The latest in a season of Dirk Nowitzki milestones felt a little different. This time, he was moving past a contemporary rival on an all-time list.
By recording his seventh minute Thursday night against the Utah Jazz, Nowitzki moved past Kevin Garnett (50,418) and into third place on the all-time minutes played list. Of the thousands of players to have appeared in an NBA game, only Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have played more minutes than Dirk.
“I’m fortunate that I was able to be out there for so long, for so many years, and not have any major setbacks,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully I can stay out there and try to help this franchise get some wins.”
At the beginning of the 2017-18 campaign, Nowitzki became just the second player in NBA history to play 20 seasons for one team, joining Kobe Bryant. Should he play a 21st season, he would join Garnett in a four-way tie for most seasons played ever (Kings forward Vince Carter could also join him), and he’d be alone atop the list of most campaigns played for one team.
In recent seasons, Nowitzki has moved past legendary names like Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone on various lists. Now, though, he’s finding himself moving past very familiar names. Nowitzki and Garnett squared off 37 times in the regular season, with Dirk’s squad taking 20 wins to Garnett’s 17. Nowitzki averaged 23.1 points and 8.2 boards to Garnett’s 21.8 and 11.5.
While Nowitzki was known for his laid-back demeanor, Garnett was famous for his passion on the floor. Both were intense players in their own right, but Garnett was perhaps the most fiery player in the league.
“The thing you always remember about KG is he was an unbelievable competitor,” Nowitzki said. “Whether you saw him at preseason or in the playoffs, (he’d) just always go hard, always get his troops fired up. He was an unbelievable competitor. Had a great, long career, stayed basically injury-free for the most part as well. So nothing but respect for KG and what he’s done for this league and what he’s meant for this league.”
Those are two big-time members of the NBA’s golden era of power forwards. Their primes essentially intersected with those of Tim Duncan, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber, Pau Gasol, and the tail end of Karl Malone’s. Any list ranking the greatest power forwards ever will surely start with a few of those names, in addition to Charles Barkley and some others.
Unfortunately, we only got to witness one playoff series between Nowitzki and Garnett, while we were treated to six Nowitzki/Duncan showdowns. Dirk’s Mavs took the lone series with Garnett’s Wolves, 3-0, in the first round of the 2002 playoffs. Nowitzki averaged a jaw-dropping 33.3 points and 15.7 rebounds on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 72.7 percent from beyond the arc. Garnett, meanwhile, averaged 24.0 points, 18.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. It’s a shame we couldn’t see them battle it out in the playoffs any other time, but we still got to witness plenty of great duels in the regular season over the years.
Nowitzki recently moved past Garnett (1,462) for fifth place on the all-time games played list, as well. Should he return for season No. 21, Dirk (1,465) will almost surely pass Malone (1,476) and John Stockton (1,504) and into third place on that list. It would be another full-circle moment, as those two were the key players on the first team Nowitzki played in the postseason, all those 17 years ago.
Seeing all of these familiar names, and seeing Nowitzki move past them, is pretty special stuff. It reminds you how many great players have come before Dirk and reinforces how lucky we are to have been able to watch him for the last 20 seasons, 50,000+ minutes, 30,000+ points, and counting.