While the 2018-19 season has seen the dizzying highs of Luka-Mania and the dreadful lows of late season tanking, the overwhelming assumption has been that this is the final ride for Dirk Nowitzki -though Dirk himself has confirm this. As Charles Barkely prematurely stated in 2012 “Father Time is undefeated.” While Barkley may have jumped the gun regarding the demise of Dirk by several years, the core of his statement holds true. Eventually, the game passes everyone by, no matter their greatness or place in history. And while fans may be still be crossing their fingers, hoping against hope Dirk comes back for just one more year to play with Luka and the newly acquired Kristaps Porzingis, that wish may very well go unanswered. As such, every minute of every remaining Mavs game is its own bittersweet moment.
Knowing Dirk, his decision will likely be announced sometime mid-Summer rather than ahead of the season finale in San Antonio or in his exit interview. Because of this, the Mavs are taking every opportunity to celebrate their icon and the epitome of Mavericks basketball to err on the safe side. And so are fans across the league. Since making his season debut back in December, crowds everywhere have roared with appreciation seemingly every time Nowitzki has touched the ball. From chants of “We want Dirk!” in cities like Boston and New York, to Doc Rivers stopping a game in LA just so he could lead a standing ovation for the Big German, Dirk’s impact and the respect he’s earned are undeniable.
More recently, in his chase for Wilt Chamberlain’s spot at 6th on the NBA’s All Time Scoring list, every bucket became a game-winner. Then the moment arrived and when passed Wilt, you would’ve thought Dallas had won the NBA Finals. It was only then I realized something: I’ve never known the NBA without Dirk. And now, with no more milestones to chase, the seeming end is crystallizing before me, as it undoubtedly is for many fans.
I didn’t become a true fan of the NBA until the early 2000s. Sure, I had seen a game here and there but nothing had ever captivated me to the point of picking a favorite team or player. That all changed when my family and I moved to Dallas and I caught my first Mavericks game during the 2002-03 season.
Led by Dirk, Steve Nash and Michael Finley, Dallas roared out of the gate, winning their first 14 games that season as I watched on in amazement. Inevitably, I was drawn to Dirk. If Kristaps Porzingis is considered the Unicorn of today’s NBA then Dirk Nowitzki was the prototype. There was nothing else like him; a legit seven footer who could score from anywhere, could move and handle the ball like a guard and still throw it down on opponents when driving the lane. Everything about him was mystifying. Before I even knew it was happening, I became a MFFL.
Over the years, I’ve attended many games, both as a fan and as a member of the media. I’ve seen the good years, the bad years, and each and every single gut-wrenching moment of the Dirk era. Throughout it all, my love for the team has never wavered. Now, ahead of what may well be the final four games of Dirk’s career, a somber feeling is setting in.
With the Memphis Grizzlies scheduled to come to town for the second-to-last home game of Nowitzki’s career, I’ve decided to head to the AAC myself to say goodbye -just in case. And while it may not be the huge send off the Mavs are planning ahead of Dirk’s final home game, it’ll be the last game I’m able to attend this season.
I’ve never known the NBA without Dirk Nowitzki. I’ve never admired another professional athlete as much as I have him. In a way, despite now being nearly 30 years old, it’s kind of the closing of the final chapter of my childhood. But rather than mourn the end, I’m going to join every other Mavs fan as I drink in these final moments; the uplifting highs, the bittersweet lows and everything in between before the sun sets on the Nowitzki era and, for better or worse, a new chapter begins for Mavericks basketball.
So just in case, thank you, Dirk for all of the memories.