Dirk Nowitzki is set to enter the Hall of Fame this summer, which was a lock as early as 10 years ago. And the class he’s going in with is an astounding collection of talent—Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Becky Hammon, Gregg Popovich, and Dwyane Wade.
That last name is sure to rankle fans of the Dallas Mavericks and Nowitzki. Wade became an instant villain in Dallas back in 2006, when officials gifted him an astounding 97 free throws in the 2006 NBA Finals. The Mavericks lost that series to the Miami Heat in six games after being up 2-0, a stunning collapse some say was aided and abetted by one Bennett Salvatore (me, I’m saying it).
Things got worse in the 2011 Finals, when LeBron James and Wade were caught mocking Nowitzki’s illness in Game 4 of the series. Nowitzki, typically stoic with the media, called it “childish” at the time. The Mavericks ultimately prevailed, adding another layer of beef to Wade and Nowitzki’s complicated English Trifle of a rivalry.
Nowitzki, though, says all that is in the past. “I think there were some things said on both sides that weren’t liked by the other side, but you know what? This is 20-something years later now, almost,” Nowitzki told the Dallas Morning News. “So there’s really no hard feelings, and it’s gonna be a fun week with him.”
It’s nice that Nowitzki has reached a peaceful level of enlightenment in his relationship with Wade. As an unhinged sports fan, however, I can’t say I’m on the same path.
Did I enjoy rooting against Wade, LeBron, and the Heat from 2010-2014? Absolutely. The NBA is always better with a villain, and they played the part perfectly. Were those Heat teams one of the most athletic, electric basketball spectacles I’ve ever seen? Sure. I still think about this play once or twice a year. And did I root for Wade when he played for Team USA in the 2008 Olympics, bullying opposing teams’ guards and practically ripping the basketball out of their hands? You bet I did.
But the thing is, Nowitzki did the impossible here in Dallas. He brought the Mavericks their first championship, dragging a team of past their prime veterans to the mountaintop against a juggernaut consisting of three All-NBA players in their prime. And he did it the same way he had his entire career, grinding out buckets in the paint and in the midrange. Nowitzki was one of the best players in the NBA from 2000 to 2012, and no one outside of Dallas really knew it. Combined with his charity work in North Texas, it made him as close to royalty as Texas has.
So mocking him when he was obviously sick and playing through it is something Mavericks fans are never going to forget. Getting gifted phantom foul calls and a personal escort to the free throw line during the biggest series (up to that point) of Nowitzki’s career is something Mavericks fans will always remember, and not fondly. We’re protective of Nowitzki, because for so long his greatness went unrecognized. Now that he’s definitively put together a better career than Wade, we’ve probably eased up a bit. But we’re not going to let those slights go anytime soon.
To be fair, us fans haven’t had the chance to sit down with Wade and hash things out. Nowitzki has. They’ve been thrown together for several events toward the end of their careers, starting with the last All-Star Game they were named to as special legacy additions in 2019. Nowitzki indicated that they were able to bond a bit at a Hall of Fame event in Houston this year.
“We sat together with his family during one of the dinners, and we talked,” Nowitzki said. “And so I think it’s going to be great. I think there’s a lot of mutual respect there now. I know we’ve gone through some stuff in our careers, but at the end of the day not everybody you compete against at the highest level can be friends. It’s just not how it works.”
And honestly, that’s how it should be. I don’t need Nowitzki and Wade to be friends. It’s nice they’ve gotten to a point where they can respect each other’s games and legacies. And maybe at some point, the Dallas fans’ icy feelings toward Wade may thaw. But don’t count on it being anytime soon. The best we can do is begrudgingly accept Nowitzki’s classy acceptance of Wade.
“Obviously we’ve gone through a lot, some ups and downs,” Nowitzki said. “But at the end of the day he is one of the greatest players ever to play the game, so it’s an honor to have him in the class.”