On Wednesday, Jan. 5, the Dallas Mavericks retired Dirk Nowitzki’s No. 41 jersey to the rafters. The 14-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA player, 2006-07 league MVP, 2011 champion and Finals MVP is the second-greatest international player of all time, according to ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins.
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) January 6, 2022
Dirk revolutionized the game in terms of what a big man could do with the basketball in his hands. The 7 foot German national could shoot it from anywhere on the court and is personified by the one-legged midrange fadeaway jumper. He is the Mavericks’ all-time leader in games played, minutes, rebounds, blocks, free throws, three-pointers, and points. A member of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team and a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Dirk was that dude.
Perk ranks Dirk second all time on his list of greatest international NBA players. Behind Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon, and ahead of current superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and retired legends Steve Nash and Tony Parker.
.@KendrickPerkins ranks his top five international players in NBA history:
1. Hakeem Olajuwon
2. Dirk Nowitzki
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
4. Steve Nash
5. Tony Parker pic.twitter.com/3JIbH12X4x
— First Take (@FirstTake) January 6, 2022
Tough to argue with that, and you could make the case for Nowitzki at No. 1.
Regardless, his play not only changed the game for big men. It also put the NBA and American-born players on notice that the “soft” label that is ascribed to European and international players is a stereotype. Believe that at your own risk.
Looking at the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic and the Mavericks’ Luka Doncic, who of course was on hand for the ceremony, there is nothing soft about they way they play. No doubt they grew up admiring the work Nowitzki put in.
“A night you’ll never forget,” Doncic said. “The Warriors are one of the best teams in the world right now and we did an amazing job. And after that was even more special. To be there in the front row to see that, it was special.”
“(Dirk is) one of the few guys that (has played) for one team for their entire career,” said Jokic. “I really, really admire him for that. … He didn’t abandon the team.”
Nowitzki was joined by his wife Jessica and three children at the ceremony and gave a 20 minute speech where he held his emotions in check until the end when the crowd began chanting “M-V-P”
“My speech was surprisingly good,” Nowitzki said after the ceremony, noting that he was able to keep his emotions in check. “I’ve worked on it for weeks now. So, it’s in your head. You’re kind of like, “What’s next, what’s next,’ and you’re kind of trying not to mess up. But then the fans got me.”
He thanked everyone from commissioner Adam Silver, who was in attendance, Mavericks governor Mark Cuban for believing in him, Don and Donny Nelson, former coaches Avery Johnson and Rick Carlisle, all the assistants, Rolando Blackmon, Derek Harper, Brad Davis — the other Mavericks who have their jerseys retired — former teammates Steve Nash and Michael Finley, many others, and of course the fans.
“Thank you, guys, from the bottom of my heart for making this journey incredible,” Nowitzki said. “Thank you for taking in a long, lanky kid over 20 years ago and making him one of your own. I’ll be always grateful.”
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