A few days have passed since Dirk Nowitzki announced his retirement from the NBA. An eventful week that was full of memories, emotions, and gratitude as people from around the world honored the Nowitzki’s career both in Dallas and from afar. Now, the dust has settled. Nowitzki and his teammates went through their final exit interviews and the team has dispersed for the summer. Fans are back at their respected jobs and the normal life routine is back flowing again.
But I keep going back to a comment Rick Carlisle made on the night of Nowitzki’s last home game in Dallas.
It was a few hours before Dirk would take the court in Dallas for the final time. The emotions were thick and you could feel something in the air that you really can’t put into words. Less than two hours before tip-off, Carlisle made his way to Interview Room 1 where he would conduct is standard pregame media session. He sat down in his chair at the front of the room with a lapel mic attached to his shirt. Question after question was on the career of Dirk Nowitzki.
As questions went along, Carlisle spent time talking about his early years with Dirk. It didn’t take long back then for the coach to realize how special Nowitzki was. The combination of seeing Nowitzki’s work with the German National Team and the work that he had put into that offseason, Carlisle uttered this line when describing his mindset about Nowitzki in those early stages.
“It was pretty clear to me at that time that this guy was an absolute rock.”
And a rock he was.
As cliché as it sounds, life has its ups and downs. We all go through our mountaintop moments in which we are energized with life and full of happiness. But we know about those moments in the valley also where we feel helpless and hopeless for what is on the horizon. We have moments where we feel like we are on the edge of a cliff and moments that feel like we are in sinking sand. We have lifestyles that are scheduled by the hour and times we are riding a wave of anticipation for what is about to happen.
While we go in and out of our different life stages, things are constantly moving and changing around us. Marriages take place, kids enter the world, we experience the loss of close ones around us, and new jobs change our lives. New politicians are elected into office, new buildings are constructed in our cities, and new laws are passed through our governments. Gas prices change, music charts change, and the price of seeing a movie seems to rise every month.
Even in the last 20 years, our world has changed drastically.
The rise of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have taken over social circles. The idea of a mobile phone the size of a brick has turned into a mini computer less than a half-inch thick. GPS systems in our cars have erased the need for printed maps while Google has become our one-stop shop for all of our answers to life’s toughest questions. Gone are the days that we drive to the store to rent a VHS movie as now we can access any movie we want with the remotes in our homes.
As all of you, I could go on forever about everything that has changed over the past 20 years. What’s harder to do is to think about the things that haven’t. The constant variables that stay the same. The rocks that haven’t moved.
One of the most beautiful things to see over the last week of Dirk Nowitzki’s career was the content being produced. The inside stories of his off-the-court work in the communities and the pieces diving into his illustrious resume. But I’m not just talking about the content coming from “media” around the globe. The video tributes, open letters, drawings, and more from fans across the world has filled social media for weeks on weeks — all trying to capture what Nowitzki has meant to them over the years.
In a world that is constantly changing, a life that is constantly going in and out of different stages and a lifestyle that is always on the move, finding areas of stability are hard. Things that never change. Things that you can rely on during the best moments and the worst. Things that when everything around them is changing, they are still there. The rocks in our lives.
And for the past 20 years, Dirk Nowitzki has been our rock.
You see, sports provide a lot of us a getaway. An escape of some sorts. Sports allow us to put aside what is going on in our lives and focus on a passion that brings out a different side of us, that no matter what stage of life we are in, we can turn on our favorite team or player and forget about the hectic world going on around us. And Dirk Nowitzki is the epitome of that.
For two decades, we knew that no matter how are day went, that we could turn on our TVs at night or step into American Airlines Center and see Dirk with “Dallas” across his chest. We knew that no matter how hard of a day, that we had a few hours that night to cheer for a guy that made us forget about the world around us.
When we didn’t know how we were going to pay our next bill, Dirk was still there. When we lost the job we thought we would always have, Dirk was still there. When we failed a test at school you couldn’t fail, Dirk was still there. When we went through bad breakups, Dirk was still there. When we lost a loved one, Dirk was still there. When we broke down and had to change that flat tire in the rain, Dirk was still there. When we went through the longest day of meetings at work, Dirk was still there. When national tragedies hit across the world, Dirk was still there. When we embarked on a big family move across the country, Dirk was still there.
No matter what happened over the last 20 years, Dirk was still there—putting on his Mavericks jersey, kicking up his one-legged fade and making us all forget the world going on around us.
He was our rock.
We could depend on him always being there. He was our constant variable. Even though for millions of fans across the world who never got the chance to meet him, Dirk had the unique ability to make it seem that you did. He was a part of our families whether we knew him on a personal level or not. Through his transparency with his life, his infectious humor and passion on the basketball court, Dirk could show up at any family reunion and fit right in. His play on the basketball court provided us all a form of entertainment, but his relatability off the court made him our rock.
For me personally, he was just that. Whether it was figuring out the ropes of living the divorced parent life or trying to make it through college working those part time jobs, finding a TV screen with Dirk Nowitzki on it was an escape from what was going on around me. He was who I imitated on the outdoor court with the double rims at the local park and the guy I had to have a poster of on my wall for when my friends came over. I remember the exact place in my apartment in Kentucky in which I watched the infamous lefty layup against the Heat in the NBA Finals and screaming so loud that it woke people up next door. A few years after that, I would visit Dallas for the first time.
My dad and I attended a fan event for the Mavericks where we put our names in a drawing for some VIP, meet-the-players session. It was time for the drawing and we heard over the speakers our names being called. I was about to meet Dirk Nowitzki!
As the group of fans made their way inside the arena to an upper concourse to meet the team, I remember getting nervous knowing that I was about to shake his hand. It was an event where you could pick which players you wanted to meet. As guys like O.J. Mayo and Elton Brand had shorter lines, the line to meet Dirk wrapped around the concourse. We waited through the line and finally got to Nowitzki, who was nestled beside Chris Kaman. I’ll never forget him reaching out his hand to shake both of our hands and thanking us for coming out. He had the biggest smile on his face and signed one of our shirts. I remember walking off in awe, but also looking back at the next people behind us. The same thing happened. The smile, the handshake and the autographs. He genuinely made you feel like you were the only person in the building, that we were the people he came there to see.
Fast forward five years and I’m writing this for the team site. My wife and I have lived in Dallas for four years and I have been writing for Mavs.com for a couple of seasons now while covering the team as a whole for the past four seasons. Even after all of the practices, games and community events I have attended, I commonly look back at the first couple of months that I covered the team in my first season.
I was so nervous. Yes, it was a little intimidating speaking up in press conferences or asking questions in a locker room, but I was nervous for a different reason. I didn’t want my perception or view of Nowitzki to change. I didn’t want how I viewed one of my idols to change as I was now going to be around him more and talk to him at times. I didn’t want one of my rocks to change.
I remember it was my first practice I attended and I was in a media scrum with my backpack on. I was on the outside listening in (because I was too scared to ask a question at the time) when someone pulled on my backpack and made me stumble backwards out of the scrum. I was instantly shook as I barely knew anyone in the building. I turned around to see Dirk walking up the stairs pointing at me and giggling. It was a moment I will never forget because it was a moment I literally told myself, “he really is like I always thought he would be.”
Time after time you hear the saying, “never meet your heroes,” which comes from times in which people finally meet someone they have looked up to forever and they were nothing like they ever imagined. That it disappointed them that for so long they had the wrong perception of that person.
Dirk Nowitzki debunks all of that.
Whether it was family reunions or new people I have met over the past couple of years, common questions I have gotten is “who is your favorite Maverick?” or “who is the nicest Maverick?” And every single time I say the exact same thing: “As cliché as it sounds, it’s Dirk Nowitzki. He lives up to it all.”
To one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, thank you. Thank you for giving us a sense of stability over the last 20 years. Thank you for being an escape from our crazy world. Thank you for making us forget about our bad days.
Thank you for being our rock.