Dirk Nowitzki had his jersey retired on Wednesday, January 5th, and it’s time to remind people of the impact the German sensation left on the NBA.
His patented one leg jumper and marksmanship from the post to the 3-point line allowed Nowitzki to be one of the first and most memorable big men who could shoot. With Dirk’s size, he was able to create enough separation and rise above defenders to get a clean release. This move was virtually unstoppable. Mark Cuban announced he’s getting a statue on his famous move outside the American Airlines Center.
Big men like Kevin Durant and Nikola Jokic utilize this move or versions of it in their game. Someone should give him the nickname of the midrange master because his ability to score everywhere in the midrange was an impressive feat. Nowitzki competed with the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and others who were recognized as midrange assassins.
Dirk OWNED the mid-range.
It should be re-named the Dirk-range. https://t.co/BYBOXN98Cy
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) January 5, 2022
Dallas was a struggling franchise during the 90’s despite having the trio of Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jimmy Jackson. Since the ’89-’90 season, the team failed to make a playoff appearance. With an ownership transition upon the horizon, the Mavericks needed a miracle to help turn around a franchise that was more lagging than galloping.
From Germany to the NBA
Dallas originally selected Robert Traylor with the 6th pick in the 1998 draft. However, an immediate trade was made to the Milwaukee Bucks. In return, Dallas received the draft rights of the 9th overall pick, Dirk Nowitzki, and the 19th pick Pat Garrity. Garrity and a package of other assets were flipped to the Suns for Steve Nash. Looks like Dallas got that miracle after all. The infamous 1998-1999 lockout occurred, shortening the season to just 50 games where Nowitzki struggled to acclimate from the German Bundesliga league. The German put up a measly 8.2 pts, 3.4 rebounds, and 1 assist. However, the Mavericks began to start galloping and become the western conference powerhouse that many of us knew them to be. From 2000-2011, the franchise was charging forward winning 50+ games each season.
Nowitzki’s growth alongside the Canadian Steve Nash and captain Michael Finley became known as the Mavericks “Big Three”. Dirk made history becoming the first Maverick to make an All-NBA team in 2001 landing on the 3rd team. This was during a time with other dominant power forwards in Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, and Kevin Garnett. This was also the first time the Mavericks made the playoffs since the ’89 season beating the Stockton and Malone Jazz in the twilight of their careers. However, they eventually fell to the Spurs in the 2nd round. In 2002, Nash and Nowitzki made their first All-Star appearances alongside their coach, Donnie Nelson. From 2000-2004, the Mavericks fell to the Spurs and Kings alternating each year.
Heartbreak City Dirk Nowitzki
In 2006, Dallas would get revenge on the Spurs by beating them in the Conference Semis. Next on the list were the Suns who bounced them in the 1st round in 2005, beating them in the WCF 4-2. Only one team stood in the way of the first NBA title in Dallas: the Miami Heat. The Mavericks opened a 2-0 lead but proceeded to lose the next 4 games as Dwayne Wade transformed into a superstar. Surely next season would look brighter, right? Spoiler alert: it would not.
Dirk had a great season averaging 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists while shooting over 50% leading his team to a franchise-record 67 wins and the No. 1 seed in the West. An All-Star Starter, All-NBA First Team, and being named the MVP were the highlights of the German player’s season. However, the team fell victim to one of the greatest upsets in NBA history. The “We Believe” Warriors shocked the world and upset the Mavericks as Nowitzki looked like a shell of his MVP self. After being eliminated, Nowitzki was presented with the trophy in the second round during a press conference.
Dirk Nowitzki described the series as a low point in his career “the expectations of myself are very high and if I don’t meet those expectations, I’m going to be disappointed. This series, I couldn’t put my stamp on it the way I wanted to. That’s why I’m very disappointed.”
The next three seasons followed with early playoff exits against the Hornets, Nuggets, and Spurs respectively. Many people would question the ability of Nowitzki to lead a team to the promise land. Would Dirk end up like many other legends and go ringless?
Climb to the Mountain Top
Then the 2011 season came and it would all pay off for Nowitzki and the Mavericks. Prior to the start of the season, the team traded for Tyson Chandler to help provide some better interior defense and gave the Mavericks some toughness. Alongside key pieces Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojaković, and Brendan Haywood, the team had a long road to the mountain top.
First, they got by the Trailblazers in the 1st round 4-2. Then, they had a date with the reigning NBA champion of the past two years: the Los Angeles Lakers. The team didn’t struggle and swept them to face the OKC Thunder in the WCF. While this team had 3 future MVP’s and defensive minded Serge Ibaka, their inexperience showed, and Dallas dispatched them in 5 games. In previous years, a criticism of Nowitzki was his lack of being clutch in the playoffs. This year, he proved so many doubters wrong. He hit shot after shot to bring Dallas back into games or close them out. He averaged 27.7 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and shot an amazingly efficient 48.5/46/94.1.
One team stood in the way: the Miami Heat. After losing Game 1, the Mavericks clawed back in the 4th quarter of Game 2. Nowitzki made the midrange shot to pull within 2, hit the layup to tie the game at 90 with 57.6 seconds left, then a 3 with 26.7 left to go up by 3. Mario Chalmers hit a quick 3 out of a timeout to end the 20-2 run. Then Dirk had the infamous drive to the basket, sealing the game and the Mavericks stealing home court advantage. Miami won Game 3 while the Mavericks won the next two at home sending the series back to Miami up 3-2. Dirk Nowitzki was named the Finals MVP after Dallas went on the road to seal away the Heat with a 10 point win .
Falling Down the Mountain
After the 2011 season, it went downhill, as many of the trades and signings made by the Mavericks front office didn’t pan out. Cuban was aggressive in trying to land another star alongside Nowitzki, but he never seemed to get it right. The team only finished with 50 wins once in Dirk’s last 8 seasons and would make the playoffs 4 times. However, they lost in the first round each attempt. Dirk would deal with injuries throughout the latter portion of his career, and it would eventually lead to his decline in performance.
When measuring success, having 12 consecutive seasons with 50 plus wins is impressive. Only one other team has accomplished this. That would be the San Antonio Spurs who had 18 seasons. The Lakers had 11 from 1979-1991 with Magic, Kareem, Worthy, and crew.
Going into the 2018-2019 season, many people thought it was going to be his last. Dirk Nowitzki and Dwayne Wade both were legends going onto greener pastures. Both were selected to the All-Star Game as special roster additions by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Over his career, Nowitzki boasted 14 All-Star appearances, 12-All NBA teams, an MVP award, a Championship, a Finals MVP, and 31,560 points good for 6th all time.
It’s time for some special moments. Doc Rivers got on the PA system of then Staples Center and had the crowd to cheer for Dirk as a sign of respect. Rivers, a tenured coach in the league since 2000, has had many battles with the German big man. Nowitzki’s last home game was the 2nd to last of the season and he didn’t disappoint. While it may not have been a Kobe 60-piece, Dirk set a new season high and pulled out all the stops. Three pointers, patented fadeaway, bank shot, and he even got a dunk in there. I got chills watching him be announced.
Dirk Nowitzki ushered in a new generation of basketball. A generation where Power Forwards and other big men could shoot and become a vital piece to an NBA team. In the present, it’s hard to find a team who doesn’t have a stretch-four. Many people helped change the game and whether it was Chamberlain, Kareem, Magic, Mike, Kobe, Lebron, or Steph; Dirk needs to be in that conversation.