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Dirk Nowitzki jersey retirement: The best moments of the Mavericks legend’s career

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On Jan. 5, the Mavericks will honor Dirk Nowitzki by retiring his No. 41 jersey.

The No. 9 pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, Nowitzki spent 21 seasons with the Mavericks. He earned 14 All-Star selections during his career, as well as 12 All-NBA selections, one MVP award, one championship and one Finals MVP award.

Nowitzki retired at the end of the 2018-19 season. He was recently named to the NBA 75 team.

Ahead of his jersey retirement, members of The Sporting News staff hop in a time machine to relive the greatest moments of Nowitzki’s NBA career.

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): It’s the 2011 NBA Finals run, but since you’re expecting that answer, I’m going to go in a different direction. 

Let’s go back to Dec. 2, 2004.

The Mavericks are set to host an early-season matchup with the Rockets, who entered the season as one of the most interesting teams in the league. Not only was Yao Ming entering his third season, but the franchise acquired some two-time scoring champion by the name of Tracy McGrady in the offseason.

The Rockets had gotten the season off to a slow start, so this was a good opportunity for them to get on track by taking down a Mavericks team that was a lock to win 50 games a season at this point. Yao had a rough outing, but McGrady did his thing, going off for 48 points, nine assists and nine rebounds.

The problem? Dirk one-upped him, going for 53 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. He saved his best for last, opening the extra period with a personal 10-0 run that all but decided the outcome.

If you haven’t watched the game before or even seen the highlights, feast your eyes on two of the most effortless scorers we’ve ever seen exchange bucket after bucket after bucket after bucket in a highly competitive contest.

Just an all-time duel from two all-time greats.

Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): As Scott said, the 2011 Finals run is the apex of Dirk’s career, but the moment that stands out above all is his “Fever Game” performance in Game 4 against the Heat. 

With the Mavericks trailing in the series 2-1, facing the newly formed voltron of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, their season was on the line in Game 4 and Nowitzki was far from his best, battling a 101-degree fever due to a sinus infection.

He hadn’t slept the night before and missed the morning shootaround, but he went on to deliver one of the signature performances of his career.

Nowitzki made three of his first five shots and then missed eight of his next nine. Through three quarters, he had managed just 11 points and only 4-of-13 from the field.

But when his team needed him most, he stepped up in the biggest moment of the game. With 16 seconds to go and the Mavs leading by one, he went right on Udonis Haslem for the layup and put the Mavs up 86-83 with 6.7 seconds to go. The Mavs would hold on for the win and wouldn’t lose another game in the series, going on to beat the Heat in six games to be crowned NBA champions.

“He’s one of the greatest ever,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said after the game. “He wants the ball and he wants the responsibility of winning and losing the game.”

Nowitzki has hit bigger shots, including the game-winner in Game 2 of that series, but the context of the series score, his illness and how things played out from there makes this one extra special.

This was the game that confirmed Dirk really is that dude. 

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Safe to say we all have a special spot for Dirk’s performance during the Mavs’ title run in 2011. I’d like to add that I get chills every time I watch Dirk walk off the floor during the final seconds of Game 6 of the 2011 Finals as it sets in that he’d finally led his team to the ultimate goal. It’s the perfect example of the passion with which he always played, which is what I’ll forever remember him by.

That said, I’m gonna take it back to 2016 when a 37-year-old Dirk drained a game-winner over Julius Randle to lift the Mavs past the Lakers at the Staples Center.

There are so many awesome things about this play.

Of course, you have to start by acknowledging the mutual respect shown between an inactive Kobe Bryant and Dirk, who were Western Conference adversaries in three different decades. Now, run it back and you’ll notice something different every time.

You’ve got Roy Hibbert hyping up Randle on defense, Mavs’ color analyst Derek Harper saying “let’s get out of here” before the ball even leaves Dirk’s hands, 19-year-old rookie D’Angelo Russell snarling in awestruck approval and 32-year-old rookie Marcelo Huertas’ reaction is just as noteworthy.

Dirk was never afraid of the moment, even in the later stages of his career. I’ll always look back at this moment as the perfect example of that.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Like Scott, Benyam and Gil, I’m going to give the 2011 NBA Finals run a mention but go in a different direction because it’s too obvious. But before I do that, I want to highlight that I feel like it gets forgotten that Nowitzki shot 94.1 percent (175-for-186) from the free throw line during that run, including a near-perfect 45-for-46 in the NBA Finals.

That brings me to my answer: Nowitzki’s 2006-07 season where he took home NBA MVP and joined the 50-40-90 club in the process.

Nowitzki led the Mavericks to a 60-win season the year prior but his former teammate Steve Nash took home the MVP hardware. In 2006-07, Nowitzki came back to lead the Mavericks to an NBA-best 67-win season, averaging 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game while shooting a jaw-dropping 50.2 percent from the field, 41.6 percent from 3 and 90.4 percent from the free throw line.

At the time, he was just the sixth player in NBA history to achieve the feat and to this day, he is still the only 7-footer in the prestigious club (that is, depending on if you believe Kevin Durant is under 7-feet).

The season didn’t have a storybook ending with the Mavericks getting upset in the first round by the We Believe Warriors, but it is still one of the most remarkable shooting seasons by a big man in NBA history. It was a defining moment in Nowitzki’s legacy as one of the purest shooters the game has ever seen.





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