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Long before the Mavericks' jet touched down at Dallas Love Field on Monday morning, Don Carter was there waiting in his trademark cowboy hat, cruising in a golf cart, and waving to the cheering crowd.

It only made sense he'd be here first; after all, he's been here since before Day 1.

It started with Don; this is Don's vision, said Mavs general manager Donnie Nelson. I couldn t be happier for guys like Don Carter, Rolando Blackman, Brad Davis... they were the building blocks for what we are experiencing today.

Even Carter himself jokes about how long it took the Mavericks to win it all.

I was confident I would live to see this day, he said. I wasn t sure if I d be in a wheelchair or walking.

When the world thought Dallas was a football town, Don Carter put his money $12 million worth where his mouth was. He started this pro team because his wife loved basketball.

This all started out with me trying to give a gift to her 31 years ago, Carter said. Mark [Cuban] came through, and this team came through, and gave her this gift tonight.

Carter sold the team in 1996 to Ross Perot Jr., who, in turn, sold it to Mark Cuban. But Carter always retained a minority ownership role.

And because of that, when it was time for NBA Commissioner David Stern to hand Cuban the championship trophy after the Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat on Sunday night, Cuban stepped aside.

Stern handed the trophy to Carter and his wife.

You know, when you wait this long for something, you really appreciate it and know what it s worth to get it, Carter said.

Don Carter has always been considered a class act. Now people can call him something else a champion.

E-mail greaves@wfaa.com

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