Dirk Nowitzki's drive to the 2011 NBA Championship was the most impressive individual run that I've ever had the pleasure of supporting in my 25 years of existence (replacing Priest Holmes' 27 touchdown season). The least his blog namesake could do is scribble up a magnum opus on all things Dirk. So here goes...
"Dirk Nowitzki: The Man, The Myth, The Legend"
The Man - Dirk Nowitzki is one of the most uniquely talented, as well as spirited, athletes of all time.
Let me begin with his escape act celebration. I thought it was utterly fascinating. I'm still not sure what to make of it, other than the fact that I loved it. For starters, it was a breath of fresh air to see a champion's genuine emotions instead of watching Kobe seek out a camera so he could pump his fists and hold up fingers indicating whatever Championship he's on (it's 2 right?). But I loved the mystery of it all. There was no camera in the locker room to see him cry, ala Jordan. We're not even sure what he did back there. He said he cried, but did he just curl up into a ball? Was he all alone in the room? I believe anything up to and including him floating around the room in a full-lotused meditation is possible.
However, this wasn't even my favorite celebration moment of his from these playoffs. His Western Conference Championship walk out was a much bigger statement. There's a great chance he would've regretted not celebrating the moment with his teammates had they not win the NBA Finals right? It was the biggest proof we have that shows just what kind of mission he was on. He simply would not be denied this year.
His journey begins with his mentor, "The Godfather" Holger Geschwindner, who trained him with unorthodox (to say the least) drills, concentrating on spinning, fading, and jumping (leading to the tradition that is Dirk's pregame liftoff), as a teenager in Germany. He is the main reason Dirk is the most awkwardly dominant player in NBA history, and will forever be The Emperor to Dirk Vader.
However, The Godfather's teachings went above and beyond that of just basketball. He encouraged him to learn how to play a musical instrument (he dabbles on the gee-tar) and read literature (he's no philistine) to help him develop a well rounded personality.
And that's the beauty of Dirk, that his greatness goes so far beyond finally getting his deserved Championship. He has never been afraid to be himself. He's more into self-depracation than he is self-promotion (a line I keep repeating, but think of how rare that is in a culture like the NBA). He slouches in his chair and holds his own mic as he gives interviews (Scott Van Pelt's favorite thing in the world, ever). He gave us instant classics like "Take that witchuuu", "It's the old trick", and what might be the greatest photo roll of all time at the after party in Miami. However, it will be his Game 6 closeout face that is forever burned into my memory from 2011: The Year of Dirk.
The Myth - The idea that Dirk Nowitzki needed this NBA title to somehow validate his career, as if he wasn't great enough to get the job done before Sunday night, irks me.
However, that's not the only myth that needs to be addressed when it comes to Dirk. I think everybody needs to take a long, deep look at how they use the word "soft", because before these 2011 NBA Playoffs, you couldn't even discuss Dirk without that word getting thrown around. Despite the numbers never supporting this (mis)conception (even before this year), most people held on to the belief that Dirk couldn't get it done when it mattered.
Well, not only has Dirk obliterated that theory, but now I challenge you to come up with a player who is, in fact, more clutch (the direct opposite of soft, no?). Your first inclination might be Kobe Bryant, but the advanced statistics on the matter would laugh at you. Who else? Wade (it was fun watching him shoot free throws in 2006, but he could only dream of hitting shots as big as Dirk did this year)? Carmelo (possibly, but never has in big games)? LeBron? Mario Chalmers? (I'm only joking when I drop 1 of those 2 names). The only player I'd listen to in this argument would be Paul Pierce. That, my friends, is how a man goes from being soft to rock hard (lets see you crack a joke about that!).
Back to my original point though. Now that Dirk has officially become a champion, I feel this is the perfect time to say that the NBA severely overvalues winning titles (it took Dirk winning a title for me to not sound like a homer). They attempt to lump the world's best players into two categories - Players with a Championship and players who couldn't get it done - As if that player can control the excessive amount of variables that go into winning it all.
So if the Mavs never signed a good post counterpart for Dirk, it was somehow a fault of his? If Barea never got his game going, swinging the NBA Finals in the Mavs favor, that's on Dirk? It just never made sense to me to diminish so many great players' careers by including them on what Charles Barkley refers to as the "shit list." I say this does not invalidate a career, especially because the NBA is the hardest professional sport of all to win a Championship.
The Legend - I'm not interested in discussing where Dirk Nowitzki ranks as an all time NBA great, especially while his career is still unfolding. Top 20? Top 30? Who gives a shit?
The man should be remembered for how much unjust criticism he took (and how he handled it), how much he improved his game seemingly every year throughout his career (despite being in what should be the downside of his career), and how determined he was to win an NBA title (not to prove everybody wrong, but instead, for himself).
He should be remembered for his free throw shooting. A truly remarkable stretch when the spotlight shines bright on you, and you alone. 175-186 (94%) for the 2011 NBA Playoffs (amazingly, 7 of his 11 misses came in the Portland series). 24-24 in Game 1 of the Thunder series (an NBA record). Two separate streaks of 39 straight FT's made. 45-46 (97.8%) in the NBA Finals. We may never see anybody approach this again.
He should be remembered for denying Kobe's chance to tie Jordan with 6 Championships (for now, maybe forever) in a series that was an undeniable ass kicking.
He should be remembered for the 48 points he put up in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, an effort that many would call the most efficient shooting night in NBA Playoffs history (12-15 from the floor, 24-24 from the line - 3 missed shots total). As well as leading the Game 4 comeback in Oklahoma City, when the Mavs trailed by 15 points with 5 minutes to play, with Dirk scoring 11 of the final 12 points in the 4th quarter. And last, but not least, for his series-ending 3 that put the Mavs ahead for good in Game 5.
Perhaps, most of all, he should be remembered for his performance in the NBA Finals when he outshone two stars that had dominated the hype all season (and series) long. Despite what may have been his worst series of the Playoffs, he came up big when it mattered most (equalling Wade and Bron's 4th quarter output of 62 points) on the stage that stopped him just short of achieving his dream 5 years ago.
The Game 2 comeback and game winner - After playing 3 quarters of truly awful basketball, filled with missed shots, turnovers, and the inability to calm his nerves, Dirk was able to turn it on the 4th quarter. The Mavs erased another 4th quarter deficit with Dirk scoring the final 9 points for the Mavs. First, it was Dirk's 3 that put the Mavs up with under 30 seconds, and then his spin, hesitate, and finish with the left hand (fresh off the injured finger) over Bosh to win the game, which may be the lasting image of Dirk's playoff run. Without this win, there's little-to-no chance the Dallas Mavericks win the NBA Championship.
Game 4 "The Sick Game" - How much did Dirk have to hate life after coming down with a 102 degree fever the night before/day of the must-win Game 4 of the NBA Finals? This was the game that I will always remember because the Mavs had no business winning. Trailing throughout most of the game, and with Dirk looking more and more like Gary Busey, the Mavs were able to persevere once again. Despite Wade and Bron publicly mocking Dirk for being sick, it was Dirk that publicly humiliated them by, once again, driving to the basket to seal the Heat's fate (I think it's totally awesome that Dirk, a notorious jump shooter, drove to the basket on the two biggest plays of his career).
Game 6 Closeout - 1-12 in the first half. Without a fever to blame this time, Dirk had nobody to look at but himself if he wanted to clinch his first NBA title. Or maybe it was as simple as Terry reminding him to "Remember 06" (and they said that wasn't a motivator). Making his first shot of the 2nd half may eventually become the most undervalued shot of his career. Miss that shot, and he may never get into a Game 6 rhythm. With all other players on the floor seemingly afraid to shoot down the stretch, it was Dirk who never allowed the Heat to go on a run, carrying them to a win, a clincher, and the franchise's first NBA Championship.
Isn't that the stuff that legends are made of?
The man. The myth. The legend.