Well, it’s finally over.
The Dallas Mavericks wrap up the 2018-19 season with a 105-94 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, but the story of the game is obviously that Wednesday night marks the end of a brilliant, Hall of Fame career for Dirk Nowitzki, the greatest Dallas Maverick.
Tuesday night saw Dirk get a proper sendoff at home, on an incredible night filled with memorable moments and an epic post-game display that featured fireworks, speeches from fellow NBA legends, and an emotional farewell from the man himself. However, the season wasn’t over just yet, as Dirk and Dallas still had to take on the rival Spurs in San Antonio.
Credit to the Spurs — a classy organization if there’s ever been one — who gave Dirk a video tribute before the game that brought the 40 year old German (and all of us) to tears.
It feels almost trite to analyze this game the way we have so many others, but let’s get this out of the way and dig in to some other storylines real fast:
MAVERICKS AUDITIONING FOR ROLES ON NEXT YEAR’S TEAM
It’s obviously way too early to get into who will be a contributor on the 2019-20 Mavs, but there were a few players under contract for next season that showed out on the final night, and it will be interesting to see what happens this summer as far as roster construction goes. Rookie Jalen Brunson got the start after coming off the bench last game, and finished his season strong with an 11 point-10 assist double-double. Brunson was a major story for Dallas post-All Star Break. He may not be a full-time starter going forward, but he looks like a solid bet to enjoy a long career as at least a quality backup.
Justin Jackson has also played well in the aftermath of the trade deadline. The former King seized an opportunity on a depleted roster and ran with it, and ended his season with a 14 point performance on 6-9 shooting. My thought at the time of the Barnes trade was that it was a 50-50 proposition that he’d even be on the team next season, but he seems to have played well enough to increase those odds somewhat, though how large a role he’ll have — if any — remains to be seen.
Courtney Lee was one of the veterans who came over in the Porzingis trade, and was surprisingly not a factor for most of the last few months. He’s apparently dealt with some injuries that may have contributed to that lack of PT, but in the final few games of the season, Lee has got more burn, and performed well. With a sizable cap hold, Lee may have to stick around one way or another, and as an experienced player who offers shooting prowess(especially from the corners), that may not be such a bad thing. Lee finished with 14 as well, also on 6-9 shooting.
DIRK’S FINAL NIGHT WAS SPECIAL BEYOND WORDS
There have been more than a few well-written sendoffs for Dirk, both on this site and elsewhere, and I encourage you to read those. I don’t have much new to add in the way of insight or anecdotes, but I’ll try to at least give some thoughts about what this player has meant to me, the city of Dallas, and the sport of basketball as a whole.
Dirk Nowitzki entered the league centuries ago, in the year 1999. Who even remembers what they were doing all that time ago — I certainly don’t. I know that back then, the Dallas Mavericks were a bottom-tier NBA franchise, and that as a young basketball fan who had watched exactly zero international games, I had no idea who Dirk was or what to expect from him as a professional. In the early days of his career, Dallas was beginning a slow ascent from out of the league’s cellar into actual contention, led by Michael Finley. Finley was initially my favorite Mav, since he’d arrived on the scene first and was the defacto leader for those first few seasons.
Eventually, it became clear that Dirk was the special one — a unique force of a player who challenged fans to change their perceptions of what greatness looked like and how the game should be played. It’s easy to say that Dirk redefined how big men played but if you weren’t old enough to see it unfold you might not appreciate what it meant as it actually happened. Dirk was hit with every old-timey cliche you could imagine as he entered his prime: the dreaded “soft” label followed him for years. Ex-players, fans, TV basketball pundits called him a “finesse” player and questioned his toughness and grit on the grounds that he didn’t play on the block as so many power forwards did before him.
Now, of course, that all seems silly. Dirk’s legend has been cemented thanks to a championship and inumerable All-Star appearances, but this path was hardly assured. It took countless hours of practice and hard work for Dirk to become the player he was, and he didn’t win over believers quickly, I can assure you. For longer than most know he was considered a choke artist, known primarily for the epic defeat at the hands of the eighth seed Golden State Warriors in the 2007 NBA playoffs. That was Dirk’s legacy, seemingly forever. Until it wasn’t.
True fans know of course that Dirk was always clutch. Always an incredible big game performer, who now leaves the game with career playoff averages of 25-10. Even before that amazing 2011 run, I’ll forever remember the incredible 2006 playoffs, when Dirk defeated these same San Antonio Spurs in a decisive game 7, hitting an improbable and-one layup to send the game into overtime, where Dallas would pull off the road upset en route to the franchise’s first ever Finals appearance.
There are more memories of course; more than I could list in one sitting. Those memories will last me a lifetime. I’m sad that we won’t get a chance to see Dirk add to that list, but it has been an unbelievable ride and at the end of the day I wouldn’t change a thing. Dirk Nowitzki is a unique man, and a unique player, and there will never be another like him. Thank you Dirk. For everything. We love you. We’ll miss you.