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The game of basketball has gone through a series of changes since its inception in 1891. Every once and a while, a player comes along that is so unique that he refuses to fit the mold of those who came before him. When I think of how the game has evolved just over the last twenty years alone, I keep coming back to one man who’s imprint on the game has forever altered it, and inspired those who came after him. That man’s name is none other than Dirk Nowitzki.
The Dallas Mavericks reported on Thursday that the veteran power forward and surefire Hall of Famer, Dirk Nowitzki has been shut down for the season following ankle surgery. With Dirk turning 40 next month and the Mavericks once again selecting in the draft lottery, I couldn’t help but ask myself “is this the last that we have seen of Dirk Nowitzki?”
The man widely regarded as the best international player of all time has spent all twenty of his seasons in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks. In an era of “best friends” and “super teams”, there is something to be said about being loyal to just one franchise for your whole career. If Dirk is to return for his 21st season in the NBA, he will tie Robert Parish, Kevin Willis and Kevin Garnett for the most seasons played in NBA history. With the Mavericks having a ton of questions to address this offseason, the only question us NBA fans can ask is “what did we do to deserve Dirk?”
Before all the accolades and his patented one-legged fadeaway jumper, Dirk was a tall and lanky 15-year old tennis player in Germany. That was until he met his future and current mentor Holger Geschwinder (did I mention loyalty). Holger was a German basketball coach who spotted Dirk’s talent immediately, and knew that he could be something special. After just one year of tutelage and a rigorous regiment that he still follows to this day, Holger said to Dirk "You must now decide whether you want to play against the best in the world or just stay a local hero in Germany. If you choose the latter, we will stop training immediately, because nobody can prevent that anymore. But if you want to play against the best, we have to train daily". Talk about some Jedi type destiny.
Following a decorated career in Germany, Dirk decided to forego his college eligibility and enter the NBA draft. With the 9th overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft, Dirk was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks before being quickly traded for 6th overall pick Robert “Tractor” Traylor and 19th overall pick Pat Garrity. The trade is widely regarded as one of the worst in league history and is credited with putting the Mavericks on the map as Garrity was shipped to the Phoenix Suns that same night for a certain future 2x MVP that you may have heard of named Steve Nash.
Prior to Dirk’s arrival, the Mavericks had experienced little success and had yet to ever have their own All-Star. After a rookie season in which Dirk struggled nightly, he would later admit that he contemplated going back to Germany.
The next few seasons would see Dirk and the Mavericks drastically improve as he became their first all-star in franchise history and winning 50 games in a season became about as common as a “who’s better MJ or LeBron” argument. The NBA style of play was changing and Dirk was at the forefront of it. Dirk broke the mold of “big men” being restricted to playing inside the paint as the term “stretch four” was becoming more and more common and Dirk was the poster boy for the phrase.
Coming Up Short
From 2002-2012, Dirk would rattle off 11 straight All-Star appearances and ALL-NBA team selections. The 2005-2006 NBA season would see the Mavericks make their first ever NBA Finals appearance against the Miami Heat, led by Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal. Despite going up 2-0 on the Heat, Miami would take the next 4 games and win their first championship in franchise history. Questions about Dirk being fatigued late in the series and simply being outmatched started to arise as he would have to work harder than ever before if he was going to deliver the Mavericks their first title.
The following 2006-2007 NBA season was simply Dirk’s finest. He would lead the Mavericks to a franchise record 67 wins, become just the fourth player in NBA history to join the 50–40–90 club and took home MVP honors (the first ever European to do so). Unfortunately, it would not be all sunshine and rainbows as the Mavericks became the first #1 seed in NBA history to lose to a #8 seed when they were bounced in the first round by the Golden State Warriors. Dirk would describe this moment as one of the lowest in his life.
Dirks Shining Moment
After a few years of early playoff exits, the Mavericks would once again find themselves back in the NBA Finals in 2011 against none other than the Miami Heat. This time the Heat would be led by their “Big 3” consisting of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. You know, the same group that professed they were going to win how many rings Lebron? Now I might be crazy, but after a game 1 loss to the Heat, have you ever seen the nation…. Ok ill pump the brakes, the NBA community as united as they were to root against the Heat and pull for Dirk and the Mavericks to win the NBA finals?
Despite battling a 101°F fever and a torn tendon in his middle finger, Dirk would simply put on a clinic against the Heat. Not even security would be capable of halting Dirk’s brilliance as with the Mavericks trailing the Heat 2-1 in the series, Dirk would channel his inner “MJ Flu Game” and deliver his finest moment yet to tie the series up at 2 games apiece. Dirk and the Mavericks would go on to win the series 4 games to 2 as he averaged 26 points and 9.7 rebounds. While Lebron was guilty of playing hot potato with the ball in the 4th quarter, Dirk would score 62 points in 4th quarters alone, more than Lebron James and Dwyane Wade combined as the Mavericks hoisted their first NBA title in franchise history. In an era where they say you need 2-3 “stars” on a team to win a championship, in Dirk’s entire career he only had 4 teammates make an All-Star game. That would be Michael Finley (2000 and 2001), Steve Nash (2002 and 2003), Josh Howard (2007), and Jason Kidd (2010) and you never heard Dirk complain once.
Impact on the Game
That NBA championship in 2011, cemented Dirk as a global icon. From 2001 to 2011 Dirk sported averages of 24.5 points, 8.8 rebounds on 47.9% shooting, as the Mavericks won at least 50 games each of those seasons. While those numbers are nice to see, what about in crunch time? From 2000-2015 Dirk lead the NBA in clutch shooting and it wasn’t even close. I get it, legends are made in the playoffs so what about Dirk’s playoff averages? Well his scoring average of 25.26 points per game ranks as the highest career scoring average of all-time by a power forward ahead of some of the great such as Karl Malone and Charles Barkley.
While he sports the most points ever for an international player, Dirk currently sits at 6th on the all-time scoring list. Roughly 200 points separate him from passing Wilt Chamberlain and he is essentially 1,000 points away from passing the “G.O.A.T.” himself, Michael Jordan for 5th and 4th on the all-time list. He is the Mavericks all-times leader in games, points, rebounds, field goals, free throws, and three pointers made. The 39-year old is also the only player in NBA history with at least 31,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, 1,000 steals, 1000 blocks and 1,000 2-point field goals.
Stats are one thing, but those whom he has inspired is his real impact on the game. Not only is Dirk the first ever European to start in the All-Star game, but Kevin Durant and Chris Bosh have gone on record saying it was Dirk that inspired them to shoot and not have their game limited due to their height. Michael Jordan, known to be one of the rarest complements of them all said, the only four players that he believes could have played in his era would have been LeBron, Kobe, Duncan and Dirk himself.
How many players in the end are fortunate enough to have a signature shot associated with their game such as Kareem’s skyhook or Hakeem’s dream shake? Dirk’s signature fadeaway is in that group.
If This Really is the End, What Do We Do Now?
Dirk has gone on record to say, “I’m not the guy who will say, ‘This is my last year'. When I’m gone, I’m gone”. While that does not provide us much clarity on retirement, it sure sounds like their will be no Kobe Bryant like send off for Dirk. If he does choose to come back for his 21st season lets savor those moments as there will never be another quite like him. Us NBA fans can and will argue just about everything basketball related, but what can’t be disputed is the impact that Dirk Nowitzki has forever left on the game of basketball.
Dirk Nowitzki Yell: chron.com
Dirk Nowitzki Draft: SI.com
Dirk Nowitzki All-Star: zimbio.com
Dirk Nowitzki Finals Jumper: SBNation.com
Dirk Nowitzki Jumper: Getty Images
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