Basketball is fun. It’s competitive, too, but it’s a game and games are meant to be enjoyed.
We’ve been lucky the last 20 years to watch a guy who’s openly only still playing because he feels good and — most importantly — because he still has a blast on the floor. All the extra stuff Dirk Nowitzki has to go through to get ready for a game, from his diet to his training schedule and even the surgery he’s now in recovery from, is worth it because basketball is fun. (It helps that he’s still capable of shooting 40 percent from 3.)
Anyway, the Mavericks didn’t end up with the record they wanted in 2017-18, but they still did some really funny and cool things on the floor. Here are 10 gifs (pronounced “JIFS,” no matter what the gif inventor himself believes) that will hopefully remind you or reinforce to you why we all love this game. These aren’t really in an order, but I’m numbering them anyway because that’s what we do online these days.
One possession during a late-season game at Sacramento went awry, and by the time Dirk recovered the loose ball, only a couple seconds remained on the shot clock. Instead of pulling the common move nowadays of dribbling out the clock to save a tenth of a point on his 3-point percentage, Nowitzki decided to let it fly. (That’s a power move. Lets you know he’s made so many he doesn’t care what his numbers look like.) I was at that game but watching from a similar angle as the TV, so I had no idea just how off it was. All I could tell was that it looked like Dirk thought it had a chance, but of course it caromed off the top corner of the backboard, off by a good two feet.
To be fair, you could give me 10 tries on that exact shot without any pressure and I probably wouldn’t come any closer than Dirk happened to in the middle of an NBA game.
9. A Kind of Windmill
This isn’t an all-Dirk list, but the GOAT already makes his second appearance here. His form on this rebound was very impressive. We saw Dennis Smith Jr. throw down a windmill dunk late in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks this season, but DSJ only completed the windmill motion with one of his arms. Here, Dirk did it with both, gathered the ball, and casually rose for a jumper.
Another cool thing about this gif is if you play it in reverse, basically the same exact play unfolds only instead this time Dirk grabs the rebound in more athletic fashion before gently underhand-lobbing a pass to Smith off the rim, then loosening up a little bit before setting a screen.
What a great teammate.
8. Keep Ya Head Up
Speaking of Smith, this was a pretty cool play. Unfortunately due to the bulk of the play happening off-camera, this one requires some backstory. Portland guard Damian Lillard was arguing a call and therefore was making his way very slowly up the floor. Recognizing this, Smith bolted up the court after receiving the inbound pass, catching Lillard off-guard and compromising the Blazers defense. The result was an open Maxi Kleber 3.
7. Spo Wants His Timeout
Anyone who watches lots of Mavs games knows that Rick Carlisle sometimes likes to call timeout very enthusiastically, sometimes even scaring unsuspecting officials who almost back-pedal right into him as they make their way up the floor. But Carlisle isn’t the only coach who’s unafraid to join the action. In the play above, a frustrated Spoelstra made it all the way to the elbow before the officials noticed he wanted a timeout. A confused Harrison Barnes pointed at Spoelstra as if to say “hey, you’re not a Heat!” Had he been a little more Johnny-on-the-spot, he could’ve pulled a repeat of an infamous play Jason Kidd made as a member of the Mavs, when he ran into a coach and drew a technical foul.
6. Excuse Me, That’s a Travel
Unbothered by Spoelstra’s attempt to dethrone Carlisle as king of funny coach antics, Carlisle makes the list at No. 6, when he briefly traded his clipboard for a whistle to call a travel on Carmelo Anthony. Carlisle politely applauded the call afterward. Also, Yogi Ferrell feared he was called for a reach-in foul, then looked very relieved to find out that he’d in fact played a part in forcing a turnover.
There’s saying “one, two, three, team!” to break the huddle, and then there’s this, in the play above, when four Mavs hustle over to J.J. Barea to help him up. Ferrell and Dwight Powell had to cover a ton of ground to get there before Wesley Matthews, but darn it if they didn’t try to beat him to the spot anyway.
4. Iron Man
Speaking of Matthews, that dude is tough. This is supposed to be a fun list, and there’s nothing fun about getting laid out into the scorer’s table, but man. We would be remiss not to highlight in some way his otherworldly ability to shrug off violent collisions like that one and stay in the game. That’s Hassan Whiteside plowing into him! He’s a big guy! And that scorer’s table isn’t very comfortable to even sit on, let alone smash into!
3. Dirk Inexplicably Does a Push-Up
Dirk’s work ethic is legendary, and there’s no question he’s committed to doing whatever it takes to remain in tip-top shape as he sees out his 30s and approaches his 40th birthday. Apparently that even means he’s willing to do a push-up mid-game. Now, on my freshman basketball team we had to do extra push-ups when players would talk too much during study hall or miss too many layups. (We were 14 and bad — no offense, guys — so there were plenty of missed layups.) The Mavs didn’t miss a lot of layups this season, and as far as I know there’s no such thing as study hall in the NBA. I think the right answer is also the simplest: Dirk just likes to work out.
2. Actions Speak Louder Than Words
This is a two-parter. Late in a January game at Phoenix, the Suns had built a bit of a lead and rookie Josh Jackson was feeling himself. He let Smith know about it, too. All good.
A man of few words, Smith let him speak his words, replied back quickly, then promptly took the ball from the official and fired a pass to a wide-open Yogi Ferrell for 3.
Smith is only 20 years old but he’s already pretty savvy. Maybe he’ll be the next Mav to run full-speed into an over-zealous opposing coach, a la Kidd.
1. Here’s a Helping Hand
Finally, the best of the best. The Mavs closed out 2017 with a New Year’s Eve win at Oklahoma City, in what was also one of the most exciting games of the season. Late in the first quarter, former Maverick Raymond Felton rose for a 3-pointer and the ball took such a funky bounce that it ended up sitting itself atop a beam behind the backboard that connects to the shot clock.
If this was a pick-up game, there’d definitely be another ball nearby that a player could go grab to knock the game ball from its perch. But this is the NBA, home to the world’s greatest athletes. Two of the Mavs’ all-time best, Dirk and Barea, decided to team up to get that ball without any extra props. Their attempt, though valiant in theory, proved to be futile.
But you know what? As Mark Cuban always says, the one thing in life you can control is effort. Not only did they try hard, but they also gave the OKC crowd, the referee, and all of us a good laugh in the process. Even in the midst of a difficult season in the standings, basketball can be fun after all.