, someone he could look to, someone he could relate to as an equal, a peer in ability and drive. Luka needs somebody to give him advice, to calm his down, to remind him of big picture objectives, to mentor him. But that somebody had to be a player he’d listen to. Someone just as good as him.

Kyrie needed a younger guy to mentor. He needed someone who valued his experience and his talent and would listen to him, make him feel like the player-coach he thinks he is. He needs to feel important, like he’s contributing to something bigger than himself, like he’s passing something on that matters. Kyrie would only give of himself in that way to someone he could respect as an equal in skill and competitive drive. He wouldn’t waste any of that on someone who wouldn’t appreciate it or be able to duplicate it. It has to be someone just as good as him.

Luka and Kyrie need each other. Once they figured that out, they’ve put the Mavericks on their shoulders and turned them into the best team in the NBA.

They don’t defer to one another like they did a year ago, they complement each other. They’re not walking on eggshells, anymore, they’re both stomping through these playoffs in perfect sync. Luka draining threes from the edge of the logo and Kyrie finishing with a reverse left-handed layup down low. Kyrie drawing a double-team so Luka can lob one up for a Gafford slam and Luka actually playing defense! Luka with steals and blocks! It’s not a coincidence that they each finished with 36 points last night on 14 made shots. It’s art. They trust each other, they feed off each other, they push each other.

They need each other.

Now, that they’ve got each other, nobody’s going to stop ’em.