Kareem, Bird, Kobe, Wilt, Duncan, Earvin ‘Magic’, MJ, Moses, Hakeem, Shaq-Fu…….and Dirk! These eleven players have won at least one regular season MVP, one Finals MVP, and made at least ten All-Star appearances. Yes, Dirk Nowitzki is part of this distinguished list. He is the only European-born player within this spectacular eleven and was the reason for the basketball world laughing at Don Nelson on June 24, 1998. Who’s laughing now?!?
Don Nelson was the Head Coach and General Manager of the Dallas Mavericks and he traded the more visible Robert ‘Tractor’ Traylor (RIP) to the Milwaukee Bucks for Nowitzki and Pat Garrity. Traylor was the 6th overall pick while Nowitzki was 9th overall and Garrity was 19th overall. This is now considered one of the biggest draft-day robberies in NBA history.
I actually saw Dirk play before he was drafted on television at the 1998 Nike Hoop Summit, a game featuring the top USA high school seniors vs. the top international players, nineteen and under. I was enthralled by the offensive versatility of a 6’11’’ player (he grew another inch during his rookie year in the NBA). He went on to drop 33 points, 14 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 three-pointers, and was an insane 19 for 23 from the free throw line. His ability to get to the line was exhibited at such a young age, and still evident throughout his NBA-record 24 for 24 free throw performance vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of 2011 Western Conference Finals.
I personally forecasted Nowitzki to become a perennial All-Star especially in an era where Power Forwards and some Centers were starting to demonstrate more of a mid-range game, i.e. Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber, Tom Gugliotta, and Alonzo Mourning. But, Nowitzki had unlimited range and I saw him being able to create a unique identity, establishing a new style of play for big men going into the 21st Century. This style has been observed by some as, ‘Soft’. Throughout his career, he was WRONGLY classified as such, no matter how much his game developed as well as being selected to multiple All-Star games and all NBA-teams.
His Dallas teams were falling short in the NBA playoffs (eleven consecutive appearances and still counting during Dirk’s 13-year career) but Nowitzki established himself as a superstar and coming up big. In a 2001-02 NBA First Round matchup, Dirk gained recognition leading the Mavericks to a sweep of his contemporary, Kevin Garnett’s Minnesota Timberwolves. He outscored KG, 100-72 in the three games. The next season, he led the Mavericks to a Game 7 road victory vs. Chris Webber and the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference semifinals, dropping 30 points and 19 rebounds. Dallas was eliminated by Sacramento the previous season. How could anyone forget his 37 point-15 rebound performance vs. the defending champion San Antonio Spurs on the road in the 2006 Western Conference Semifinals. His team almost blew a 20-point second quarter lead, and Nowitzki converted a three-point play, the old-fashioned way to send the game into overtime. This was the single most defining play in Nowitzki’s career. His team went on to the NBA Finals, where they did tank a 2-0 series lead by not winning another game.
Unfortunately, his failure along with being the third #1 seed to lose to an #8 seed in the first round of the NBA Playoffs the next season (vs. the Golden State Warriors) weighed more than his 25+ point-10+ rebound career playoff average, a feat only accomplished by Hall of Famers Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, and Hakeem Olajuwon. This was trumpeted loudly by a majority of basketball fans, aficionados, media, etc. going into the 2011 Playoffs. The Mavs were even picked to lose to the less experienced Portland Trailblazers in the First Round! His team won seven straight games (including a four-game sweep of the defending champion Lakers), after a debacle in Game 4 of that first round series blowing an 18-point lead going into the fourth quarter. They had two historic comebacks during their 2011 playoff run which was ignited by Nowitzki: Game 4 of Western Conference Finals vs. Oklahoma City and Game 2 of the NBA Finals vs. the heavily-favored (???) Miami Heat. Both games, they trailed by 15-points in the middle of the fourth quarter. Both games, Nowitzki carried them to improbable victories.
Now, there is nothing to say negatively about Dirk Nowitzki’s legacy. It’s bizarre that after winning a ring, his entire body can be judged objectively. As a result, he is one of the Top-10 forwards in NBA history and can be justifiably mentioned in conversation with the legendary enshrined and future Hall of Famers mentioned in this column.
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- LeBron James: The New Decision
- Heart Beat the Heat: LeBron James’ Failures Still Stem from “The Decision”
- Too Bad, LeBron James