DALLAS (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki wiped a tear as his No. 41 rose slowly above the court not far from the podium where the franchise icon for the Dallas Mavericks had held it together through a 20-minute speech until it was time to thank the fans.
“I almost made it through without getting emotional,” Nowitzki said moments before the banner-raising finale of the ceremony to retire his number after his old team’s 99-82 victory over Golden State on Wednesday night. “But you guys get me every time.”
The concourse of Dirk Nowitzki’s old home arena displayed memorabilia that fans lined up to see, and waited in some cases even longer to buy his jersey. They chanted “MVP! MVP!” just about every time they saw him, live or on the video boards above the court, all night.
The Mavericks were honoring Nowitzki nearly three years after he announced his retirement on the court at the American Airlines Center after the final home game of the 2018-19 season. He played one more game at San Antonio.
The 43-year-old Nowitzki played a record 21 seasons with the same franchise, beating the late Kobe Bryant’s previous mark of 20 with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The highest-scoring foreign-born player in NBA history led the Mavericks to their only championship in 2011 and their only other NBA Finals appearance five years before that. The big German changed the game as the best 7-foot shooter from 3-point range.
Eight players from that title team, including current Mavericks coach Jason Kidd, attended the ceremony. Kidd spoke along with Commissioner Adam Silver and owner Mark Cuban, the one-time season-ticket holder who Nowitzki remembered from his first two seasons before Cuban bought the team in 2000.
“I’ve got one question,” Kidd said, setting up a nod to the COVID-19 circumstances that are leading to 10-day contracts all over the NBA as fill-ins for players sidelined by health and safety protocols. “We’re giving out 10 days. You want to come back?”
Nowitzki leaned in to his wife, Jessica, their three kids standing with them, as the banner was raised with his number, name and the years he played (1998-2019) as sparklers sprayed toward the court.
Cuban and Nowitzki’s heir apparent, 22-year-old European star Luka Doncic, wore T-shirts with a picture of the baby-faced Nowitzki from his introductory news conference after getting drafted going on 24 years ago.
That was after Doncic had scored 26 points to lead the Mavericks over Stephen Curry and the Warriors, who went into the game with the NBA’s best record and are now tied at 29-8 with Phoenix.
“A night you’ll never forget,” Doncic said. “The Warriors are one of the best teams in the world right now and we did an amazing job. And after that was even more special. To be there in the front row to see that, it was special.”
The accolades aren’t quite finished for Nowitzki, who helps the club as a consultant and has part of a street near the arena named after him. Nowitzki said during a news conference a day before the jersey retirement that he had just spent time in Chicago with the artist commissioned for a statue that will stand outside the facility.
“This is because of who you are, what you’ve done and we always want to recognize greatness,” Cuban said.
Nowitzki is sixth on the career scoring list with 31,560 points, and the 14-time All-Star also leads the Mavericks in career 3s, rebounds and blocks.
The 2007 NBA MVP and 2011 Finals MVP is the fourth Dallas player to have his number retired after Brad Davis, Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper.
Holger Geschwindner, who discovered Nowitzki in Wurzburg, Germany, and mentored him throughout his career, sat next to Nowitzki’s family, not far from Silver on one side of the lectern. Part of the Dallas symphony was on the other side.
“You’re somebody who’s been a pioneer for international players,” Silver said. “So many players on the court tonight grew up watching you. International players used to be something different in this league.”