LOS ANGELES – As he travels through these various NBA cities for the very last time this season, the fans in those arenas have showered Dirk Nowitzki with a lot of love.
But nothing could prepare the Dallas Mavericks’ superstar forward for the lovefest that happened Monday night when the Mavs played the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center.
The Clippers already had this 121-112 victory in the bag when their coach, Doc Rivers, inexplicably called a timeout with 9.4 seconds remaining. From there, Rivers walked over to the scorer’s table, grabbed the in-house microphone, gave his personal tribute to Nowitzki and urged the fans to stand up and cheer for the Mavs’ all-time leading scorer.
“It was sweet,” Nowitzki said. “I really appreciate it.”
Rivers explained that it was a no-brainer on his part in honoring Nowitzki.
“We had a (nine-point) lead (against the Mavs) and I had a timeout,” Rivers said. “Honestly, I didn’t plan it. I just felt like he deserved that.”
Coach Rick Carlisle, who is good friends with Rivers, acknowledged that he had no idea the Clippers coach was going to pull off one of the more memorable and rewarding moments in the history of pro sports.
“When he grabbed the mic, it sort of made sense,” Carlisle said. “I don’t know when it came into his head. I mean, it’s a pretty close game, normally you’re not thinking about things like that, but it was great and I know that it really touched Dirk.
“And it’s great for our young guys to see a moment like that, because it’s just another nod of how special Dirk is to not only our franchise, but to everybody that follows our game.”
Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari not only followed the NBA before he was a first-round pick in 2008. But Gallinari, an Italian, was a huge Nowitzki fan before he (Gallinari) joined the NBA and was personally touched by the acclamation from Rivers.
“It meant a lot because we grew up watching (Nowitzki) in Europe, and then coming here everyone was trying to be like him,” Gallinari said. “He is a legend not just for the NBA, but especially for (European players).
“I am glad that Doc did that. It is an amazing moment, it is great to be a part of it. At the same time, it is amazing and sad because it is the last time we will play against him.”
Well, maybe not.
Nowitzki hasn’t made any formal announcements regarding whether or not this will be his final season. Plus, the last two games are the first time this season he’s scored double-figure points in consecutive games, while also playing season highs of 25 and 26 minutes two games in a row, respectively.
“I’m feeling a little better,” Nowitzki said. “I feel like I can play a little more than I dd a month or a month-and-a-half ago, so I can at least enjoy myself.”
Although these impromptu tributes are becoming emotional for Nowitzki, he’s learned how to put them in their proper perspective.
“It really started a few weeks ago in Charlotte,” he said. “I remember when they were yelling at the end: ‘We Want Dirk,’ and it snowballed from there.
“There was Boston, Indy and some of those East Coast cities, obviously, where we only go once, and that was incredible. Obviously, the energy in New York was fantastic. Obviously, I’m enjoying it.”
Clippers guard Lou Williams said it “was classy” what Rivers did in paying homage to Nowitzki.
“We’re not sure if this is the last time we’ll see him, but just in case it was good to honor a legend,” Williams said. “He is a champion in this league and one of the trailblazers for international players coming over to the NBA.
“The career that he had has been excellent. He has been a role model, too. I’m sure there are tons of international guys that look up to him and want to come here and play. He set a fine example.”
Nowitzki, now 40 and in his 21st season, was the first big man to step out and start making 3-point shots a part of his every day life. Now, the 3-point shot is a part of every day life in the NBA today for most players – the tall ones and the short ones.
“He deserves even more,” rookie Luka Doncic said. “He does everything in the world. The way he plays basketball at the age of 40 is just amazing.
“I see him practice every day. He practices more than everybody, so that’s just amazing to see. I’m just really happy they give him ovations like that.”
That same happiness is shared by Carlisle.
“It’s just a nod to how special his career has been,” Carlisle said. “When you factor in competitive, integrity, franchise loyalty, a championship, 14-time All-Star, it’s a lot of things to stack up on top of each other.
“I get a little emotional thinking about everything he’s meant to all of us – me, my family and all of that. It’s a proud moment for him and our franchise.”