Besides eternity and maybe the NBA playoffs, nothing lasts forever.
Not even the seemingly timeless Dirk Nowitzki.
I miss him already, and he hasn’t even officially ridden off into the EuroTexan sunset.
That will come Wednesday night in San Antonio, thanks to some less-than-nostalgic NBA schedule-makers. Game 82 of what Nowitzki confirmed Tuesday night will be his last season in the league he helped reinvent will come on the Riverwalk, not Victory Plaza.
Nowitzki said after the Mavericks beat Phoenix 120-109 at American Airlines Center that “this is my last home game.”
Doesn’t matter how much or if he plays in San Antonio, the sendoff Tuesday was sensational. Legends were on full display with memories of Dirk.
Here’s a few remembrances from some of the greats who came to Dallas to say goodbye to the best basketball player the Mavericks have ever had, and maybe ever will have.
Greatness from the start
Charles Barkley knew before the 1998 draft that Dirk Nowitzki had something special within him. Wasn’t quite sure what it was. But he knew it had a chance to lead to greatness.
“Nike was already ahead of the curve,” Barkley said. “They would send us to different countries every summer and we were in Germany that year (’98). Dirk’s got like 25 points at halftime. I’m like, who is this guy here? I got NBA players and he finishes with, like, 40.
“So I go up to him and say, who the heck are you? And he told me he’s Dirk Nowitzki and I said, how old are you? He said, I’m 18. He said, I’m going in the army.
“I said, right, you’re 7-feet tall. You’re not going into the army. Stop that.”
Barkley had other ideas.
“I told him, you’re going to my college,” he said. “I called Nike and said, I got a kid that needs to go to Auburn. They said, he’s going in the army. And I said, to heck with that. So we call him and a couple months later, he gets drafted into the NBA.
“I told him you could have made something out of yourself if you’d have gone to Auburn.”
Jokes aside, Nowitzki and Barkley actually played against each other. During Dirk’s first and second seasons and Barkley’s next-to-last and last seasons, their teams faced off six times. As the schedule broke down, all six of the meetings were in 1999, four in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season and the other two in November at the start of the 1999-2000 season.
Barkley, who was in Houston at the time, suffered an injury shortly after the Nov. 23 meeting and would not return until one game late in the season.
The result of those six games?
Nowitzki averaged 16.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists.
Barkley averaged 15 points, 13.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
Each team won three times.
In so many ways, they personify the past two generations of power forwards. Barkley came from the Kevin McHale/Karl Malone school of winning with power and using finesse when you absolutely needed it.
Nowitzki began a new era of perimeter-savvy power forwards that included Kevin Garnett.
Tim Duncan? He was somewhere in between.
The point is that there is more than one way to dominate in the NBA. Some point guards do it differently than others. Same goes for power forwards.
Larry Legend remembers the comparisons
Speaking of power forwards who did the job different ways, nobody knows that better than Larry Bird, who played for years with Kevin McHale, one of the most effective power forwards in history.
Like Barkley, McHale did his damage mostly in the low post.
When Nowitzki came along, it was quickly changed to a position that could thrive on the perimeter and by shooting 3-point shots.
For that reason, Nowitzki often was compared to Bird, often unfairly early in his career. But now, at the end, it’s clear the comparisons weren’t foolish.
“It’s because we shoot from long range and we can pass the ball and rebound from our position,” Bird said. “We played different, but I can see the similarities in a lot of ways.
“When I first came into the league it was me and Rick Barry. A lot of it has to do with our skin color, obviously. But you don’t see 7-foot guys do what he does. I used to shoot step-back shots, but he shoots off of either leg and unorthodox shots. You can tell he put a lot into it.
“He worked hard and tried to get better at his craft. The game’s better with him. I always tell young guys to try to leave the game better than you found it. And he’s done that.”
Bird took the floor with Detlef Schrempf, Shawn Kemp and Scottie Pippen, some of Dirk’s favorite players when he was growing up and early in his NBA career.
It was an emotional scene for Nowitzki, who was grateful that the superstars made the effort to be there on Tuesday night.
And even when Barkley reminded everybody that Father Time remains undefeated, he had to chuckle, knowing that Nowitzki gave it a good run for its money.