Dwane Casey, former assistant coach of the Dallas Mavericks, called Dirk, “One of the most beautiful human beings you can be around.”
It’s crazy to think that Dirk will no longer step onto an NBA court as a player. He was so fun to watch, whether you were a Mavericks fan or an all-around basketball fan for that matter. Perhaps it’s a testament to his greatness that you liked him regardless of what team you rooted for. But just how important was he to the game of basketball?
Dirk was drafted by the Bucks in 1998 but got traded to the Mavericks that very night. Once the season started, there were some growing pains. As a big man who relied on finesse over force, he got pushed around easily by more traditional NBA big men, and he grew frustrated. Fans and players alike weren’t used to seeing a player like him – a big man who relied more on his jumper than on his rebounding skills and defense. But little did they know that these unique traits were symbolic of the NBA’s future.
His sophomore season was a breath of fresh air. Not only had he improved as a player, but the entire Mavericks organization was going through a complete renovation too. They had just been bought by notable billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban, and he gave them a sharp new image, literally and figuratively. Their new logo and jerseys were cutting edge, and flanked with a unique player like Dirk Nowitzki, the effect was instantaneous. That season, Dirk’s points per game average jumped from 8.2 to 17.5, and that’s when people started noticing what he was all about. That year he was the runner-up for Most Improved Player, and even got a spot in the NBA Three-Point Shootout.
The quest for a ring
As his career continued, his stats kept getting better, and he made a handful of All-Star teams. But there was one thing he wanted more than anything – a title. Succeeding in the regular season is one thing, but winning on the biggest stage of all is what people respect more than anything. Dirk had been lauded by everyone around the league, and even won an MVP award in 2007. But it wasn’t until his 2011 historic championship run that people’s level of respect for him took a major leap.
As we know, he won a title against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat that year – and people realized Dirk wasn’t messing around. He didn’t have a “super team” – he had a handful of committed role players, and his own sheer will to win. Winning a title cemented the idea that his particularly unique brand of playing style could actually work in the NBA on the championship level.
Dirk’s legacy and influence
In the final years of his career, his legacy aged gracefully. More players with similar styles began to emerge. Big men who could stretch the floor with their outside shooting became a lot more common – and every time another would come around we’d look back at Dirk and say, “He showed them it was possible.”
Think about sharpshooting big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, or Brook Lopez. It all goes back to Dirk. In the modern era, where three-point shooting is done as frequently as dribbling – by guards and big men alike – his legacy shines even brighter. Countless players have cited Dirk as being a key influence to their game, including Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and many more.
As far as basketball technique goes, perhaps the biggest thing people will remember from Dirk’s game will be his iconic jumper. Slightly off-balanced and yet perfectly squared, his arm motion was always a perfect straight line – from where he left the ground, all the way to the hoop. He always used to fade away slightly, and considering the fact that he’s so tall, with an impressive wingspan, his jumper was virtually unguardable. Not unlike that of Celtics legend Larry Bird, he brought the ball up extremely high, and yet he still had magnificent control.
A final note
Perhaps the following story can sum up just how important and beloved he was to the NBA community: His final game was against the Spurs, and it took place in San Antonio. Even though it was an away game, they honored his career with a touching montage before tipoff, while the whole stadium stood and watched. Dirk was watching too… and there were tears in his eyes. The emotion, the passion, the love for the game – that pretty much says it all.