It took a heartfelt display of career reflection and nostalgic chants of “M-V-P” for Dirk Nowitzki to finally say aloud what the basketball world has assumed all season.
“As you might expect,” Nowitzki told the sold-out crowd at American Airlines Center, “this was my last home game.
“This is obviously super, super emotional. Just too many people to really thank. I put you guys on a helluva ride with a lot of ups and downs, and you guys always stuck with me and supported me, so I appreciate it.”
Just like that, the best player in Mavericks history officially ended a 21-year, future Hall-of-Fame career. Nowitzki rose from an unknown foreign Draft prospect to a league MVP and NBA champion while revolutionizing the game with his combination of height and shooting touch. In doing so, he lifted Dallas from its doldrums to perennial contention and league-wide respect.
For that and much more, Mavericks fans serenaded Nowitzki with one chant just as heartfelt as the one before: “THANK YOU DIRK.” That followed messages of admiration and appreciation NBA legends in attendance. Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Shawn Kemp and countryman Detlef Schrempf spoke in honor of the player who was shown in an old video listing each of them as among those he idolized growing up in Germany.
“The only guy that was missing was MJ,” Nowitzki said, referring to Michael Jordan — the player he passed to become the oldest to score at least 30 in a game. “That was my No. 1. They brought Larry Legend. I mean, it’s, that was an emotional moment when I saw all five of them and I was in shock really.”
Nowitzki never shared his retirement plans because he didn’t want a farewell tour, but he also said he only began serious deliberations on retirement when his lower body gave him issues late in the season.
The 14-time All-Star got the farewell treatment on the road anyway, with opposing fans chanting “We want Dirk” and giving him standing ovations, and LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers stopping a game, grabbing a public address microphone and honoring Nowitzki.
It should happen again Wednesday night in San Antonio, Dallas’ season finale. Nowitzki said he gave almost all he had in the final home game but wanted to put up a few more jumpers against probably the biggest rival of his career.
During Tuesday’s ceremony, though, owner Mark Cuban had nothing but praise and fondness for Nowitzki.
“There’s no words that I could possibly say to describe how I feel what you meant to this organization, but I can make you all kinds of promises,” Cuban said.
“I’ll promise you that you have a job for life. I don’t care what you do. I’ll promise you that we’ll retire your number, not a tough decision. And I’ll promise you we will put the biggest … statue ever. And we’ll put it right in front of the arena.”
Even in the company of so many legends, the night belonged to Nowitzki, the only one among them to have scored more than 30,000 career points. The man behind that achievement and legacy, the 7-foot German said, will remain in Dallas long after his playing career ends.
“This is my new home,” Nowitzki said to a roar of approval. “I left Germany over 20 years ago and became a Texan.”
Nowitzki said he had broken down emotionally a few times in private since deciding in recent days that it was time to retire, including on the day of his final home game with his wife, Jessica Nowitzki, after putting on the suit he wore to the arena.
But the league’s 2007 MVP and 2011 NBA Finals MVP also knew how difficult the past two seasons had been physically, including missing the first 26 games of his final campaign after a longer-than-expected recovery from ankle surgery last April. Nowitzki was experiencing flare-ups in his feet and ankles late this season.
“It takes a lot at 40 to get ready every night and then with the foot pain,” Nowitzki said. “It just took a little bit of the fun away from the sport I love. I think that actually made the decision easier for me.”
The highest-scoring foreign-born player in NBA history has 31,540 points with a game left. Nowitzki eclipsed 10,000 defensive rebounds late this season — and fans who went wild nearly every time he hit a shot even cheered those moments.
The only 7-footer to win the All-Star 3-point shooting contest was the first player of his size to be a legitimate threat behind the arc. All of the game’s biggest stars say that dimension changed the game, and many of them emulated his signature one-legged fadeaway jumper – the shot he used on his final bucket at home late in the fourth quarter.
“You want to leave the game in a better place than you got it, and you’ve done that,” Kemp said during the postgame ceremony. “Not only did you bring a championship to Dallas, you are a champion.”
With one more game before his final goodbye.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.