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The Legacy of Dirk Nowitzki

The Legacy of Dirk Nowitzki

 I remember being at a pick-up basketball game shortly after the 2006 Finals. A guy playing was shoved to the floor as he went up for a shot and immediately got up complaining of a foul. A reference was quickly made to this guy being as soft as Dirk Nowitzki. Everyone laughed, and the guy didn’t say another word. These guys rarely watched the NBA, except maybe a game or two in the NBA Finals, but they all knew who Dirk was. They all knew he was soft, and they all assumed he was a complainer. To them, he was a European guy who was afraid to be hit and choked in the big moments. He was a guy who got his team to the biggest stage with a 2-0 lead and then proceeded to choke and lose four straight games to lose the series.

A year later, the Dallas Mavericks were the number one seed in the West in the NBA Playoffs. They were determined to get redemption for that blown series the year before. In the first round they were facing the Golden State Warriors, a tough team that barely made it in the playoffs. The Warriors did not let the Mavs have anything easy. J-Rich, Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, and Matt Barnes were a tough group and they were very physical. They stole Game 1 in Dallas, and all the stories about the Mavs and Dirk being soft resurfaced. The Mavs won Game 2, but the Warriors took game 3, 4, and 6 to win the series. I was disappointed in them and in Dirk. A year later, they were eliminated in the first round again. And as Dirk hit the age of 30, I thought his legacy was written.



Fast forward two years later to the 2010 off-season. Dirk turned 32 and entered free agency. But he was not really even sought after. Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were the free agent names every NBA GM wanted on their teams. And in the end, at “The Decision” they all teamed up to go to the Miami Heat. Dirk’s re-signing with the Mavs was just an afterthought. At the beginning of the season in late October, no one picked the Dallas Mavericks to win the West, much less an NBA title. But unexpectedly, they played well enough to clinch the 3 seed in the West heading into the playoffs in April. They just barely missed passing the Lakers for the 2 seed on the last day of the regular season. Then everyone’s playoff predictions came in, with 75-80% of all experts picking the Portland Trailblazers to upset the Mavs in the first round. But the Mavs played tough, won in six games, and advanced to play the Lakers in the second round.

I, along with the rest of the world, picked the Lakers to win very easily. The two-time defending champs would not lose to the choke-prone Mavs. But a weird combination of Kobe looking old, Gasol having some unexpected personal problems, Dirk playing more physical than any other time in his career, and some of the best shooting in NBA history lead to a route of the Lakers in a 4-0 sweep by the Mavs. I was completely stunned and wrote it off as a lucky series at the time. I even picked the Oklahoma City Thunder to easily beat the Mavs in the Western Conference Finals. But the new Dirk played with confidence and dominated the series with comeback after comeback to advance to the NBA Finals.

After advancing, most people I spoke with or heard on TV blamed the inexperienced Thunder for blowing the series instead of giving the Mavs props for actually winning the series. Nonetheless, their win set-up a Finals showdown with those same 3 players (James, Wade, and Bosh) that everyone wanted on their teams the previous summer. As the series approached, the Heat was deemed a 4-1 favorite to win the title. Minus a few notable writers, everyone jumped on the Heat bandwagon and picked them to win the series easily. After a Game 1 win by the Heat, I heard many people proclaim the series was already over. And as Game 2 was winding down, it looked like they were right. The Heat lead by 15 points with only 6 minutes left, and then it happened… The Mavs stormed back into the game lead by Dirk and Jason Terry. With the score tied 90-90 with about a minute to play, Dirk hit a monster 3 to take the lead for the first time since the first half. Mario Chalmers hit a 3 on the other end to tie it back up, which set the stage for a clear out game-winning shot for Nowitzki. And of course, the soft choker came up big with a left-handed game winning layup in the closing seconds. The rest of the series is history.



Dirk Nowitzki went into these playoffs with his legacy defined by big losses and bad moments. He had never come up big in big games before, and it seemed he would never recover from the ’06 loss in the Finals. He left as a clutch player who could come up big in the NBA Finals. He even lost the soft title. Now many consider him a top 15 player of all-time and compare him to Larry Bird. His patented one foot fadeaway (which may be the 2nd best fadeaway in NBA history behind Jordan’s) will now be practiced by younger kids for years to come. Even now, thinking about Dirk, I no longer feel sympathy for him like I did for years. I now respect his game. He carried a bunch of no-names into the Finals against the Big 3 of Wade, James, and Bosh and left victoriously. He played sick, got mocked, and then closed the game out while those 3 guys struggled. He came up big in every 4th quarter stretch of the Finals, while Lebron came up very small. And he did all of this when not one person thought he could. The demons from ’06 were finally exorcised. Congratulations Dirk Nowitzki, at age 33, you have finally arrived. Take your seat among the greats.


by Rance Young  email me: ranceyoung@behind-the-bets.com

3 Responses to “The Legacy of Dirk Nowitzki”

  1. Tom May 2, 2012 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm #

    Love the article man. You are a great writer! Dirk FTW!

  2. Derek May 3, 2012 7:08 pm at 7:08 pm #

    Very good write up. What a run for Dirk and the Mavs

  3. Carter May 7, 2012 5:20 pm at 5:20 pm #

    Great article except I don’t agree with the notion he carried a bunch of ‘no-names’. Kidd, Marion, Terry, Chandler, Peja , Stevenson are not no names. Just my opinion, die hard mavs fan though, couldn’t feel happier for Dirk after last year.