On March 7, 2017, the Dallas Mavericks were playing the Los Angeles Lakers at home with Dirk Nowitzki needing 20 points to become the sixth player in NBA history to reach the 30,000-point milestone. Then this happened:
It only took Dirk a minute into the second quarter of that game to get his 20 points and make history in the most vintage-Dirk way possible. Despite seeing his minutes and production drop last season, for at least one night we got to witness the Mavericks legend put on a performance that was reminiscent of his dominant 2011 playoff run. It was incredible, and re-watching the footage brings back the same warm and fuzzy feelings we felt that night.
If the Big German does decide to come back next year for an NBA record-tying 21st season, which is seeming more and more likely, there is a very good chance that he will pass current No. 5 Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list. This would be another incredible accomplishment for Nowitzki. The only question is whether he’ll actually be No. 5 when he does.
Less than a year after Dirk reached 30,000 career points, LeBron James is only seven points away from that milestone in FIVE fewer seasons. That is an insane fact. Say what you want to about James’ 3-5 record in the NBA Finals, but the man’s greatness is undeniable.
Who will catch Wilt first?
Here’s the math: as it currently stands, Nowitzki has 30,829 career points, while James is sitting at 29,993. This means that Nowitzki needs 591 points to pass Wilt Chamberlain for fifth place, while James needs 1,427. So far this season, neither player has missed a game, and James is outscoring Nowitzki 1,206 points to 569.
If both James (who averages 26.8 points per game) and Nowitzki (12.4 PPG) keep up their scoring paces for the remainder of this season without missing a game, James would only trail Nowitzki by 290 points, and Nowitzki would trail Chamberlain by 144 points. So, as you can see, this could definitely come down to the wire, but it’s safe to assume that James won’t pass up Nowitzki this season.
If the Mavs eventually commit to tanking this season, or the Cavs begin resting their players in preparation of a playoff run, Nowitzki and James may not continue to play in every game for the rest of the season. And one player missing several games more than the other could determine who catches Wilt first.
My prediction? Barring an unfortunate injury, or the Mavericks simply opting to rest Nowitzki down the stretch, I believe that vintage nights like the one below will propel Dirk to a brief stay at No. 5 on the all-time scoring list before James inevitably catches him.
It’s been an incredible ride for Dirk and the Mavericks, and fortunately for all of us, it’s not over just yet. Whether or not Dirk reaches No. 5 before LeBron, the fact that he’s in the running for the spot and will potentially pass a legend like Wilt Chamberlain is reason enough for celebration. Even when LeBron passes Dirk in career points, Dirk can always find some comfort in the stat that really matters most, at least to MFFL — Nowitzki is 1-0 against LeBron in the NBA Finals, thanks to a six-game series in 2011 that showcased his grit, resilience and greatness.
No matter how this race plays out, we should acknowledge the greatness of both of these players and enjoy watching them play basketball while we still can.