Years ago, Dirk Nowitzki found himself sitting in the home of Dallas Mavericks team governor Mark Cuban. It was the summer of 2010 and months prior the team was eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs at the hands of their in-state rival San Antonio Spurs. A bitter defeat for a two-seed in the West trying desperately to return to the NBA Finals.
“That meeting I will never forget. I went to Mark’s house, we just sat there, and both shared emotions, shared stories from the past 11 years. We both got emotional,” Nowitzki recalled Tuesday, sitting in front of Dallas media, reflecting on a career that has led him to this week celebrating his induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Dirk was at a crossroads, and so were the Mavericks. He had made a trip to the finals, he was an MVP, while also suffering several basketball heartaches.
“Of course I wanted to finish my career here [Dallas] and make it work. But then of course there was disappointments, disappointments, disappointments. But I still always said, ‘Hey, I want to make this work’. I would love to bring a championship to the city.”
There was mutual understanding between Nowitzki and Cuban that they were devoted to the same cause. But it’s important to recall how turbulent that time was. In the four seasons since losing to the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals, the Mavericks made first round exits in three of them, and the other was a second round defeat. In the season after falling in the finals Dirk had an MVP year, averaging 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists while notching a 50-40-90 shooting mark (50.2/41.6/90.4 to be exact) while the Mavericks freight trained their way to 67 wins. And then the bottom fell out, and they were infamously dismissed by the eight-seed Golden State Warriors.
The Mavericks, and Dirk, were grasping that summer. It was make or break, and easy now to look back retrospectively and identify this sliding doors moment for the organization and the player — separately and together.
The fairy tale has been written, the Mavericks put the pieces together and soundly dismissed the two-time defending champs Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, the up and coming stars in the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the super team built in South Beach with LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and fellow 2023 Hall of Fame inductee Dwyane Wade.
But what happens if Dirk and the front office weren’t aligned that evening in 2010? Maybe they sign a shorter term deal, maybe there is trepidation, maybe Nowitzki starts getting curious about how green those other pastures are. Or what if they came up short the following summer? It is entirely possible that Dirk, who turned 33 years old during that campaign, decides the sound of the ticking clock is getting too loud and asks for a trade.
Lucky for us, and the Mavericks, none of that happened. That 12 months sealed the relationship between Dirk and Dallas.
“Once we had won the championship I knew I was going to retire here,” Dirk proclaimed Tuesday, sitting in front of a collection of local media who have spent the better part of two decades watching and covering the German star.
Every time Dirk makes an appearance now that his playing days are done, it is apparent that his connection to the city and team is unique. All but gone are the days that a player spends an entire career in one place, and rarer that they also make good on hoisting the trophy. But that special bond in Dallas was nearly broken. And as Dirk Nowitzki enters the Hall of Fame this weekend as a 21-year Maverick, how exceptional to reflect on how he got here.