You and I are spoiled.
Not just because, for the 13th time, we got to watch Dirk Nowitzki play in the All-Star game. We’re spoiled because we got to experience a weekend that wasn’t even supposed to happen.
The greatest Maverick in franchise history was selected to the All-Star team at the last possible moment, giving Dallas its only representative during the entire weekend, one which ultimately proved to do New York City justice. They don’t call Madison Square Garden the “Mecca of Basketball” for nothing.
And at the end of the weekend, Dirk, the last guy to earn a ticket, might have stolen the show.
We know Dirk for his perfect jump shot, his one-legged fade, and the fourth-quarter masterclasses he’s put on for 17 seasons. One thing we don’t associate with the 12-time All-NBA power forward is his vertical leap. After all, he ushered in the era of the stretch four, not the slam dunk. But the moment in Sunday night’s All-Star Game which set the Internet ablaze was all about Dirk.
Dirk Nowitzki gets the jam on the pass from Stephen Curry.
ESPN says it was his first alley-oop since 2004. Basketball-Reference says he’s dunked it just one other time this season. But when the lights shine the brightest, Dirk takes his game up another level. What we didn’t know — and what even Dirk would probably admit he didn’t know, either, though he was in a joking mood afterward — was that by taking his game up he literally meant going airborne to catch and throw down a pass from Stephen Curry.
“Steph kind of lobbed it up perfect — not too high, kind of below the rim where I could still go get it,” Nowitzki said with a grin after the game. “That was the highlight of my day.”
Curry, whose lob pass for Dirk was ambitious at best (until it worked, of course), hinted after the game it had actually been in the cards.
“We were actually joking coach [Steve Kerr] was gonna write up an alley-oop play for [Nowitzki], but he need to get a couple up-and-downs to get loose …,” he said. “When I made up my mind to throw it up, at the last second I looked to see who it was. I already committed to throwing it so i just hoped he could get up there and he did.”
To top it off, Nowitzki paid tribute to former teammate Vince Carter by pointing both hands toward the jumbotron following the flush, an homage to Carter’s legendary dunk contest performance in 2000.
“Vinsanity is my guy,” Nowitzki said.
“The celebration was even better than the dunk, pulling out the old Vince Carter celebration,” Curry said. “So that was pretty clever.”
The Big German’s fun wasn’t just restricted to the actual game, though. One of the more entertaining moments of the entire weekend came during pre-game warmups, when Nowitzki and Kevin Durant, a self-admitted longtime Dirk admirer, engaged in a bit of a shooting contest. The West team had been on one side of the floor, but the pair moved to the other end, all by themselves, to play a game of “Horse,” three-pointers only.
It started off innocent enough: Choose your spot, take your shot, and move along. But as things got more intense, the shots became more creative. Dirk stepped into shots with his classic deep knee-bend and Durant stretched his range out to 30 feet. Nowitzki held steady before finally making a run to win, closing out the reigning MVP with a dribble/spin move combo to the right from the top of the arc. Though we might not see him pull off that type of move in a game, it’s good to see Dirk still has the moves, even at 36 years old. Oh, yeah, he beat Tim Duncan in a contest, too.
“I knew it was my day,” Nowitzki said of his undefeated mark. “That’s why I felt so good, and that’s why I knew that alley-oop was gonna go in.”
Now if we could only get Dirk in a shootout against his alley-oop partner, three-point champion Stephen Curry…
This was Nowitzki’s 13th All-Star selection, making him part of just a dozen players with at least as many appearances. Now in his 17th season, there’s no telling whether or not we’ll get to see Dirk at another one of these. Hopefully we were all able to enjoy the moment the way the man himself was able to.
While Mavs fans obviously have nothing but glowing things to say about No. 41, Nowitzki isn’t short of admirers elsewhere in the league. Durant, for one, has made his admiration for Dirk public in the past. He and teammate Russell Westbrook both mimic some of the shooting exercises Nowitzki performs. We also saw Curry and teammate Klay Thompson attempt one-legged fadeaways of their own in the All-Star Game. But one of the finest pieces of praise that came from the weekend were from Dirk’s coach in the game, Steve Kerr. The two competed for several years toward the beginning of Dirk’s career.
“Dirk’s always been one of my favorite players to watch. He’s so unique with his skill set, but also with his approach,” Kerr said about the Big German. “I’ve read a lot about how he prepares and what he does to get ready for the season. He’s just an amazing player and it’s fun to be able to spend a little time with him here.”
How he’s managed to stay at the top of his game for so long truly is remarkable. Now in his 17th season, Nowitzki is putting up numbers that are nearly unparalleled. For example, his individual offensive rating of 115 (the number of points he scores per 100 individual possessions) this season is, per Basketball-Reference, the third-highest of any All-Star in Year 17 or later in his career.
He’s found himself in quite the bit of company. And while Dirk is playing fewer minutes per game this season — the 29.8 he averages right now would be the lowest since his rookie season — he’s still just as productive when he’s on the floor as he’s ever been. He’s scoring 22.1 points per 36 minutes, which is just 0.5 below his career average. Again, the guy is 36 years old and he’s still lighting it up.
The only guys in the history of the NBA who have scored at a higher clip than Nowitzki at this point in their career are Kobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Anytime you’re on a short list with those guys, you’ve done something right. For the record, the two names behind him — Shaquille O’Neal and Karl Malone — join Kobe and Kareem as four of the six players left ahead of Dirk on the all-time scoring list. Nowitzki will likely pass O’Neal early next season.
So, while Dirk might not have received the initial nod, he certainly deserved his All-Star nod. He’s playing at a level at this point in his career that quite literally only a handful of absolute legends have reached. He’s admired by just about everyone.
And his resumé, pearly as it already was, now has yet another notch: Finals MVP, regular season MVP, seventh all-time leading scorer, 12 All-NBAs, and 13 All-Stars. What a record. What a player. And what a show he put on for us all this weekend.