I am a life long fan of the Utah Jazz. I grew up with Stockton to Malone. I have seen nearly every game the Jazz have played from around 1990 until today. I love the Jazz. I watch them, listen to podcasts and radio shows about them, read about them, and even after all of that I think about them. I am a true fan. However my favorite player in the NBA for about the last 12 years has nothing to do with the Utah Jazz. My guy is Dirk. I recognize the greatness of LeBron and the amazing abilities of Durant, but for me my favorite guy to watch play this beautiful game is the seven foot German.
The first time I really remember Dirk was him participating in the 2000 3-point contest. I knew he was in the NBA before that, but that was the first moment I really remember Dirk. I remember before the contest started that Elton Brand picked him to win the contest. I was a big Hornacek fan and he won that contest, but I just remember coming away from the contest really liking the Dirk.
Young Dirk Nowitzki Surprises at 2000 Three-Point Shootout (via Swove2204)
A little over a year later my Jazz squared up against Dirk, Finley, Nash and the young Mavs. I remember the Jazz taking the 2-0 series lead and then Dirk killed the Jazz 2 straight games in Dallas to even the series. In the final game of the series Dirk struggled, but the Mavs pulled out out the win on a Calivn Booth (I think it was his only basket of the game) basket. I was crushed. I remember thinking that was the final shot for the Stockton and Malone Jazz. As distraught as I was from the crushing defeat, I really remember coming away from that series thinking I had just witnessed the making of a star. If I could have made a bet right then I would have picked Dirk as a future Hall of Famer. He was so good and so young. I really liked the make up of the team also with Dirk, Nash, and Finley as a fun young group to build around.
A few years later when Nash went to the Suns and Finley had left to SA, I remember being amazed at well Dirk played without his two running mates. I knew Dirk was good, but without Nash and Finley, I was surprised at just how good he was. I remember pulling hard for Dirk and the Mavs in the '06 Finals. I still remember watching Wade get that phantom foul call and being as upset as I was when Jordan pushed Bryon Russell.
The next year Dirk was as good as anybody I have seen. I remember thinking it was like watching Bird in '86. He could hit from anywhere and almost single handedly won games during that '07 season. I remember having mixed feelings during that Golden State series because the Jazz were going to get the winner of that series and because I wanted no part of Dirk in the playoffs, but I also wanted Dirk to end up with a ring. Ultimately I thought after that season that Dirk was doomed for the same fate as my beloved Stockton and Malone. He would be listed with those two and Charles Barkley, Ewing, Reggie Miller, and all of those hall of famers that are on the no title list. I knew what was in store for his career at that point. I had the feeling that I had seen this movie before and it didn't end well. I am so glad I was wrong.
In 2011 I remember, like I am sure all of you do, that all of the experts had Portland taking out the Mavericks in the first round. I remember even when the Mavs were up 3-0 on the Lakers, national experts telling us all that if anyone can come back from 3-0 it would be Kobe, Phil, and the Lakers. Killing the Lakers in that game four is one of my favorite games ever. Then taking out the up and coming OKC Thunder I started to believe that this might be Dirk's year. But facing LeBron and the team that Dirk had already lost to in the finals 5 years earlier it was either too perfect or too much to overcome. Dirk brought me to believe though. He let me feel like the good guy could get a ring. I remember when Van Gundy said he went to early on his drive and shut him up by putting it in. It was a Hollywood ending to that season. I loved every minute of it. I might be a Jazz fan but I was there every step of the way and enjoyed your greatest moment more than I should have. But Dirk with his one foot fade aways and trailer spot up threes and singing "We are the Champions," made it impossible not to love that run as a basketball fan.
Now as a Jazz fan I have cheered against Dirk. I was also at a game when Harpring ticked Dirk off and got him thrown out. I have had my childhood heroes last chance in the playoffs dashed by the guy. I had reasons not to like the guy. I really don't know why I do, but I really love that Big Guy. I also love that he is still fighting and still in the playoff push. I love that he is going to retire a Maverick. I love that he is one of only 2 superstars that I know of that won a title without an All Star teammate. I love that he is still hitting one legged fade-aways and those spot up threes. I hope that if my Jazz can't get their act together and win one themselves, that Cuban can pull some magic and get Dirk the help he needs for at least one more magical run.
All that being said I will be pulling for my Jazz Wednesday night against Dirk, but I will still recognize the greatness on the opposing side. Go Jazz, but thanks Dirk for all of the memories and hope he brings us at least a few more.