DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki has announced his retirement from the NBA.
“As you guys might suspect, this is my last home game,” Nowitzki told the crowd after the Dallas Mavericks beat the Phoenix Suns, 120-109, on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center. “It’s been an amazing ride and thank you guys for coming out.”
One of the greatest players of all-time and one of the most unique players of his generation, Nowitzki played all 21 years of his NBA career with the Mavs. And not only was the 7-foot forward the face of the Mavs, he also was a key figure in the Dallas community, often visiting children’s hospitals while offering both financial and emotional support to families in need.
“Dirk is the franchise, the franchise is Dirk,” proprietor Mark Cuban said. “He’s our culture, he’s everything. He’s who we are.
“Who he is off the court is far more important than who he is on the court — what he’s done in the community and what he’s done for others, just the big heart he has. I hope he knows how many people care about him.”
Nowitzki’s final game will be Wednesday night in San Antonio.
The man who has coached Nowitzki for 11 of his 21 NBA seasons – Rick Carlisle — certainly cares what one of Germany’s most famous athletes has done for his coaching career. Nowitzki was the driving force when the Mavs – and Carlisle – captured their lone championship in 2011.
“Dirk is a lot like a great executive in the NBA,” Carlisle said. (Former Indiana Pacers general manager) Donnie Walsh, who I think is one of the best executives that has ever been in this league, once told me that his job was to step forward and help when things are rough, to steady things and move them in the right direction, and when things were going well to stay in the background.
“Dirk is very similar. When things are bad, he steps forward. When things are good, he highlights his teammates and credits the fans. He really functions as more than a servant than a leader on many levels, which is extremely unique, and yet, at the end of the day he’s one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever seen.”
Nowitzki finished his career after reaching a laundry list of milestones. That includes being a 14-time All-Star, the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2007, the Finals’ MVP in 2011, a four-time all-NBA first team member, and finishing his illustrious career as the No. 6 leading scorer of all-time.
During the last half of this season, fans kept showering Nowitzki with love in various arenas across the NBA by shouting “We Want Dirk, We Want Dirk,” on frequent occasions whenever he wasn’t in the game in the second half. Those heartfelt emotions tugged at Nowitzki’s heartstrings.
“It’s been wonderful,” he said. “It makes me obviously proud a little bit to know that I’ve done something right the last two decades, that people think that I’ve done something for this league and for the Mavericks and for the sport.
“That means a lot to me and I’m very appreciative of the fans. It’s been very emotional.”
Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf were all special invited guests who came to Dallas to assist in Nowitzki’s post-game ceremonies.
Nowitzki was one of the first 7-footers who ventured out to the perimeter and started firing up 3-pointers on a consistent basis. Now, thanks to that unique set of talents by the future hall of famer, 7-footers shooting 3-pointers is all the rage in the NBA today.
“He’s been a pioneer for this game,” Carlisle said. “Because of him you don’t really hear the term ‘power forward’ any more. You hear the word ‘stretch four.’
“He’s had massive impacts on the game. If you factor in the vast majority of his 31,000-plus points that have come on perimeter jump shots, it speaks even more strongly to the provision that he has been able to demonstrate over the past 21 years.”
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra definitely agrees with that assessment of Nowitzki.
“The Hall of Fame players are the ones that changed the game, and he certainly did,” said Spoelstra, whose team lost to Nowitzki and the Mavs in the 2011 NBA Finals. “He opened up the doors for others that came from overseas.
“The way he plays as a stretch big changed the game on all levels. He is an incredible competitor, he was incredible in (2011). He plays with dignity and grace. “
Many a coach have endured sleepless nights trying to devise a scheme to control Nowitzki. As expected, an overwhelming majority of those coaches failed miserably.
“He put coaching staffs in tailspins, scrambling and searching in pick-and-roll defense,” Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “You just begged to find something that could connect the dots simply, and you could deliver to a team.
“He never made it easy, because of his skill set, and he was really coached with the coaches that would put him in compromising positions for the opposition. I remember how much pain he caused coaching staffs and how late he kept us up.”
On another front, Mavs center Dwight Powell recalls the angst he experienced when, as a rookie, he was traded from the Boston Celtics to the Mavs on Dec. 18, 2014. After the trade, it was Nowitzki who intervened and put Powell’s anxieties at ease.
“There’s a lot of positive and negative feelings (that come with being traded), but coming here one of the big positives was you get a chance to work with coach and you get a chance to be around Dirk,” Powell said. “I definitely tried to quietly spend as much time kind of observing and listening to things that (Nowitzki) was talking about and watching what he was doing and giving him his space.
“Obviously as a rookie you don’t want to step on toes. But he was pretty welcoming and invited me to workouts and shared some knowledge early on that I didn’t even ask about, which was very helpful for me.”
Nowitzki was also very helpful to the career of Steve Nash. Better yet, they were very helpful to each other’s career.
Nash and Nowitzki both joined the Mavs during separate trades on June 24, 1998 — the day of the ‘98 NBA Draft. In a pre-arranged deal, the Mavs drafted Robert “Tractor” Traylor with the sixth overall pick of the ’98 draft, and the Milwaukee Bucks used the ninth overall pick to draft Nowitzki.
Then came the official immediate Traylor/Nowitzki draft day trade that effectively changed the fortunes of both the Bucks and Mavs.
Meanwhile, Nash was entering his third season in ’98 and was just trying to find his niche around the league. As it turned out, winding up on the same team with Nowitzki was one of the best things that ever happened to Nash’s career.
“He meant a whole heckuva lot to me,” Nash said of Nowitzki. “We came (to the Mavs) on the same day. I was a young player trying to make a name for myself in the league and he was a young guy coming to a totally new culture.
“We became friends quickly and we pushed each other and supported each other and worked extremely hard at our games and tried to make a career of it. And he was a big part not only in me individually getting to the next level, but collectively we came from being maybe the worst team in the league to getting to the (Western) Conference Finals (in 2003) and kind of establishing ourselves as NBA players.”
Nowitzki, who will turn 41 on June 19, battled foot problems for a lion’s share of this season. It forced him to miss the first 26 games of the season.
That slowed down his mobility and made him look like a shadow of his former self. But Nowitzki chugged along, and then gave his adoring fans one last big treat for the ages on Tuesday, leaving an emotional Cuban to say:
“I promise you that everything that you taught us will continue on. I promise you that you have a job for life, I promise you that we’ll retire your number.
“And I promise you will put the biggest most bad-ass statue right in front of the arena. Thank you. There will never be another one like you, Dirk.”