While there are not enough words in Webster’s Unabridged to adequately pay homage to Dirk Nowitzki, those two are a good place to start. So let’s give thanks – in many, varied ways.
Or, as we started his 21st and last season way back in October, we could say xie xie (shay-shay) for the way that Nowitzki sat with so many kids at a hoops camp in Shanghai. He couldn’t speak their language, but he knew the international language of hoops and he watched as the wannabes dribbled and shot and adopted the giant-looking Nowitzki as their own.
Gracias for working so well and so seamlessly with J.J. Barea, who along with Devin Harris has probably delivered more assists to Nowitzki than anybody else on the planet. Without out their bond, the Mavericks and Nowitzki might never have won that elusive championship.
Hvala for sticking around for that 21st season. As difficult as it may have been physically, it had to be rewarding in the sense that Nowitzki got to show what being a professional is all about to a teenage wunderkind named Luka Doncic. The Slovenian sensation was far, far more advanced as a rookie than Nowitzki. But he has much to learn and he got to see the greatest Maverick ever before he hung up his Nikes.
Merci for paving the way for players like France’s Tony Parker and so many other Europeans barge through that door that Nowitzki opened. He wasn’t the first European to get to the NBA, but he was by far the best. He needed the competition from those who followed in his footsteps and he got it for many, many years. Finally, he was challenged by a generation of players who grew up with his posters on their bedroom walls.
Paldies for inventing the stretch-four position that made it possible for a 7-3 Latvian like Kristaps Porzingis to hang around the 3-point arc and not be accused of being soft. He’s going to be the power forward who took over for Nowitzki. They call him the Unicorn. Maybe Unicorn Jr. would be a better description. The original blessed us with 21 seasons.
Mahalo for not shying away from that crazy mad scientist known as Don Nelson. When he arrived as a rookie, Nowitzki was a unique talent. Everybody knew that. Nelson, who these days kicks back on the island of Maui and enjoys the good life and too many basketball memories to count, allowed Nowitzki to roam around on the perimeter and hoist as many 3-pointers as he wanted to. That marriage of Nelson’s creative offensive mind and Nowitzki’s diverse abilities was a match truly made in hoops heaven.
Grazie for not eating all that pizza that we know you wanted. And all the other foods that do a body harm. And the beer and wine that were essential food groups when you were younger but you swore off after a few years in the NBA when you realized just what potential was inside you. In retirement, if you want ice cream and beer for breakfast, have at it. But nobody ate more sensibly in their playing careers than Dirk.
Tack for finding Jessica Olsson. The Swedish-born Olsson has been a rock for Nowitzki through good times and bad. He has never forgotten to mention her and the rest of his family during any important time.
No worries for taking that Australian outback walkabout after losing the 2006 NBA finals. And for all the other times when you dealt with huge disappointment, but did not let it define you. You came back firing harder. You came back with more weapons in your arsenal. And you came back with a perseverance that few people can relate to.
Danke for introducing us to someone like Holger Geschwindner and helping us understand that this crazy world is getting smaller by the day. And for doing all those thousands of interviews in English – and then doing them all again in German – for more than two decades. To Americans, having sports heroes from different parts of the world took some getting used to. You made it easy.
And, lastly, a big thanks y’all from everybody in Dallas and north Texas. Like you said after your final home game, you came here as a foreigner and now you’re embraced as a local. We can’t think of a better honorary Texan.