Everything from 41 members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra blowing tunes to the Mavs Drumline serenading Nowitzki, Wednesday night’s 50-minute star-studded event was packed with several marches down memory lane for one of the greatest players the NBA has ever known.
Even NBA commissioner Adam Silver couldn’t help but praise owner Mark Cuban before Nowitzki’s No. 41 jersey was ceremoniously raised to the rafters.
“Mark Cuban, you guys know how to do jersey retirements here in Dallas and in Texas,” Silver said. “I’ve been to a bunch of these, and I’ve never seen one like this.”
Nowitzki joins Brad Davis, Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper as the only players in the history of the Mavs to have their jersey retired. And during his speech, Nowitzki paid homage to the trio.
“At some point or another, all three of them were mentors of mine and they put basketball on the map here in the 80s,” he said. “They’re great role models for our organization and what this organization stands for.
“So it’s an honor to call you guys friends and mentors, and it’s an honor to be amongst you guys.”
Well wishers from Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Cowboys receivers CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, Cowboys executive vice-president and chief brand officer Charlotte Jones and her mother, Gene Jones, came to AAC to help honor Nowitzki. So too did many of Nowitzki’s former teammates, including Chandler Parsons, Michael Finley and Devin Harris.
In addition, video tributes from Steve Nash, former Mavs coaches Rick Carlisle and Avery Johnson, Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley, Jason Terry, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and some of his players – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala — were shown on the Jumbotron.
Nowitzki talked about being selected ninth overall in the 1998 NBA Draft out of Germany, but having Mavs executives Don and Donnie Nelson and then Mavs owner Ross Perot Jr. come to his home to convince him that playing for the Mavs would be advantageous for his future.
“I was just drafted and I wasn’t sure that I was coming to the US,” Nowitzki said. “I wasn’t sure if I was ready (for the NBA). Immediately when (Don and Donnie Nelson) heard this, they both got on the plane with the owner at the time, Ross Perot Jr., and came to my hometown in Wurzburg and met my family and met Holger (Geschwindner), and wanted to see my roots, and that meant a lot to me.
“That showed me that they came all this way and they wanted me very badly.”
Nowitzki thanked his many teammates, coaches, assistant coaches, parents, wife and kids. He also thanked his father-in-law, who flew in from Sweden for this festive occasion.
Nowitzki told his father-in-law: “What I appreciate most about you is your daughter.”
That drew laughter from the crowd, who hung around after the Mavs blasted the highly-regarded Warriors, 99-82. Then again, dry humor, humbleness and an unassuming personality have always been Nowitzki’s strengths. He never took himself too seriously.
“I always tried to respect everybody, have fun with everybody, not see myself as a bigger part of the puzzle,” Nowitzki said. “I always tried to make everybody feel comfortable.
“That was my style of leadership. Always joking around with everybody.”
And as if on cue, Nowitzki poked fun at Geschwindner, who is his long-time coach and mentor from Germany.
“This next guy taught me a lot on an off the floor, and he also taught me that the first impression is not always the right one, because when I first met him I thought he was a weirdo,” Nowitzki said amidst laughter. “He’s a great teacher and he had super unique training methods. Whether he had me going through the gym in frog leaps or doing hand stands or dribbling the ball with somebody playing the saxophone, it was nuts.
“But we had a blast and we ended up having a great relationship. We traveled the world together, but what I appreciate most about the guy is that he was a great mentor and he was always there when I needed him. Holger, I know you don’t love the limelight, even though you’ve got a nice suit on today. He’s a very shy and modest guy, but this is as much about you as it is about me, so thanks for everything you’ve done for me.”
Kidd got in on the fun by jokingly trying to convince Nowitzki to return and sign a 10-day contract to again play for the Mavs
Meanwhile, Nowitzki also thanked all of his teammates who helped him and the Mavs capture the 2011 NBA title. Those teammates from that championship team on hand Wednesday included Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, JJ Barea, Caron Butler, Peja Stojakovic, Ian Mahinmi, Brian Cardinal and Jason Kidd, who is now the Mavs’ coach.
“I always say that was an unbelievable team, because we had a bunch of older guys who all had done individual stuff before in the league and now it was time to put it together as a team,” Nowitzki said. “We had a blast with each other on road trips. It was just a great bond.”
A bond that will never be broken.
“On behalf of our championship team, we want to say thank you for you, you being you,” Kidd said. “You changed the game. Now everybody shoots threes.
“But the biggest thing is you’ve always been a champion from day one. And Dallas has watched you grow and become the man you are today. So thanks for approving the trade to bring me back to fulfill my dream and get us a championship.”
Chants of MVP, MVP, MVP kept cascading throughout the arena at various times during the jersey retirement ceremony. And Cuban had a little extra gift for Nowitzki.
“I want everybody to see your greatness forever, Dirk,” Cuban said. “So your name is on the court, and even though you didn’t want it to happen, your silhouette is on the floor. And one of the things we do so that all future Mavs fans and all future players will always know your greatness is we put your number up in the rafters.
With that, Cuban revealed a miniature statue of Nowitzki, with a promise that a much larger one will one day reside outside of AAC.
“This will be in front of the arena or the next arena or the next arena,” Cuban said. “This is not because you helped us win a championship.
“This is because of who you are and what you have done, and we always want to recognize greatness with everything we do.”
Arguably the loudest roar of the night came when Nowitzki thanked the fans for constantly having his back during the good and bad times.
“That pillar always gave me a warm welcome when I got here, and this pillar always wanted me to succeed, and they always pushed me and gave me the strength to work hard and motivate me,” Nowitzki said. “What I appreciate most was this pillar supported me during the tough, tough playoff times and playoff losses.
“So you know what? That pillar is you.”
The crowd immediately went wild.
“Let me just say, Dirk, they love you in Dallas, but they love you all over the world,” Silver said. “You’re a trendsetter in this league. . .an icon throughout the league, somebody who has been a pioneer for international players.
“Some of the players on the court tonight grew up watching you. You inspired them, you showed them. International players used to be something different in the league before you came in.”
One of the international players who drew inspiration from Nowitzki is Mavs point guard Luka Doncic, who has been captivated by the way Nowitzki is so loved all across the world.
“He was a helluva player,” Doncic said. “He did so much stuff for Dallas, and Dallas gave it back. He’s respected all around the world.
“He’s amazing person and one of the most humble superstars, and that’s what makes him great. Everything that happens to him, he deserves. And the (No. 41) banner was just amazing.”
Nowitzki spent his entire 21-year NBA career with the Mavs and was named to 14 All-Star teams. Without a doubt, his name is synonymous with the Mavs, and he’s assured of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
In the meantime, as he was preparing his speech and as the jersey retirement day was approaching, Nowitzki said: “I was joking with my family the last couple of days when they were like, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, ‘I got this. I’ve been in show biz for 20 years now. Relax. I got this.’ But I was, of course, super nervous.
“As we all know speaking is not really my thing. That’s why I was very anxious to kind of just get this over with. Now I can celebrate a little bit with my family that’s in town, and some friends. It was a great, great ceremony and I will always, of course, remember that.”