Dirk Nowitzki wobbled to the bench with 1:12 left in the game Saturday night. At 37 years old, he had played 40 minutes and scored 27 points despite sharing a jersey with Serge Ibaka. What was left of the Dallas crowd stood, “To Kill A Mockingbird” style, to salute its hero. Big D indeed.
The Mavericks trailed the Thunder by 11 in Game 4 of their Western Conference playoff series, and Dallas hopes were dashed. Nowitzki had waved off a substitution earlier in the fourth quarter. He didn’t want to leave the court. He wanted to give the Mavs everything he had. Which, of course, describes Nowitzki’s career.
Nowitzki has given the Mavericks everything hoops he has. Eighteen NBA seasons; 1,484 games, 144 of them in the postseason. Almost 50,000 NBA minutes.
Nowitzki is more than just the face of the franchise. Nowitzki will be the face of the franchise until he’s long gone from the Earth he well-traveled. He’s Mister Maverick.
Nowitzki also is a road map for Kevin Durant.
As Durant makes his big decision this summer, and maybe another next summer, he can look to Dirk for one of the routes available.
A career in one city. A long quest to bring a title to town. Lots of barriers along the way. Iconic status that never will fade.
It’s not for everybody. Wasn’t for Dwight Howard or Shaquille O’Neal. Wasn’t for Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul. Wasn’t even for LeBron, though he’s trying to reroute.
But it was for Kobe and Tim Duncan, Reggie Miller and David Robinson, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
Who knows what Durant will do? I see no reason for pessimism or any advantage to it. I think there are more reasons to believe Durant will stay than to believe he will go. Durant strikes most of us as more like Duncan and Dirk and Miller, than Shaq or Carmelo. But you never know.
“Everybody’s different,” said Mr. Mav. “KD’s obviously going to finish the season and make his own decision. We’ll see what that decision is. But for me, it was always best to stay here.
“Dallas was my home. I’ve been here so long, and I always wanted to finish my career here. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I felt comfortable here. Felt comfortable with the owner and the city. Obviously the surroundings. I didn’t want to change that.”
Oklahomans should feel encouraged at the way Durant talks about Dirk.
“Dirk has been a model of how you should handle things,” Durant said of their similar responsibilities as the face of a franchise. “I’m just trying to do things my way as well.
“There’s a lot that comes with it. Dirk has handled it about as good as anybody’s ever handled it in this league. I try to learn from guys like him, Kobe Bryants. From everybody that’s been in that position, handling the situation as being a franchise guy.”
Durant did note a primary difference between his status and Nowitzki’s.
“The good thing about it here, I’m not the only guy,” Durant said. “Having Russell Westbrook along with me, that’s been with me along the way, to have another guy with you going through it and being able to kind of relate to the same things, it helps. I’m not here by myself.
“The organization’s been great, Russell has been more of a teammate than I could ask for over these last nine years. It’s not just myself.”
Westbrook. Another reason for optimism. Do you realize Westbrook ranks 18th in NBA history for assists per game, 7.59. Why would Durant want to flee from that guy?
But we digress. This is about Dirk and his remarkable career.
Maverick owner Mark Cuban spoke succinctly in explaining why Nowitzki has remained a Mav. “I’m loyal,” Cuban said. “Dirk’s loyal. It’s a nice combination.”
No one ever accused Durant of being disloyal. Heck, the guy spent just 10 months in Austin, Texas, but is Bevo all the way. Hook ‘em Horns will be on his headstone.
Of course, it’s not disloyalty if Durant goes elsewhere. It could be business or it could be pleasure or it could be some kind of sense of adventure. I don’t know. But loyalty is a factor. The Thunder has created a great working environment for Durant, and Durant has thrived in that environment, in any way measurable.
Same as Cuban has done for Nowitzki.
“When I first got here (June 1998), obviously we had a different owner,” Dirk said. “When Mark took over (January 2000), things changed. We got a new arena, we got a new airplane, we started staying at better hotels, just took care of his players. Put basketball back on the map here. We’ve basically had a friendship ever since he got on board. He was always loyal to me, so it was easy for me to be loyal back.”
Nowitzki and Cuban were rewarded in 2011, with an NBA championship the week of Dirk’s 33rd birthday. Durant certainly hopes he doesn’t have to wait until he’s 33 or beyond for an NBA crown, here or elsewhere. But just the chase for a championship can be dignified and adventurous and rewarding.
It was for Dirk Nowitzki, Mr. Mav before that NBA title and now Mr. Mav forever.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.