Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki had some “frosty” moments through their careers. They weren’t always best buddies.
But two things are undeniable. They have gotten past those competitive moments during their long rivalry. And they have come to grips with the fact that they were good for each other.
Wade opened up before he and the Miami Heat made their annual visit to American Airlines Center and he said his last visit to the arena carries with it a lot of special memories – not all of them good.
But mostly, he is happy to be linked with Nowitzki, something that became inevitable when they both won championships on the other’s home floor, Wade and the Heat winning at AAC in 2006 and Nowitzki and the Mavericks winning at Miami in 2011.
“I’m thankful,” Wade said. “If you look back on it, I’m 37, 16 years in the league. Dirk’s 21 years in the league, a little bit older than me. You appreciate having someone like that that’s part of your journey, that pushes you.
“I think we both pushed each other, whether it was ‘06 when we won and what happened the following summer for him. And then in ’11 when they won. We’re an important part of each other’s story, and I think it’s cool.”
Wade said he was hoping to exchange jerseys with Nowitzki after the game. Wade, who is on a self-announced farewell tour, has made a habit of trading jerseys with an opposing player after every game.
“I haven’t been turned down yet,” he said.
Nowitzki has said he would be happy to do so, as long as Wade makes the first move.
Both players have signature moments that happened with each other that they will never forget. Nowitzki was called for a controversial foul on Wade late in Game 5 of the ’06 finals when Wade paraded to the free-throw line 25 times and the Heat came back for a one-point overtime victory.
In 2011, Nowitzki played through a 101-degree fever, which Wade and then-teammate LeBron James mocked after a shootaround before Game 5 by fake coughing as they left the arena. The Mavericks came back to win the series in six games with Nowitzki named the MVP.
“Dallas is a part of my story that don’t get talked about a lot,” Wade said. “We talk about the importance of certain cities, Chicago, Milwaukee and Miami, obviously. But this is a big part of that. Obviously, winning the championship here in my third year in the league and then winning my only MVP as an All-Star (in 2010 at AT&T Stadium). And then when I lost in the finals here in ‘11, it changed my mindset of how I approached the rest of my career. So it’s been very important, definitely.
“After that, I sat down with LeBron and took a step back. To me, it wasn’t about the individual part of it, anymore. It was really about team success. And I had to take a step back after losing that finals. And I kind of let him take over an organization that I would call mine before that. So I changed my mindset after losing because that’s not why we came together.”
The respect factor in Dallas certainly remains strong, particularly for coach Rick Carlisle, who has waged many tactical battles trying to slow down Wade through the years.
“He’s an all-time great player,” Carlisle said. “Multiple champion, great ambassador of the game. There’s just so many things. And if this is his last year, which I’m hearing it is, he’s still putting up really good numbers for a guy who’s calling it a career. You look at their end-of-game stuff, he’s got the ball the majority of the time, still.”
Wade got a lukewarm reception when he entered the game. There were some boos and they lingered to the first few times he touched the ball. But when he popped up off the bench with just under six minutes to go in the first quarter, fans cheered. And Dirk Nowitzki got up right afterward. They came into the game together at the next dead ball.
After the game, Nowitzki and Wade did, indeed, exchange jerseys, then had a quick man-hug and wished each other well before heading to their respective locker rooms.
“We have great respect for each other,” Wade said. “I’m happy to have my name parallel to such a great player and a great person. All that stuff is so far behind us.
Wade and Nowitzki will be honorary all-stars this weekend in Charlotte. It will be Nowitzki’s 14th all-star appearance. It will be Wade’s 13th trip to the event.
“I think it’s going to be cool,” Wade said. “Me and him have had our fair share of all-star games. This one is a lot different in what we’re looking to get out of it. But I know there will be moments when we’ll appreciate the opportunity to be there with the game’s greats, the up-and-coming guys, the stars of the league now – to take it all in will be special. I get to do it with my loved ones, but also with one of the game’s greats.
“I think it fits.”
Wade also said he believes the Mavericks’ franchise is in good hands with Luka Doncic.
“He’s a hell of a young player,” Wade said. “Dallas Maverick fans should be excited about what he can do for the next 20 years. As a fan of the game, I live watching him play. He does things on the court that wow you. It’s great. You guys got a good one. Keep him. I’m sure Mark Cuban will.”