3. Brooklyn’s farewell to the NBA’s greatest Euro
Dirk Nowitzki, the 40-year-old former NBA MVP and surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer, will likely be facing the Brooklyn Nets for the final time on Monday.
Nowitzki is one of two players still active in the NBA — along with former Net Vince Carter, now with the Atlanta Hawks — who played in the 20th-century NBA.
He was the ninth overall pick in 1998 out of Wurzburg, Germany, acquired by the Mavericks in a draft-night trade from the Milwaukee Bucks along with the rights to 19th overall selection Pat Garrity, with the Bucks trading up to get Michigan behemoth Robert Traylor with the sixth overall pick.
He has accumulated a statistical resume rivaling few others who have played in the NBA. Nowitzki is one of six players all-time to play at least 50,000 minutes and one of only four players to appear in at least 1,500 games.
He is also one of the seven members of the Association’s 30,000-point club and is just 61 points away from matching Wilt Chamberlain‘s 31,419 points for sixth on the all-time list. The only names ahead of him — and likely to remain there — are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
But beyond the numbers, Nowitzki represented a revolution of sorts in the league.
While Dirk is not the greatest European player of all-time — that honor will be forever debated between Arvydas Sabonis and Nets legend Drazen Petrovic — he is unquestionably the greatest NBA player from Europe.
Nowitzki was also one of the forerunners of the modern stretch big, a 7-footer who could face up a defense from behind the arc and make them pay.
Nowitzki is 11th all-time with 1,952 career 3-pointers and has a puncher’s chance of cracking the top 10 if he can catch Joe Johnson‘s total of 1,978.
Not surprisingly, he is the highest-ranked big on that list, almost 200 clear of Rashard Lewis, who is 16th all-time with 1,787 3s.
He became the first Euro player to be named NBA MVP when he won it in 2006-07. He is a 12-time All-NBA selection, named as one of the NBA’s 15 best players each season from 2000-01 through 2011-12.
More than that, he became the first foreign face of a franchise. Dirk Nowitzki is the Dallas Mavericks. He led them to their only two NBA Finals appearances and was Finals MVP when he carried Dallas to its lone NBA title in 2011.
He even gave fans a thrill last month. After being named to his 14th All-Star appearance as a special selection by Commissioner Adam Silver along with Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, Nowitzki turned back the clock with three straight deep 3s before checking out.
It is widely believed Nowitzki was on his final run, but last week he told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon he might want one more year.
"“I’d love to be there for the young guys one more year, but I think it depends on how the body feels. I’ve had some issues, obviously, this year. I had some knee swelling here in the last few weeks, actually before the All-Star break, so it’s not all great. But like I said, I am feeling better. I am feeling a little stronger.”"
Nowitzki has set an NBA record for the most seasons with a single franchise and this season moved into a tie with Robert Parish, Kevin Willis, Kevin Garnett and the aforementioned Carter for the all-time lead in seasons played with 21. Abdul-Jabbar and Bryant are the only others with at least 20.
If it’s not the end for Nowitzki, great. But if it is, he deserves a warm send-off from Brooklyn as a player who changed the way the game is played.