Dirk System: Kobe Bryant’s Flunking Nowitzki’s Levels of Success Master Class

Two years ago, Nike's online #KobeSystem classes imparted a bevy of lessons to mere mortals. The tongue-in-cheek series was a nod to Kobe Bryant’s insatiable appetite for success. Life was good. Bryant was returning for his throne with dragons in tow and the Lakers, which had just acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were the toast of the league.
Unfortunately, the #KobeSystem missed a final lesson in gerontology, which is more relevant than ever for the Black Mamba.

ger·on·tol·o·gy noun \jer-n-tä-l-j\ : the scientific study of old age and of the process of becoming old.

At the same time, while Bryant was fitting his other hand for a sixth ring, Dirk Nowitzki's Mavericks were prepping for what would ultimately be their first descent into the NBA lottery since the turn of the century. Two years later, the tables have turned and the #DirkSystem is the blueprint for success from abject failures.

In an alternate universe, two of the most accomplished foreign-bred players in the league’s annals would have been mortal enemies. Bryant may not be a foreign citizen, but the hoops passion boiling in his blood originated from the DNA of his dad, then proliferated during his formative years in Italy, have shaped his ideology on (and off) the court. His cache in China and globally is unparalleled and most importantly, so is his annual clandestine trip to Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt in Nowizki's native Germany.

On the night of the 1998 NBA Draft, it was commonly known that the Boston Celtics were widely interested in drafting Nowitzki with their 10th pick. The selection that would have made a unique specimen called the rich man's Detlef Schrempf, The Mongoose to the Lakers’ Black Mamba was nixed when the Bucks stepped in and picked the 7-foot German at No. 9 before trading him to Dallas.

Nowitzki was discovered by a 65-year-old physicist, Holger Geschwindne, when he was a raw teenager, which makes sense because he's built like a player designed in a lab.

Geschwindne was taught basketball from American troops during World War II. In turn, he coached Nowitzki and returned the hoop lesson tenfold in the former of an agile, sharp-shooting 7-foot, 12-time All-Star.

Kobe and Dirk are also the composers of the two most prominent fall-away jumpers since Jordan’s picturesque spin, fade combo moves left defenders feeling helpless in the late 90s.

Age and injury were believed to be too lethal of a combo for Bryant to overcome. At 6-7, he doesn’t possess the ethereal wingspan of Nowitzki or Durant to high point his unblockable shot attempts.

Using a variety of shoulder fakes, post-up moves, spins, old man strength and slow-motion cheetah shots on the Discovery Channel have helped Bryant remain ahead of the geriatric curve.

“When you watch me shoot my fadeaway jumper, you’ll notice my leg is always extended. I had problems making that shot in the past. It’s tough. So one day I’m watching the Discovery Channel and see a cheetah hunting. When the cheetah runs, its tail always gives it balance, even if it’s cutting a sharp angle. And that’s when I was like: My leg could be the tail, right?” Kobe explained in his "Levels of Success" tone before training camp resumed in September.

He previewed the repertoire against Denver on his first shot of the 2014 preseason and hasn't stopped yet.

Any concerns about Bryant fading into his twilight as a mediocre player have been replaced by concerns about the franchise’s pedestrian present and future.

The only fading away Nowitzki is doing in Dallas involves him planting his left foot, creating separation, lifting his right leg to a 90 degree angle and spinning the ball in a 47 degree arc towards the rim. Nowitzki’s numbers have stabilized in the 20 points per game range, but his inefficiency hasn’t suffered in an age where teams and stars are scoring fewer points than ever.

Instead of being Beantown’s next hoops savior, Nowitzki has hovered outside the spotlight while Bryant has coalesced with the Tinsel Town limelight like Jeff Goldblum and the fly. Likewise, Bryant’s untouchable status and overgrown ego fed by the singing of his praises or MVP hymnals have resulted in a disastrous mutation.

Nowitzki has deflected the hero worship while Bryant basks in it. His aging process has been more aesthetically pleasing for the Mavs and their playoff aspirations.

The German Wunderkind is two months older than Bryant, but was drafted two years later, lifted off with more modest expectations during a time when the migration of international stars to the U.S. was still in its embryonic stage. By the time he’d established himself as an All-Star, Bryant was already a three-time champion.

The Mavericks 2003 first round skirmish with Portland is recognized as Nowitzki’s official coronation into his current role as the franchise cornerstone.

In the aftermath of a violent 42-point Demolition Man outburst, Mark Cuban proclaimed that the Big D in Dallas stood for Dirk.

“This is Dirk’s team now.” Cuban said after the victory.

Dirk’s response was telling.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my team at all. We still have a lot of options.”  

Nowitzki’s greatest asset was that he never allowed his mutant scoring ability to compromise his working relationship with teammates and coaches.

Bryant and Nowitzki also epitomize the difference between a supernova and a constellation.

If there’s a pro North American sports league that invites stargazing more than any of its contemporaries, it’s the NBA. Oscar winners, billionaire tycoons, music loyalty and even British royalty cozy into courtside seats to watch the NBA’s stars defy gravity or fling planetoid-shaped spheres into the orbit of a metal rim.

Constellations are cluster of stars which are situated in a recognizable pattern, shape or figure and are typically named after mythological figures.

For 11 straight seasons from Y2K to the lockout-shortened season, the Mavs won 50 games. Nowitzki was more interested in jelling into the collective.

The Mavericks are a roster of players assembled by an analytics-driven front office which cluster on the hardwood in the shape of Nowitzki.

It’s why Tyson Chandler, Devin Harris and JJ Barea have circled back to Dallas for second stint with Nowitzki. 

The Black Mamba doesn’t play well with peers and his stubborn personality nearly drove Dwight Howard to Dallas last summer before he ultimately linked up with James Harden in Houston.

Bryant is more preoccupied with standing out front with neon lights strapped to his jersey that identifies him as “The Guy” and a an arrow on the back pointing to his teammates that reads, “I’m with Stupid” (See: Smush Parker) while Aloe Bacc's "The Man" blares over speakers.

Bryant takes the hero worship literally. To the point that he’s deluded himself believing the nobleness of his high volume shooting. When asked about his shot selection by ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, Bryant responded, "I’d rather not have to do that, but you can’t just sit back and watch crime happen in front of you."

Bryant surpassed the luster of simple stardom over a decade ago when he and Shaq were three-peat champions, pop culture icons and/or leading the national news during his sexual assault trial.

Now he’s on a Don Quixote-like quest to tackle the toughest conference in sports history. In reality, this season has two purposes—keeping their top five draft protected lottery pick and Bryant ascending the career scoring list.

Bryant’s inefficient 32-point explosion places him 31 points away from surpassing Michael Jordan for third-place on the career scoring list.

It’s the only passing Bryant will do for the rest of this season that isn’t in pursuit of a milestone. Bryant's first double-digit assist performance of the season occurred on a night when he was angling to hit an obscure mark as the first player in NBA history with 30,000 points and 6,000 assists.

As a unit, the Lakers are the stingiest team in the nation. They average the third-fewest passes per game, ahead of only New Orleans and Denver, despite operating at the league’s seventh-quickest tempo.

It’s a byproduct of the comically selfish culture permeating through this pedestrian roster because of Bryant and his equally quick-triggered sapling Nick Young.

On the flipside of Bryant’s raging against the dying of the twilight is Nowitzki’s graceful ripening.

During their first meeting of the 2014 regular season, a 35-foot three-pointer by Bryant illustrated just how differently they’re approaching old age.

In case you’re wondering, the Lakers got trounced 140 to 106 in regulation.

The natural order of things is for superstars to lose their shine and begin drifting aimlessly through the NBA solar system as shells of their former selves.

There are superstars and there are the aforementioned supernovas. These interstellar anomalies emit enough light to outshine an entire galaxy, radiate more energy than the sun, then fade away and collapse.

What we’re witnessing from Bryant is an explosion of energy that’s consuming the Lakers franchise and blinding observers of the team’s grotesque brand of basketball.

As Bryant leaves craters in the floor as he searches for his own shot and fires comet debris at a rate of that’s propelled him toward being the league’s leading scorer while shooting below the 40 percent Mendoza Line, Bryant the Lakers defense ranks as the league’s worst per 100 possessions.

If Bryant’s megalomania is at the root of the Lakers woes, Nowitzki’s altruism is the prime culprit of Dallas’ rebirth.

Two seasons ago, the Mavericks were tiptoeing the line between irrelevance and destitution. The only outcome for Nowitzki was to either stick around out of loyalty in return for a maximum contract or accept an exorbitant deal as a mercenary on a young contender. Conversely, Kobe is an extremely costly asset.

Last summer, Bryant pre-empted his contract year by inking a two-year $48.5 extension with the Lakers.

ESPN TrueHoops’ chief Henry Abbott diagnosed the expecting dimming of Bryant’s supernova for the Lakers’ empty-handed return from a 2014 free agency class that included Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki.

Nowitzki set an unofficial charity record by passing up $72 million out of a possible four-year $97 million contract he could have taken elsewhere and accepted a three-year $25 million pauper deal from billionaire mogul Mark Cuban.

Today, Bryant, Nowitzki and Duncan represent the holy trinity of future Hall of Fame, former MVPs who are performing at an All-Star level. John Stockton's 19 seasons in Utah used to be the longevity barometer for franchise monogamy in NBA history. However, the final season of Bryant's deal will be his 20th and the final year of Nowitzki's will be his 19th in Big D.

Nowitzki snuck up on the NBA’s higher echelon. By the time his current deal expires, Nowitzki will join the exclusive 30,000 point club that includes Wilt Chamberlain, Bryant, Jordan, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

About a decade into his career, Nowitzki had been flanked by some ridiculously skilled supporting casts, but was getting receiving playoff Swirlys. Once the ’07 Golden State series put a damper on his MVP season, he was immediately knocked back down a notch.

Nowitzki’s 2011 title run included a Ghost of Champions Past victory over Bryant’s three-time defending Western Conference champion Lakers and the final playoff loss for Durant before he hurled himself past Nowitzki in the league’s hierarchy.

The only thing about Duncan’s legacy not cemented is his ring count. However, Nowizki has been overshadowed by his two contemporaries. Although, he’s sacred in Dallas, it wasn’t until he shed his Miami demons three summers ago that he become untouchable.

Unlike Kobe, he’s never led the league in scoring and although he’s the consummate teammate, the Mavericks have always played the Charlie Brown to Duncan’s Lucy holding the football.

Nowitzki has never been part of a Big 3. The only comparable All-Star sidekick to play alongside Nowitzki in both of their primes was Steve Nash. Nash and Nowitzki parted ways on good terms when Cuban refused to pay Nash top dollar and has been the constant amid a constant stream of average, albeit, high basketball IQ athletes.

This group may have struck a chord. Over a quarter of the way through his 17th season, Nowitzki has staved off the sickle of time and is shotgunning the Mavericks offensive revolution.

Nowitzki’s workload has diminished to career lows, but he’s remained relevant by sacrificing his ego in order to take Monta Ellis’ six.

Nowitzki has relinquished his role as premier playmaker and leading scorer to Ellis, but the fulcrum of the most efficient offense in league history is still Nowitzki.

The Mavericks individual usage rates, which account for an estimate of a team’s plays that a player uses up, are exactly what you’d expect. Ellis' dual ballhandling, passing and scoring duties are behind his team-high 29.1 usage rate and Nowitzki follows behind with a 26.6 percent.

The Mavs offense is a wormhole to the next pass as movement off-ball, pick, pop and dive are their method of bucket production. The Black Mamba is a black hole with the rock in his hands and also possesses 36.3 usage rate that is the threatening the league record.

The only players that can boast a higher usage percentage are pre-Pippen Jordan, Allen Iverson's MVP season, Dwayne Wade between the Shaq and Lebron, Bosh mergers, Jermaine O'Neal in the aftermath of Malice in the Palace and Kobe Bryant's usage rate of 38.7 during his prime post-Shaq season.

Bryant averaged 35 points a game as a 27-year-old in the 05-06 season. Bryant's averaging 10 fewer points and three more field goals as a 36-year-old than he did at 27.

After taking San Antonio to seven games, the Mavericks have continued their forward momentum. Dallas’ record would be a battleship vying for the top seed in the East, but in the West it’s the seventh out of eight seats on the edge of a life raft bobbing through choppy seas.

Bryant’s going out like Scarface in an inglorious blaze, swearing more than a coked up, paranoid Al Pacino, firing shots in a blind fury.

Nowitzki’s enhancing his legacy, jogging toward his career exit with aplomb and reveling in the exaltation he’s earned.

For the first time in his illustrious career, Nowitzki serves as an example for Bryant and the Lakers on how to construct a robust contender around deteriorating bags of bone.