On January 5, the Mavericks will honor Dirk Nowitzki by retiring his No. 41 jersey.
The ninth pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, Nowitzki spent 21 seasons with the Mavericks. He earned 14 All-Star selections during his career, as well as 12 All-NBA selections, an MVP award, a championship and a Finals MVP award.
Nowitzki retired at the end of the 2018-19 season. He was recently named to the NBA 75 team.
Before the retirement of his jersey, The Sporting News staff members step into a time machine to relive the best moments of Nowitzki’s NBA career.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): It’s the 2011 NBA Finals race, but since you expect that answer, I’m going to go in a different direction.
Let’s go back to December 2, 2004.
The Mavericks are poised to host an early season showdown with the Rockets, who entered the season as one of the league’s most interesting teams. Not only was Yao Ming entering his third season, but the franchise acquired a two-time scoring champion by the name of Tracy McGrady in the offseason.
The Rockets had gotten off to a slow start to the season, so this was a good opportunity to get on their way by defeating a Mavericks team that was locked out of winning 50 games per season at the moment. Yao had a difficult outing, but McGrady did his thing, scoring 48 points, nine assists and nine rebounds.
The problem? Dirk topped him with 53 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. He saved the best for last, opening the extra period with a personal 10-0 streak that practically decided the outcome.
If you haven’t seen the game before or haven’t even seen the highlights, feast your eyes on two of the easiest scorers we’ve seen trading cube after cube after cube after cube in a highly competitive contest.
Just an all-time duel of two all-time greats.
Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): As Scott said, the 2011 Finals race is the pinnacle of Dirk’s career, but the moment that stands out most of all is his performance on “Fever Game” in Game 4 against the Heat.
With the Mavericks losing in the series 2-1, facing the newly formed voltron of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, their season was on the line in Game 4 and Nowitzki was far from his prime, battling a fever of 101 degrees due to a sinus infection.
He hadn’t slept the night before and missed morning target practice, but went on to give one of the iconic performances of his career.
Nowitzki made three of his first five shots and then missed eight of his next nine. In three quarters, he had scored just 11 points and just 4 of 13 from the field.
But when his team needed him most, he stepped forward at the most important moment of the game. With 16 seconds to go and the Mavs leading by one, he went straight to Udonis Haslem for the layup and put the Mavs up 86-83 with 6.7 seconds to go. The Mavs would wait for victory and not lose another game in the series, then beat the Heat in six games to be crowned NBA champions.
“He’s one of the greatest of all time,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said after the game. “He wants the ball and he wants the responsibility of winning and losing the game.”
Nowitzki has hit bigger shots, including the game winner in Game 2 of that series, but the context of the series scoring, his illness, and how things unfolded from there makes this one more special.
This was the game that confirmed that Dirk really is that type.
Gilbert McGregor (@ GMcGregor21): It’s safe to say that we all have a special place for Dirk’s performance during the Mavs’ title race in 2011. I’d like to add that it gives me the creeps every time I see Dirk walk off the court during the final seconds of the Game. 6 of 2011. Finals as it is established that he had finally led his team to the final goal. He is the perfect example of the passion he always played with, which is why I will always remember him.
With that said, I’ll take it to 2016 when 37-year-old Dirk knocked out a game winner over Julius Randle to lead the Mavs to overtake the Lakers at Staples Center.
There are so many amazing things about this play.
Of course, you must start by acknowledging the mutual respect shown between an inactive Kobe Bryant and Dirk, who were adversaries in the Western Conference for three different decades. Now, run it and you will notice something different each time.
You’ve got Roy Hibbert rooting for Randle on defense, Mavs color analyst Derek Harper saying “let’s get out of here” before the ball even leaves Dirk’s hands, 19-year-old rookie D’Angelo Russell growling with astonished approval and 32-year-old rookie Marcelo Huertas’ reaction is equally remarkable.
Dirk was never afraid of the moment, not even in the later stages of his career. I will always look back at this moment as the perfect example of that.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Like Scott, Benyam, and Gil, I’m going to mention the 2011 NBA Finals race, but I’m going in a different direction because it’s too obvious. But before I do that, I want to note that I feel like you forget that Nowitzki shot 94.1 percent (175 of 186) from the free throw line during that career, including a near perfect 45 of 46 in the NBA Finals.
That brings me to my answer: Nowitzki’s 2006-07 season, where he took home the NBA MVP and joined the club 50-40-90 in the process.
Nowitzki led the Mavericks to a 60-win season the previous year, but former teammate Steve Nash took home the MVP hardware. In 2006-07, Nowitzki returned to lead the Mavericks to a 67-win season, the best in the NBA, averaging 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game while shooting a staggering 50.2 percent from the field, 41.6 percent. from three and 90.4 percent from the free throw line.
At the time, he was only the sixth player in NBA history to accomplish the feat and, to this day, he remains the only 7-footer at the prestigious club (that is, depending on whether you think Kevin Durant is less than 7 feet).
The season didn’t have a storybook ending with the Mavericks upset in the first round by the We Believe Warriors, but it remains one of the most notable shooting seasons by a great man in NBA history. It was a defining moment in Nowitzki’s legacy as one of the purest shooters the game has ever seen.