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Dirk Nowitzki’s longevity and production is unprecedented

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Dirk’s glory years are behind him, but he’s still putting up historic numbers, compared to those who’ve played as long as he has.

Memphis Grizzlies v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Dirk Nowitzki is officially returning to the Dallas Mavericks for his 21st season, and by doing so, he’s going to set the NBA record for most seasons with one franchise, passing up Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.

That record figures to stand for a very long time, not only because it seems like we see more NBA stars switching teams every day, but very rarely do you see players have careers that last more than 20 years. To put this into perspective, there are only four other players in NBA history to have played as long as Dirk has: Robert Parish, Kevin Willis, Kevin Garnett and Vince Carter. Let’s take a look at how many different teams these guys played for throughout their careers and how their final years compare to what Dirk has done.

Robert Parish

Teams played for: Golden State Warriors (1976-1980), Boston Celtics (1980-1994), Charlotte Hornets (1994-1996), Chicago Bulls (1996-1997)

Year 20 production: 3.9 PPG (49.8 FG%) 4.1 RPG and 0.4 APG in 14.7 MPG for Charlotte.

Year 21 production: 3.7 PPG (49.0 FG%) 2.1 RPG and 0.5 APG in 9.4 MPG for Chicago.

Career points: 23,334 — No. 32 All-Time

Parish’s glory years were obviously spent with the Celtics, where he played 14 seasons and averaged 16.5 points and 10.0 rebounds on 55.2-percent shooting from the field. Parish also won three NBA championships with Larry Bird and the Celtics and one championship with Michael Jordan and the Bulls in his final season. After leaving Boston, Parish completely fell of a cliff in terms of production and was merely a shell of his former self. He spent his final few years averaging far less minutes and putting up much lesser numbers than he had previously been accustomed to.

Kevin Willis

Teams played for: Atlanta Hawks (1984-1995, 2004-2005), Miami Heat (1994-1996), Golden State Warriors (1996), Houston Rockets (1996-1998, 2001-2002), Toronto Raptors (1998-2001), Denver Nuggets (2001), San Antonio Spurs (2002-2004), Dallas Mavericks (2007)

Year 20 production: 3.0 PPG (38.9 FG%) 2.6 RPG and 0.3 APG in 11.9 MPG for San Antonio.

Year 21 production: 2.4 PPG (38.5 FG%) 1.6 RPG and 0.2 APG in 8.6 MPG for Dallas.

Career points: 17,253 — No. 90 All-Time

Willis’ best years were played in Atlanta, where he averaged 14.1 points and 9.7 rebounds on 50.3-percent shooting from the field. Willis was a force on the glass, and with the help of Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb and Doc Rivers, the Hawks made the playoffs eight times in Willis’ eleven seasons played there. Willis became somewhat of a journeyman after his Hawks glory days, and even to my surprise, he spent his last season in the NBA with the Mavericks — although it was mainly a failed five-game attempt to come back out of retirement. Willis won one championship in his time in the league as a role player on the Spurs in 2003.

Kevin Garnett

Teams played for: Minnesota Timberwolves (1995-2007, 2015-2016), Boston Celtics (2007-2013), Brooklyn Nets (2013-2015)

Year 20 production: 6.9 PPG (46.7 FG%) 6.6 RPG and 1.6 APG in 20.3 MPG for Brooklyn and Minnesota.

Year 21 production: 3.2 PPG (47.0 FG%) 3.9 RPG and 1.6 APG in 14.6 MPG for Minnesota.

Career points: 26,071 — No. 20 All-Time

Garnett was an absolute stud in his first stint with the Timberwolves, averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game nine times in twelve season. Garnett won league MVP in 2004, Defensive Player of the Year and a championship with the Celtics in 2008, and he was an All-Star a total of fifteen times. That being said, things started falling apart for Garnett when he turned 36 years old. The Celtics traded him, along with Paul Pierce, to the Nets, and Garnett spent the last four years of his career being more of a role player and team mentor rather than an actual contributor. As great as Garnett was in his prime (Dirk was better, but that’s a debate for another time and place), his durability just couldn’t hold up the same way Nowitzki’s has.

Vince Carter

Teams played for: Toronto Raptors (1998-2004), New Jersey Nets (2004-2009), Orlando Magic (2009-2010), Phoenix Suns (2010-2011), Dallas Mavericks (2011-2014), Memphis Grizzlies (2014-2017), Sacramento Kings (2017-2018), Atlanta Hawks (2018-present)

Year 20 production: 5.4 PPG (40.3 FG%, 34.5 3P%), 2.6 RPG and 1.2 APG in 17.7 MPG for Sacramento.

Year 21 production: TBD

Career points: 24,868 and counting — No. 27 All-Time

“Vinsanity” erupted in Toronto, where he spent his first 7 seasons in the league, averaging 23.4 points (44.6-percent from the field), 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Carter lit up the NBA with his otherworldly dunks every chance he got, and he can still throw some down to this day. Carter has never won a championship, and the closest he’s come to one was when he played with Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson with the New Jersey Nets. Despite playing well together, the Nets just couldn't get over the hump, losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals multiple times. After becoming a journeyman, like the previous names on this list, Carter’s best moment, arguably, came during his stint with Dallas, when he hit a game-winning three-pointer to put the No. 8 seeded Mavericks on top of the No. 1 seeded Spurs, two games to one, in the first round of the 2013-2014 playoffs. Like Nowitzki, Carter is still duking it out with Father Time, but as you can tell by the numbers, Dirk is doing a better job holding him off.

Dirk Nowitzki, by comparison

Teams played for: Dallas Mavericks (1998-present)

Year 20 production: 12.0 PPG (45.6 FG%, 40.9 3P%), 5.7 RPG and 1.6 APG in 24.7 MPG

Year 21 production: TBD

Career points: 31,187 and counting — No. 6 All-Time

Nowitzki sports impressive career stats of 21.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game on 47.2-percent from the field and 38.3 percent from the three-point line. He’s won an NBA championship, a Finals MVP, a league MVP, has been an All-Star thirteen times and an All-NBA selection twelve times. Although Dirk’s prime years and overall resume are great, what he’s doing at the end of his career is just as noteworthy, because it’s unprecedented. Dirk may not put up huge averages anymore, but he hasn’t completely fallen off either in terms being able to contribute meaningful minutes to the Mavs. In fact, from the three-point line, Dirk shot the fourth-highest percentage of his entire career (40.9 percent) on the fifth-highest three-point attempts per game of his career (4.4). That is incredible if you think about it.

With Dirk going into what could be his final season, and with the decent possibility of him coming off the bench, we could potentially see a steeper decline in his numbers, similar to his peers listed above. But Dirk has continued to amaze us year after year, and if I’m betting, I’d say he’ll continue to do so until the day he walks away.