We forget how preposterously dominant the Dallas Mavericks have been this century. Their Texas counterpart, the San Antonio Spurs, boast five championships, a 926-370 record since 2000, and of the course the winningest coach and Big Three of the era.
But really, Dirk and the Mavs aren’t far behind.
Although capturing just one league title in two appearances, Dallas has qualified for the playoffs in 15 of the last 16 seasons, accumulating the second best mark since 2000 with a profound 838-458 (0.647%) record. Unlike San Antonio, they’ve endured a slew of roster changes and obstacles in the mighty Western Conference.
For perspective, only the Heat (3), Cavaliers (1), Celtics (1), and Pistons (1) have won titles from the East in that time period. That’s a 10-6 West advantage in modern championships, meaning escaping the Western Conference is beyond difficult with just one Hall of Famer. Dirk was able to do so in 2006, and earned his title in 2011 with a thirty-seven year old Jason Kidd as his wingman. Has anyone done more with less in a championship season? Even Jack Sikma’s ’79 Sonics had six other players averaging double-figures.
Seriously, look at that 2010-2011 Mavericks roster. It’s an anomaly that can only be attributed to Dirk’s mastery of basketball, Kidd’s smarts, Chandler’s veteran leadership defensively, and Carlisle’s brilliance in the huddle – not exactly the star-studded heavy weights we’ve grown accustomed to.
My point is that Dallas’ near two-decade rule over the West is absurdly understated. They haven’t enjoyed the same consistency as the Spurs. Keeping players around is challenging. Outside of the Tyson Chandler debacle, Mark Cuban preserved both a capable supporting cast and a notable winning culture for years. And let’s be honest, who knew Steve Nash would win two MVP’s in his thirties? This all needs to be commended, and not just because Dirk hit the 30,000-point mark late Tuesday night.
Duncan is obviously number one, but where does that 30,000 point threshold leave Dirk on the all-time power forward rankings? He’s just 1,414 points away from passing Wilt Chamberlain for fifth on the career scoring list. Not to mention, the power forward position lacks the dominant history of the great point guards and centers of the game. Both Charles Barkley and Karl Malone retired ringless, and Kevin McHale would never have sniffed a championship as the number one option.
That leaves Dirk, Kevin Garnett, and Elvin Hayes with championships as the best players on their respective teams. I give the slight edge to Garnett because of his defensive supremacy and versatility. Hayes is out because the 70’s lacked competition. That leaves the great Maverick, Dirk Nowitzki, as the third greatest in his position, followed by Malone, Hayes, Barkley, and McHale in that order.
I’ll even go a step further. Malone can keep his 36,928 points – Dirk is the greatest offensive power forward the game has seen. He could create his shots from anywhere on the court, shoot with ludicrous fluidity for a big man, and was a sheer ace from the foul line. Oh, and he’s by far the number one international basketball player ever. That’s nonnegotiable.
If you missed Dirk’s milestone game Tuesday night, he was fittingly filthy from the get-go, scoring 25 points and 11 rebounds in the first 24 minutes of action, including his 30,000th point basically blindfolded.
Dirk could hang up the sneakers right now and assume a job in the Mavericks’ front office, but against all odds, he continues his crawl to the finish line. Remember when NBA experts pondered how Cuban would tank in the face of Dirk’s final years? Well, now we know. They won’t be tanking.
In typical Mavericks fashion, Carlisle has his squad peaking at the right time and contending for yet another playoff berth. Currently, Dallas sits just two games out of the playoffs with a 5-2 record since adding Noel – whereas the Pelicans are now five games out of the playoffs with a 2-5 record since adding Cousins. Yes, winning culture matters – something Nowitzki, Cuban and Carlisle are exploiting down the stretch.
We don’t have to worry about Dirk’s final moments. He won’t set the record for most field goal attempts in a games (Kobe), he won’t cost his teams victories (Kobe), and he certainly won’t put himself over the organization (not Kobe). The humble German giant will depart basketball with the same eloquent grace that his very game embodies. Hat tip to Dirk for the smoothest 30,000 points in history, as well as nineteen seasons of winning basketball and a revolutionary game style.
(Photo Credit via Keith Allison)