By Darreck Kirby
PSDC Dallas Mavericks Beat Writer
This past Tuesday, during a game against the visiting Sacramento Kings, Dirk Nowitzki found himself on the brink of history. Not only would a 17 point night move Dirk up to ninth on the NBA’s All-Time Scoring List, but it would also make him the league’s top scoring foreign-born player by leap-frogging Hakeem Olajuwon in the process. The game got off to a sluggish start for Dallas, falling behind by as many as 24 points, but in the end Dirk’s Mavs were able to right the ship and capture a more-or-less convincing win, 106-98.
The historic basket came with 8:56 remaining in the fourth quarter; a silky-smooth catch-and-shoot from the left elbow off a Monta Ellis dish. The bucket gave Dirk a career total of 26,946 points for his illustrious career and drew a rousing ovation from the home crowd.
But not everything about the Big German’s journey has been as smooth as his jumper. Dirk has faced down countless demons over the course of 17 years. He’s been called “soft,” a poor defender, a choke-artist in big playoff moments. It didn’t seem to matter how many points he scored. Only one thing could rewrite his legacy; an NBA title.
Dirk had been to the Finals once before, going up two games to none over the Miami Heat before an epic collapse derailed Dallas’ title hopes. The team would then fall in the first round of the playoffs in three of the next four seasons, leading many to doubt whether or not Dirk would ever lead the Mavericks to the promise land.
2011, however, proved to be the defining moment in Nowitzki’s career. Leading a team of castoffs, Dirk led a furious charge through the Western Conference, derailing the feisty Portland Trailblazers, sweeping the reigning, defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, and overpowering the up-start Oklahoma City Thunder on his way back to the Finals. There, Dirk would not only have to face his greatest failure in a rematch with Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat but he would also have to contend with the self-proclaimed most hyped and publicized dynasty-in-the-making.
While the Mavs were hardly the same team that had fallen in 2006, the Miami Heat could say the same. This Heat club now featured the likes of two-time MVP LeBron James and Chris Bosh to compliment Wade’s own stellar skill set. But behind the leadership of Dirk, Tyson Chandler, and Jason Kidd, the Mavs felt they had the pieces necessary to stun the NBA world.
The turning point of the series came in Game 2 after Wade sank a corner three to put Miami up 15 midway through the final frame. The win would have given the Heat a commanding 2-0 lead the Mavs surely wouldn’t have been able to come back from, though thankfully it would never come to that. Rather than lie down and accept their defeat, Dirk led a furious comeback that would find a place in NBA Finals lore for all time, outscoring the over-confident Heat 22-5 over the final seven minutes and change to win 95-93 and tie the series at a game a piece.
Although Miami would answer with a win in Game 3, Dallas’ confidence was at an all-time high. The Mavs would rattle off three consecutive victories, overcoming everything Dwyane Wade and LeBron could throw at them and even Nowitzki’s illness in Game 4. The Mavs would claim the series in six games and Dirk would be named the Finals MVP with averages of 26 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Since that time, Dirk has watched his team’s roster turn over four times, though this year’s squad appears to have more firepower than any he’s ever had – which is saying something considering he played with Steve Nash and Michael Finley in their primes.
Even with every challenge Dirk has faced down over his illustrious career, his consistency and longevity continue to amaze. This season he’s averaging 20.6 PPG on 52.3 percent shooting. And despite everything he’s accomplished, he remains as humble as ever with regards to his place in history.
“Passing the Big O and knowing that only nine guys ever in this league scored more than me – that’s crazy to think,” he told reporters back in August. “From where I came from, a little dump in Wurzburg, Germany, it’s been an amazing ride. So, you know, hopefully I can have a couple more good years and we’ll see where I end up.”
Rick Carlisle – someone familiar with all-time greats – calls Dirk one of the greatest ever. And at the rate he’s going, Dirk could potentially climb as high as sixth spot all time in scoring before he completes the three-year, $25 million deal he signed this past offseason. If he plays beyond that, Wilt Chamberlain’s fifth place mark remains a possibility. Not bad for a gangly 20-year-old kid who started his career coming off the bench for Don Nelson.
To see some of Dirk’s greatest scoring milestones, checkout the video below. The compilation was done by the NBA and includes not only his first career points but several milestones and game-winning shots along before the way to Tuesday night’s latest record.
And as always, follow Darreck on Twitter @DarreckWKirby and be sure to checkout ProjectShanks.com for the latest in Mavs news and updates.