NBA Legacies: Wade, Dirk, And The Changing Of The NBA Guard

Two sure-shot first-ballot Hall of Famers are riding into the sunset and going out on their own terms.

Two of the NBA’s most influential figures in the past 25 years retired from the NBA last night.

The basketball world knew that the greatest player in Miami Heat history was retiring at the end of this season, so Dwyane Wade was able to participate in what amounted to an 82-game farewell tour, exchanging jerseys and receiving well wishes along the way.

He even got a shoutout from Obama

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The manner in which Dirk Nowitzki hobbled around the court among kids young enough to be his sons during February’s All-Star practice in Charlotte,  pretty much confirmed that this would be the 7-foot German’s 21st and final season in the NBA.

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Wade also made his 13th and final All-Star game appearance.  It was a moment that couldn’t be ignored. Two sure-shot first ballot Hall of Famers and NBA Champions riding into the sunset and going out on their own terms.

Dirk, however, refused to make his retirement official until after Tuesday night’s 30-point performance in a 120-109 victory over the Phoneix Suns in the second to last game of the NBA regular season. 

 He got his props after Tuesday’s home game from a host of NBA legends, before finishing his career off with a double-double on Wednesday night. 

Wade wouldn’t be outshined by Dirk. D Wade dropped 30 on his way out the door as well, in a 122-99 Heat win over the Sixers on Tuesday night. Then, he posted a 25-11-10 triple-double on Wednesday as a final mic drop in front of a host of fans and his Banana Boat Crew. 

Wade’s farewell performance softened the dissapointment of the Heat being officially eliminated from the playoff chase. It also closed the book on an illustrious career for Wade who brought three titles to Miami and making it the epicenter of NBA basketball life for a brief moment in time. 

If not for Kobe Bryant, Wade would probably be the greatest two-guard of his generation. In fact, there’s a large contingent of basketball historians that would prefer to go into a life or death playoff war with Wade rather than The Black Mamba.

Despite Kobe’s five championships and scoring prowess, there was something about Wade that endeared him to fans. He was never the villain. His character was never in question. He simply carved out an illustrious future Hall of Fame career, with skill, grit, humility and a heart the size of South Beach.

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His first title came with Shaq and the last two as a member of the two-time champion Heatles, playing alongside LeBron James and Chris Bosh. His heroic feats on the court, combined with his flair for fashion, and his eventual union with Gabrielle Union, elevated Wade to cultural icon status by the end of his 16-year career.

The careers of Wade and Nowitzki will always be connected in NBA lore. Wade won his first NBA title and only Finals MVP in 2006 when he led Miami over Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavs in the NBA Finals. It was Wade’s defining moment and people started comparing him to MJ.

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Nowitzki got his revenge in the 2011 NBA Finals, winning his lone championship at the expense of Miami’s Big Three. The Heat dynasty was in its infancy stages. Dirk and Dallas capitalized on the moment and delivered a Finals loss to a squad that would go on to dominate the NBA and usher in the age of the NBA Super Team.   

While Wade became one the most popular African-American NBA superstars, Nowitzki was the bridge between an NBA that still doubted the viability of foreign players and the high level of success we now regularly see from international players like Lucas Donic.

In his rookie season (1998-99), the NBA had 38 international players representing 27 countries and territories on opening-night rosters. This season, the NBA featured 108 international players from 42 countries and territories — increases of 184% and 56% respectively, from his rookie season.

Because of Dirk’s influence on the NBA’s global expansion, the game will reach fans in 215 countries and territories in 49 languages across all mediums this season. He’s touched everyone from fans to teammates to staff.

 

The careers of players like Dirk and D Wade — known for their impeccable character as well as evolutionary play — are bittersweet journeys because they span generations and simply put, they age folks.

The 30-and-over crew has grown up on these legends who have inspired people all over the world and had an indelible effect on the fabric and culture of the sport. Their departure from the game marks a clear changing of the guard in the NBA. Another sign that it’s time to fully embrace the Greek Freak, James Harden, Steph Curry, AD, Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant and the new era All-Stars.

It’s time to release the emotional connection to the superstars of yesteryear because that’s just what Wade and Dirk are now. Yesterday’s gems put on display as revered reminders of the historical riches of the NBA, but never to be worn again. They certainly won’t ever be forgotten. 

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.