As Dirk Nowitzki scales Mt. 30,000, we take a look back at the life and career of the Greatest foreign import to the NBA.
NBA Champion in 2011, NBA MVP in 2007 and a regular in the All-NBA teams in the 2000’s, Dirk Nowitzki is one of the most celebrated players and decorated ones in the history of the league. As a shooting big man, there is no one who can even come close to him except for the legendary Larry Bird. One of a handful of players to have completed a 50-40-90 shooting season in the league, Dirk in his prime was one of the most unstoppable forces in the game. His fade away jumper is regarded as one of the safest, surest and unguardable shots in the history of the game, right up there with the Kareem Abdul Jabbar ‘Skyhook’.
Nowitzki was a franchise player for most of his career and spent his entire career with the Dallas Mavericks. He transformed the club after his arrival, achieving a status similar to what Tim Duncan did with the San Antonio Spurs.
Dallas were an expansion team and joined the league very late as compared to other storied franchises like the Lakers and the Celtics. But since Dirk’s arrival, not only did the club become a regular playoff contender, they were one of the powerhouses of the league between 2000-10. They reached the playoffs almost every season with Dirk, and also made it to their first Finals appearance in 2006, losing out to Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat in 6 games. But Dirk’s legacy would be completed in 2011, when the Mavericks would beat the Miami Heat “Super Team” which included the likes of LeBron James, Wade, Chris Bosh among others. This achievement in itself places Dirk among the Greatest Players of his era and his ability to push his game to another level in the post season cements his status even further.
Dirk is now the 6th player to reach the 30,000 point summit following Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant , Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. He is the only active player on the list. Generally not a very out spoken person, Dirk is shy and stays away from the spotlight, preferring to let his game do the talking. He is also one of the two players to have four consecutive games of 30 points and 15 rebounds in the playoffs and in the historic 2011 campaign, he put together the longest streak for consecutive free throws made.
In 2011, the Mavericks were matched up against two-time defending champs and heavy favourites, the LA Lakers, in the playoffs. Nobody expected the team from Texas to come out with a win, but Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and the rest had other ideas. Pulling off an incredible upset, they would super cede this achievement by defeating the Miami Heat in the finals against all odds. What Nowitzki managed on an individual basis in terms of shooting and impact on the team can be ranked right up there with the best. His performances in the deciding games of playoffs series have been so good that he ranks in 8 out of the top 100 performances for the same in the last 20 years, more than any other player. Shy and unassuming, Dirk’s achievements have often gone unnoticed but he is getting his due recognition now.
Dirk had an unusual playing style for a man of his height. He was more of an outside player rather than a traditional post up player. In his time, very rarely did big men shoot threes at the same rate as Dirk did. His ability to shoot over players and fade away made him an impossible assignment on defense. Virtually unguardable when on song, Dirk had the ability to rattle off 10-15 points single handedly in a matter of minutes. He could play post up, shoot from outside and was also a very gifted passer. Because of his unique skill set, Dirk frequently made his teammates better by his play. He could set outside the three point line, bringing his marker along with him to the perimeter. This created gaps in the center and in the lane, which the guards and forwards could exploit for easy lay ups and dunks near the rim.
After being criticized for being too soft and a liability on defense, Dirk improved upon these aspects to such an extent that he became one of the best rebounders in the league at one time and toughened up enough to play center and played excellent defense.
His career is intertwined with that of the Dallas Mavericks and in terms of one player’s influence on a team, there is perhaps no one else who even comes close. All of the Mavericks greatest moments have come with the big German wearing their jersey and his in the present day, there is no one else who even comes close.
Born in Germany, Nowitzki was a tall, lanky boy who was picked by his coach to try his hand at basketball after Nowitzki was repeatedly shunned for his height. Once he started the game, his talent was obvious and he was touted as one of the best talents to come out of the country in decades. His early training consisted mostly of shooting and passing and little emphasis was laid on physical exercise and strength training. This laid down the seeds for the future MVP’s fundamentals.
Once he impressed in Germany at junior levels, Dirk set his sights on the NBA and to compete with the best. Drafted 9th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998, Dirk was immediately transferred to the Dallas Mavericks as part of a deal signed before the draft by Head Coach Don Nelson. After impressing in the pre season, Dirk could not translate the form in his first season. He picked from his second season onwards and became one of the rising stars of the league.
Now at the twilight of his career, Nowitzki has lost his physical attributes and is not able to give the same minutes or carry the team on his shoulders like he used but the intangibles that he brings to the game are still helping his team and team mates. Nowitzki will always remain a special player for what he has given to the game and how he helped transform the game. He will probably come back for another season, but even if he doesn’t, Dirk will always remain a Legend of the game and never forgotten.
Photo by Keith Allison