Brian Cardinal is the definition of a journeyman. With his sixth NBA team, the man affectionately named “The Custodian” finally got to the Promised Land, hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy with the Dallas Mavericks this June. On a team where every player had a specific role to play, Cardinal played his to perfection, coming in and making life miserable for Chris Bosh and LeBron James in the paint. Cardinal also made the most of his opportunities with the ball, knocking down some huge three-pointers in Game 5 and 6. Recently we caught up with Brian to talk about whatever was on his mind.
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Dime: For a guy who’s bounced around the league a lot, and not always played big minutes, how do you stay ready to play in big situations?
Brian Cardinal: I just think it’s a matter of staying professional. It’s kind of my role to be ready whenever I’m called upon, and you kind of have a sense that, you know, I’m not going to play a whole lot of minutes because I’m backing up Dirk or Shawn Marion – those guys are obviously much better than I am. They deserve the majority of the minutes, but at the same, you know that if something happens, if somebody gets in foul trouble, somebody gets hurt, you got to be ready to rock and roll. And when you get put in you gotta go, you gotta play. So that’s always kind of been my mindset, not just here, but in general in this league. I mean, it’s a great business. It’s an incredible gig that we all have, and it’s very easy to, you know, kind of get sucked in to feeling sorry for yourself or feeling frustrated or any of that. My mindset’s always been this is the best job around, and I’m with some of the best guys that play this game, so I wasn’t going to be the weakest link on this team.
Dime: Talk about the atmosphere of the Finals. You were called on to be somewhat of an enforcer, throwing around a lot of hard fouls. How intense was it out there?
BC: This is as big as it gets. It’s the biggest stage. I think everyone understands the gravity of the situation, just being in the Finals, and it was awesome that Coach (Rick Carlisle) had faith in me, that the guys on the team had faith in me, to swing it to me and know that I was going knock down a shot or play good defense or play smart. And you know teams make it so difficult on Dirk, and play so physical with him and JET and J.J. and you know in order for us to succeed and win a championship we needed to play tough and not only be physically tough, but mentally tough. That was kind of my role when I got out there, just to play smart and play hard. I knew I wasn’t going to play 48 minutes, so it’s not a matter of “I can’t take this foul because I’m worried that I’m gonna get in foul trouble.” There really was no “foul trouble” in my mind.
Dime: Obviously, everyone liked to criticize the Miami Heat. On the court, what seemed to be their biggest problem? Or did you guys just outplay them?
BC: It’s unfortunate that they do get so much criticism, I mean, they’re such talented players. But it’s tough, I mean Dwyane Wade’s an unbelievable player and LeBron, I feel bad for him. Some of it he brought on himself, but at the same time, you teach your kids growing up to pass the ball, to play smart, to be a team guy, and for goodness sake, he goes out and gets a triple-double like he does in Game 5. He’s getting crucified because he didn’t score more. But I mean, he got a triple-double an they almost won.
Dime: With this lockout, what are you doing to stay in shape? Are you playing any summer ball? Have you thought about taking your talents overseas?
BC: Well for me, it’s a pretty typical summer. I’ve been doing my training — my running, my strength work, all that kind of stuff. For me it’s pretty normal. I know a lot of guys are looking at overseas options, but for me personally, I’ve been in the league for so long that I understand how great this business is. I’ve played overseas before and it’s a great way to play and make a living, but for me, just having finished my 11th year, I don’t need to go overseas to play or to prove myself or anything like that. My game is what it is and doesn’t necessarily transcend to European type of ball, so I’m just going to stick with playing here.
Dime: Obviously the last month has been crazy for you, but what’s been the best part of the celebration? Which one of your teammates has celebrated the hardest?
BC: Outside of me? (laughs) No, I think the whole thing’s been pretty amazing. I mean winning it on Miami’s homecourt was incredible and the fans that traveled to Miami were awesome. It was great to be able to celebrate and share the moment with them. Being able to go to South Beach with the trophy and Cuban, having a good time, that was incredible. The parade, that was incredible. To have 300,000 people or so cheering us on, yelling my name and loving the fact that we were World Champions. Everybody going home or doing what they wanted to do for three weeks or so, and then coming back and there was six or seven of us that got together when we went out to the ESPYs. Just seeing each other again, cracking jokes, and essentially picking up where we left off. You know, we’re bonded for life, and it was fun just to be around those guys again.