By: Nicholas Gilanfar
On Saturday, August 12th, the illustrious career of former Mavericks PF Dirk Nowitzki will be cemented into the James Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
The legacy of Dirk Nowitzki marks hard work, determination, and loyalty. In this era of basketball, superstar players are focused on building super teams and going elsewhere if adversity is faced but that was not the case for Nowitzki. He spent an NBA record 21 seasons with the Dallas Mavericks making 14 all-star teams, winning 2007 MVP, and winning the 2011 NBA champion. Looking ahead to the induction ceremony, here are some of the most iconic moments in Nowitzki’s career.
2019 All-Star Game
2019 was Nowitzki’s final season in the NBA. Although he was not playing at an All-Star level at that time, NBA commissioner Adam Silver made an exception for both him and Miami Heat SG Dwayne Wade to be honorary all-stars. Nowitzki ended the game with nine points going 3-3 from the three-point line proving that he can still shoot at an elevated level. It was an iconic moment for the NBA at the time to see Nowitzki performing on a national basis for the last time ever.
Bearded Dirk Nowitzki
This moment in Nowitzki’s career always stuck out as he was always pushing to be better in every aspect of the game. During the 2012-13 season, things started off rough as we were 21-28 being a season and a half removed from winning a championship. By taking initiative in the underwhelming start, Nowitzki organized a pact with the team that none of them will shave their beards until they get over .500 with the goal to produce winning basketball again.
The team finally got to .500 with two games left in the season which resulted in missing the 2013 NBA Playoffs. Although that was a disappointing season, it still was a moment to remember through Nowitzki’s tenure because he got the team together to push for the playoffs by coming together and not shaving their beards.
10. Game Winner vs. Los Angeles Lakers 1/27/2016
Game winners are staples of the game; the down-to-the-wire dramatic circumstances heighten a crowd, but this one hit home for most. 2016 was Kobe Bryant’s last season, one of the best to ever play the game. Throughout his career, he and Nowitzki had many battles which made this game-winner the icing on the cake. Kobe did not play this game, but it was the last time the Lakers faced Nowitzki with Kobe on the roster.
It was a battle throughout as the game was tied at 90 with 10 seconds to go. PG Derron Williams passed it to Nowitzki right under the 3-point line as he was guarded by Lakers PF Julius Randle. He holds the ball for about four seconds, cuts back, and hits his signature fadeaway right over Randle to clinch the game with two seconds left. Kobe’s reaction is why this moment is vital as he tapped Nowitzki on the butt multiple times to show his respect which put a close to a legendary rivalry between Kobe Bryant and Nowitzki.
9. Dirk Nowitzki Breaking Mavs All-Time Scoring Record
One thing about Nowitzki which made his game so unstoppable is his raw ability to score. He is known as the pioneer of the big man shooter as he is seventh in points scored all time. Ten years into his career on March 8, 2008, he scored 34 points against the New Jersey Nets to surpass Rolando Blackman as the franchise leader in points with 16,644 points. This moment was a core memory for the Dallas Mavericks as the organization started to build its own legacy, something we never had always lived in the shadow of the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets.
8. Nowitzki’s Last Home Game
2019 was Nowitzki’s last season in the NBA, he did not have a farewell season like most players do as he announced his retirement on April 9, 2019, during the final home game of the season vs. the Pheonix Suns. During the 2019 season, Nowitzki recorded an average of 7.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 0.7 assists per game, making it clear he did not have much remaining in the tank. Being his 21st season, this marked history as the longest tenure with one single team which was honored at the end of the game with a ceremony where he then retired.
What made that game so special is that we saw a version of Nowitzki many have not seen in years logging 30 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. Not bad for 40 years old. That final home game was bittersweet as we said goodbye to a Dallas staple for two decades in Nowitzki as he handed the keys to 2019 Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic who has already cemented himself as a franchise player.
7. 2007 MVP Season
In 2007 it is clear what the mission was, was to get back to the NBA Finals and win it. The Dallas Mavericks faced the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in 2006. Dallas was up 2-0 then eventually blew the series and lost the NBA Finals 4-2.
The narrative at that time was that Nowitzki was soft and would not be able to reach the mountaintop of the NBA and win a championship. Nowitzki’s response to the negative press was an MVP season unlike no other. He finished the year averaging 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists fueling Dallas to a record of 67-15 clinching the first seed in the west. That record of 67-15 is tied for the seventh-best regular season record in NBA history.
Nowitzki also became the fifth member at the time to be in the 50-40-90 club shooting 50.2 field goal percentage, 41.6 three-point percentage, and 90.4 free throw percentage. An MVP season is always a focal point of any player’s career, but this diminished its value with the first-place Dallas Mavericks eliminated in the first round against eighth-placed Golden State Warriors 4-2. Despite playoff woes, Nowitzki remained on a mission through this up-down MVP season.
6. Nowitzki’s First Playoff Series
In 2001, the Dallas Mavericks finished the season 53-29, clinching the fifth seed in the playoffs playing the fourth-seeded Utah Jazz. Before 2001, the Mavericks were sitting on an 11-year playoff drought not making the playoffs since 1990. The 2001 roster was highlighted by Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, and Michael Finley as Nowitzki was in his third season averaging 21.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists.
This was the year Nowitzki started to establish himself as the Franchise player the city of Dallas had patiently waited for. Ahead of Nowitzki’s first playoff series the Mavs were assigned the task to play the veteran-filled Utah Jazz squad with NBA legends Karl Malone and John Stockton leading their team to Western Conference titles in 1997 and 1998.
Games 1 and 2 were tough games for both Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks as they dropped the first two games with playoff jitters coming into play for Nowitzki by shooting 35 percent in Game 1 and 27 percent in Game 2. Being down a commanding 0-2 with Utah being one game away from winning the series did not mean Dallas would be waiving the white flag.
In Game 3, Nowitzki put himself on the map by recording 33 points, ten rebounds, and two assists fueling the Mavs to a nail-biting 94-91 victory shooting 47 percent. Now if you thought Game 3 was sweet, Game 4 was something special as the Mavericks took Game 4 in dominant fashion with a 107-77. Dirk was again unstoppable with 33 points, eight rebounds, and two assists.
Game 4 was the coming out party for Dirk Nowitzki as the basketball community started to take notice of the dominant scoring ability he possesses. Dallas ended up closing out Game 5 and winning the series 3-2. Although Dallas did end up losing in the second round 4-1 to the San Antonio Spurs, that series against Utah put Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks on the map.
5. 30K at the AAC
March 17, 2017, will forever live in infamy at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. The Dallas Mavericks hosted the Los Angeles Lakers that day as Nowitzki was 20 points shy from the 30,000-point club which at the time only included five players who are Kareem-Abdul Jabaar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Wilt Chamberlin.
It was clear that Nowitzki wanted that milestone and he wanted it fast by posting 18 points in the first quarter. He sat out at the start of the second quarter and came back in with ten minutes remaining. Nowitzki caps off this milestone by pulling up with a baseline fadeaway jumper over Los Angeles Lakers SF Larry Nance Jr.
He was now the sixth player ever in that exclusive club as the Mavericks called a timeout for Nowitzki and his teammates to have the opportunity to celebrate that moment embedded in history.
4. Game 2 2011 Finals Game Winner
This moment was exhilarating for both Mavs fans and NBA fans. For the 2011 NBA Finals, the Dallas Mavericks faced a familiar finals foe from 2006 the Miami Heat. It was clear that the Dallas Mavericks were the underdogs as this was the first season of the super team of SG Dwayne Wade, SF LeBron James, and PF Chris Bosh who were projected to coast through the Mavericks.
That theory was shown through Game 1 as Miami won 92-84 not seeming to miss a beat the entire game. At that moment, the media started to double down on the Heat winning the 2011 NBA Finals. Although one thing that should be considered is to not doubt Nowitzki, he feeds through that energy.
Game 2 was primarily dominated by the Miami Heat as they were up by 15 with seven minutes to go until the Mavs ended the game on a 22-5 run and tied the game with 12 seconds to go. Jason Kidd with the ball passes to Nowitzki with nine seconds left is guarded by Chris Bosh drives to the paint and drills the layup with five seconds left being ahead 95-93 and eventually clinching the game for the Dallas Mavericks. This singular play in the 2011 NBA Finals set the tone for the entirety of the series.
3. Career High 53 Point Game vs. Houston Rockets December 2, 2004
Nowitzki has had many regular-season battles throughout his career. This one between Tracy McGrady and the Houston Rockets was the best. At the time Dirk Nowitzki and Tracy McGrady were two of the biggest stars making headlines every time the two teams matched up together based on being cross-town rivals in Dallas and Houston.
The game was a battle throughout the game as both teams traded buckets through it all. The game was tied 93-93 after regulation as the Mavs eventually won in Overtime 113-106.
What made the game so special are the stat lines put up by the two superstars highlighting one of the best duels in NBA History. Tracy McGrady ends the game with 48 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. Nowitzki ended with a career-high 53 points followed by 16 rebounds and two assists. Nobody was able to stop the raw ability of Nowitzki that night.
2. The Fever Game
Heading into Game 4 of the 2011 NBA Finals, Miami had the series lead 2-1 after another nail-biting win in Game 3. Prior to the game, there were developments regarding Nowitzki having a 102-degree fever. Nowitzki was in bad shape after warmups drenched in sweat through his shooting shirt looking worn out to the point where there were suspicions that he would not be able to play.
Thankfully for the city of Dallas, quitting is not a part of Nowitzki’s vocabulary as he started and played the game scoring the team’s first six points and going 3-3 from the field. Throughout his career, he has never been this dialed in through the six-game series as he was a man on a mission.
Nowitzki ended up posting 21 points, 11 rebounds, and one assist giving his team all he had through an 86-83 Game 4 victory. This stands out at the top of the list due to Dirk’s resilience and desire to put his team in the best position to win through any circumstances possible.
1. 2011 Playoff Run
At the start of the 2010-11 season, few people had the Dallas Mavericks hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. The Dallas Mavericks finished with a record of 57-25 logging the third seed in the West who would then play the 6th-seeded Portland Trailblazers in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
This was an intriguing matchup considering that both teams had top guard-forward duos in the conference with PG Jason Kidd and PF Dirk Nowitzki for Dallas and SG Brandon Roy and PF LaMarcus Aldridge for Portland. Through the first two games, the Mavericks put Portland on notice with a commanding 2-0 series lead. That does not mean Portland waved the white flag as they won the next two games resulting in a 2-2 series lead as each home team won each game. After Game 4, the Mavericks regrouped as they headed back to Dallas and closed out the series 4-2 by winning each Game 5 and 6.
In the second round of the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks will face the defending NBA champions in the Los Angeles Lakers featuring the legendary tandem SG Kobe Bryant and PF Pau Gasol. Game 1 was a tight-knit game as both teams were trading shots throughout the game until the Mavs narrowed down a 98-96 victory. From there the Dallas Mavericks did not skip a beat and surprisingly swept the defending champions in a dominating fashion punching their tickets to the Western Conference Finals.
The western conference finals featured the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder highlighted by the younger version of the infamous Big 3 in PG Rusell Westbrook, SG James Harden, and SF Kevin Durant. The veteran Mavs ended up being too much to handle on the young Thunder winning the series 4-1 and advancing to their franchise’s 2nd NBA Finals.
The Dallas Mavericks ended up taking on preseason title favorites the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals and proved that they belong in the same category by winning the NBA Finals 4-2.
Dirk Nowitzki proved that year that he did not need a super team to reach the mountain top. That is why this is the top moment in Nowitzki’s historic career being able to carry and boost this Dallas Mavericks team to their first-ever NBA championship.
Featured Image via Omar Vega/Getty Images