Milestones: Dirk Nowitzki

Watch this clip of Dirk Nowitzki's stellar journey from rookie to NBA Champion, as we celebrate his arrival as the ninth all-time scorer in NBA history.

UPDATE: Dirk is just 30 points away!

Dirk Nowitzki needs just 50 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

At 28,547, it will only take another week or so for the Big German to pass the Big Diesel on one of the most impressive lists in the history of the game. The good news for Mavs fans is there’s a pretty good chance Nowitzki will do it at home.

No, it’s not likely that he’ll score 50 tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies, although that would be pretty great, wouldn’t it? The likeliest scenario for passing O’Neal at American Airlines Center comes on Dec. 26 against Chicago. Including tonight’s tilt with Memphis, that’s four games from now. In order to get to 50 points against the Bulls, Nowitzki must average under 16.7 points per game for the next three games, which is a shade under his season average. As long as his keeping his scoring output low doesn’t get in the way of a Mavs win, he might as well hold off until he’s in the building he long ago christened as his own.

Should Nowitzki fail to pass O’Neal on Dec. 26, the Mavs will also play at home on Dec. 28 against Milwaukee, and again on Dec. 30 against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. There’s almost no way, if he plays in all of those games, that he would still be trailing O’Neal on New Year’s Day, when Dallas heads to Miami before returning home the next night for a matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Place Player Career Points
1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38,387
2 Karl Malone 36,928
3 Kobe Bryant 32,482
4 Michael Jordan 32,292
5 Wilt Chamberlain 31,419
6 Shaquille O’Neal 28,596
7 Dirk Nowitzki 28,547

Having been lucky enough to see Nowitzki pass Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes, and countless other legends of the game over the years, I can tell you it’s a pretty special experience to see it happen in person. The fans obviously give Dirk an appropriate ovation, but what makes it incredible is the fact that everyone knows it’s coming, and everyone knows exactly when he does it. The ensuing standing ovation is instant and lengthy. It’s neat how witnessing history can make a room of 20,000 people do nothing but concentrate on one player and one moment.

One thing that’s even more special about his inevitable leapfrogging of O’Neal is most of us vividly remember watching the big man play when he was in his prime. Even the youngest NBA fans remember a time when he was winning championships with the Lakers and (unfortunately) the Heat. Players like Hayes and the late Moses Malone — whom Nowitzki passed last season for No. 7 on the list — were dominating the league in the ’70s and ’80s. Although Nowitzki and O’Neal only squared off once in the postseason, their careers intersected, making the Big Aristotle the first true contemporary Nowitzki has passed since jumping over Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett several seasons ago.

“Shaq is one of the all-time greats,” Nowitzki said. “I grew up watching him there in the ’90s when he was in Orlando. I loved him and Penny (Hardaway) and Dennis Scott. And then I was able to compete against him for a long, long time. Probably, most argue, the most dominant big man that’s ever played this game.”

At this point in his career, it’s going to be difficult for Nowitzki to pass anyone else on the scoring list, as he currently sits just under 3,000 points behind Wilt Chamberlain for fifth all-time. If the German plays beyond his current contract, which expires next season, he certainly has a chance to move past perhaps the most physically dominant scorer the game has ever seen — the same conversation in which, coincidentally enough, O’Neal is also in — but it will take the same type of effective and efficient play we’re seeing from him this season.

Should he find a way to pass Chamberlain, he’d still need roughly 900 points to pass His Airness, Michael Jordan, for the No. 4 spot. Wouldn’t that be something? That’s many years away from happening, however, and it might never come to be. Still, we should enjoy the present while it’s still here. It’s going to be a great memory some day, but seeing it happen will be even better.

“It’s still kind of surreal that I’m up there amongst all these all-time greats,” Nowitzki said. “For a kid leaving Germany 18 years ago who didn’t really know what to expect, it’s been an amazing ride.”

PLAY AND WIN: Mavs fans! Fill out the form below and guess which quarter AND which game Dirk will pass Shaq for sixth place on the all-time scoring list! One correct guess will be chosen at random and the winner will receive a signed Dirk jersey, a signed photograph of the shot he hits to pass Shaq, a ball signed by the entire Mavs team, and two (2) tickets to a future Mavs game!

Example guesses: 2nd quarter of the Nets game, 3rd quarter vs. the Bulls, 1st quarter at Toronto Dec. 22

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