It’s been one hell of a week in NBA circles. Players signing deals for dollar amounts that even the biggest stars in Hollywood might have trouble wrapping their minds around. Front office members working phones and flying to meetings more than any Fortune 500 company executives could even fathom. Twitter timelines exploding like the fireworks popping across the open sky on Independence Day. The biggest stories of the week, however, are undoubtedly the departures of Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dwyane Wade from the Miami Heat.
Two men who represented their respective cities more than any other individuals could claim to in this new millennium, spurning the organizations that are synonymous with the illustrious careers they’ve developed.
Durant, one win or perhaps just one strong 4th quarter performance away from his second NBA Finals less than six weeks ago, left the only organization he’s ever known for an opportunity with the Golden State Warriors that he thinks offers the best chance for his “personal growth.” With the move, Durant sacrifices a chance to have a legacy that he’ll never come close to obtaining as a member of the “Splash Family” in the Bay Area.
After playing his rookie year in Seattle with the Sonics, the organization moved to Oklahoma City in 2008 and Durant was immediately the face of not only an NBA team, but an entire state. Whether it be from his accomplishments on the court, ranging from the 2012 Finals appearance, his 2014 MVP award, or his involvement in the close-knit Oklahoma City area during the tragic Moore tornado disaster, an entire community viewed Durant as their maturing son who gave them the hope and relevance they’d never felt before.
That city’s beloved son wants to spread his wings and simply fly somewhere else.
Dwyane Wade is the face of one of the more high profile cities in this country. Since arriving in Miami as a rookie in 2003, the man known as “Flash” has always been in the spotlight. Whether it be playing off of Shaquille O’Neal in his early years, as part of the polarizing “Big Three” or as the accomplished veteran who simply is Mr. Heat, Wade has been there for nearly all the major moments in the organization’s history.
After 13 years and apparently one too many instances of financial disrespect from team president Pat Riley, Wade has had enough and is leaving his Miami legacy behind for an opportunity to play for the Chicago Bulls. The Heat offered 2 year and $40 million. The Bulls offered 2 years and $47 million. You probably can’t put a price on loyalty or your legacy in a city, but for Wade it’s approximately seven million dollars. The man with the 16th highest career earnings in NBA history, left behind his home for a fraction of what he might make in a year based on his on and off the court earnings.
Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki signed a contract with the Dallas Mavericks that, if played through its entirety, will give him twenty years with the organization. How many NBA players have spent twenty years with one organization? That would be just the recently-retired Kobe Bryant with the Lakers. How many people have been with one organization for the 18 years that Dirk has already been with Dallas? Just Hall of Famers Reggie Miller with the Indiana Pacers and John Stockton with the Utah Jazz.
It’s not like Dirk didn’t have a good reason to leave. The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series in the last five seasons. They’ve struggled to crack the top four seeds in the Western Conference standings that were so routine to them during the first decade of the century. Prior to the 2 year, $40 million deal Nowitzki reportedly agreed to this week, he had taken well below the maximum salary he could’ve made in the last six years. Back in the summer of 2010, he agreed to a 4 year, $80 million deal when he could’ve received $96 million. In the summer of 2014, he took a ridiculous pay cut, 3 years for $25 million, in order to free up cap space for the Mavs to be able to lure free agents. Last season, he was the THIRD highest paid player on the team behind Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons. Nowitzki’s salary of $8.33 million was roughly half of the salaries of Parsons and Matthews. What did he get for taking the pay cuts? It’s tough to say because he’s still far and away the best player on the team at the ripe age of 38.
Still on top of his game, averaging over 18 points per game and even dropping 40 points in a March matchup with Portland, Nowitzki would be welcome by any team on the doorstep of a championship. You don’t think the Cavaliers, fresh off winning their first championship, would swap Kevin Love for Dirk right now? Think again. If Durant had stayed in OKC, don’t you think he would’ve welcomed Nowitzki in place of Serge Ibaka (before he was traded, obviously)? Without a doubt. Unfortunately for contenders, Dirk just isn’t interested in playing anywhere else.
Dallas is Dirk as much as Dirk is Dallas. When he came here as an awkward 20 year-old back in 1998, he was merely an oversized boy. Through nearly two decades as the face of a franchise and an iconic city, he’s become a man whose impact on the game of basketball will never be forgotten not only in DFW, but around the world.
I don’t know Dallas Mavericks basketball without Dirk Nowitzki. Frankly, I’m afraid of how I’ll feel when the time comes when I’ll have to get acquainted with Mavs fandom sans Dirk. Becoming basketball conscious like I did back in early 2002 as a 9 year-old, I’ve never experienced my favorite team finishing below .500. I’ve only seen them miss the playoffs one time. The first basketball player I ever got to call my favorite is going to end up being a top five all-time scorer in the history of the National Basketball Association. How many people around the country can say that? It’s only begun to hit me the last few years that I’ve been witnessing history every time I’ve watched my team play the last fourteen years.
I was five when the Mavericks acquired Dirk in that draft day deal with the Milwaukee Bucks back in June 1998. When it’s all said and done in likely two years, I’ll be able to say that my favorite player was with my favorite team from when I was six to when I was twenty-five.
When I was learning multiplication and division in grade school, Dirk Nowitzki was the face of the Mavs.
When I went through the awkward stages of puberty and adolescence, Dirk Nowitzki was the face of the Mavs.
When I graduated high school, Dirk Nowitzki was the face of the Mavs.
When I graduated college, Dirk Nowitzki was the face of the Mavs.
When I got married, Dirk Nowitzki was the face of the Mavs.
And when my first son is born in less than a month, Dirk Nowitzki will be the face of the Mavs.
The man has been there leading this team through essentially all of the major events in my life. I’m not the only one who can claim this, there is an entire generation of Mavs fans feeling the same way. It’s important that we realize one thing:
This people of this city will never be fortunate enough to have a player, athlete or even person like this ever again.
There will be seven footers who step on the court in a Mavs uniform after him, but none will change the game like he has with his outside shooting that is so mandatory for a big man’s game these days.
There will be athletes, not many, who spend a decade-plus with a team in the DFW area and perhaps bring a championship or more to the region, but none will make it to the immortal two decade mark like Nowitzki.
Most importantly, there will never be an athlete so committed to reaching the ultimate goals for this city. That’s what makes Nowitzki’s tenure so admirable: he’s so committed to the city of Dallas.
Perhaps that’s what we need to appreciate the most. Not the fade away jumpers, the placing of the mouth guard in the sweaty sock during every stoppage of play, or the nearly 30,000 career points. The thing Dallas needs to appreciate over these final couple of years with Dirk: he’s still here because he wants to be. He loves us as much as we love him.
We’ve been there for all of his growing moments just like he’s been a part of the Mavs during ours. We’ve seen him go from drinking and having fun off the court with Steve Nash to his new life as a loving father and husband. When he was being labeled as “soft” and “irk Nowitzki”, it was the MFFL’s who kept cheering all the way until he hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy on that center court platform in Miami back in June 2011.
Dirk Nowitzki’s basketball fairy tale will end where it began: as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Be thankful, Dallas. I know I am. In an age where there’s a superstar leaving his original franchise every summer, it’s more important than ever to appreciate and celebrate one who has been sporting your team’s jersey for the last eighteen years.
They say you never know what you have until it’s gone. Let’s all realize one thing over these next two years: there will never be another Dirk Nowitzki.
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