As we’re slowly reaching the end of the sports internet, it’s nice to come across a sensible list which reaches a conclusion I firmly agree with. The NBA’s currently in it’s 74th year so ESPN is ranking the top 74 players in league history. Today’s list ranked the 40th to 11th best players.
ESPN’s expert panel ranked Dirk Nowitzki the 19th best player in league history. He’s a game changer, we all know that. But perhaps more importantly for bragging rights, Dirk is listed ahead of Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade, and Charles Barkley. He winds up behind Kevin Durant, Julius Irving, and Moses Malone.
Perhaps my only real beef with the list is that he’s ranked behind Karl Malone, who is two spots higher at 17. Malone had three trips to the finals, with no wins, and a partner in crime for most of his career in John Stockton (who’s also on the list at 28th) who helped him end up second on the all-time NBA scoring list.
Dirk Nowitzki is better than Karl Malone and had a better career with less talent around him. There’s a reasonable debate that Malone might not have been the best player on his own team for most of his career.
In the end, the specific ranking doesn’t matter. At the moment, those with taste and appreciation for the game have the best player in Maverick history as a top 20 player all time. Considering the debates and discussions which took place during Dirk’s prime, it’s great he’s in the discussion.
As time goes on, it will be interesting to watch Dirk’s legacy and how it changes. I suspect that he may fall some in the rankings, which are arbitrary, but his influence will grow. Nowitzki played in three distinct eras of basketball: the end of the 90’s and the low post, the opening of the lane when the hand check was removed, and the dawn of small-ball in the early 2010s. He changed how teams think about an entire position and the value of the long ball from all positions on the floor.
Dirk Nowitzki is one of the greatest players of all time and writing that will never get old.