We watched him on TV sets in Germany and across the basketball world, no doubt, and in barrooms and living rooms across America, and during a halftime break in the dining room during a halftime break in Tuesday's Texas Legends game in Frisco ...
And through the watchful eye of Holger Geschwindner, sitting almost in hiding in the middle of the AAC ...
... We watched a moment that was -- Dirk Nowitzki's own word here -- "surreal.''
Nowitzki, the 19-year veteran and godfather of DFW sports, sitting just a few feet away from us and sitting just 20 points away from the exclusive 30,000-Point Club— A club that just five other players have been able to join in their careers. It could be argued that those five players (Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), are five of the seven greatest players to ever play the game at the professional level.
Coming into the night, most of us covering the game believed The UberMan would come close to reaching 30,000 by the end of the game, or possibly even pass over the barrier if he was lucky ... and if WE were lucky ... but that maybe he would ultimately fall short and have to wait one more night.
None of us were being critical of the guy, rather, quite the opposite. For me at least, it became a question of what was more important to the Mavericks right now. Was it continuing their playoff push by pounding the lowly LA Lakers? Or was it getting Dirk to his milestone?
The obvious answer there, and Dirk would even tell you this himself, was simply getting the win and inching closer to the eight spot in the playoff race. The 30K was inevitable. The playoffs are a cage match with oh-so-many fighters.
Of course, even at the ripe old age of 38, Dirk continues to make a career out of turning naysayers, critics and doubters into fools, as well continuing to surprise the lifelong admirers like us on any given night.
So why not one more time? Why not win the game and take down that milestone? Iin typical Dirk "Make Love To Pressure'' fashion, that is exactly what happened.
“Today, it was kind of like the mindset, ‘Hey, go for it,''' he said afterward. "A lot of playcalls were coming my way early, and guys kept finding me in good spots. And I just said, ‘You got to let it ride. You’ve got to go for it. And I was able to get hot really early, and that helped to get it out of the way.”
The Big German exploded for 18 points in the first quarter, setting the American Airlines Center on fire, and putting himself just two points away from 30,000. Then, with 10:57 to go in the second quarter it happened.
Devin Harris fed the ball to Dirk 15 feet from the basket, and he hit a jumper over Larry Nance Jr., cementing his spot among the NBA’s greatest.
But he wasn't done there.
Just over a minute later, Nowitzki hit three from the top of the key, officially sending him up and over 30,000 points. Dirk would finish the game with 25 points and 11 rebounds, and shooting 9-13 from the floor in just 24 minutes, in the 122-111 win.
“It felt amazing,” said Nowitzki. “Leading up to it, obviously, with every basket I felt the buzz in the crowd. And in the second quarter, sitting on 18 (points), the first play was called, and I just remember walking out and everybody had already gotten up. So, I got a little nervous and I hoisted an airball. But I was able to regroup and make the next shot.”
We have been lucky enough to live in DFW, and watch the Mavericks for the last 19 years of our lives. We’ve been even luckier to cover him professionally over the last two-plus years (Thanks, Fish).
Over that time, we have seen Dirk win a league MVP, make the finals twice, and win it once. We have seen him transform from a skinny European with a nice jump shot, to a dominant offensive force, to the unquestioned leader of a professional sports franchise, and into the most beloved figure in the history of DFW sports.
“For me, this was a 13-minute-and-two-second microcosm of one of the greatest careers in the history of this game” said coach Rick Carlisle. “Watching Dirk the last couple of days, there was no doubt that this was going to happen tonight. Our guys did an amazing job early in the game of finding him. L.A. was mixing up coverages, trying to keep it a little confusing. But our guys just kept moving it and finding him, and the shotmaking was absolutely breathtaking.”
For us personally, nothing in that time, maybe even including the breakthrough 2011 championship win, has come close to this. Not only does it put him among the pantheon of the greatest scorers this game has ever seen, but it legitimizes him in our eyes as one of the 10 greatest players in NBA history.
His kind of success is something that we rarely get the privilege to see as sports fans, and as of right now, there might only be one active player who can join his elite company, LeBron James.
And as it turns out, LeBron had some nice things to say about Dirk following the milestone moment.
Dirk's One-Legged Euro Fade-Away, and his ability to stretch the floor as a 7-foot big man transformed the NBA as we know it. Sure, there have been other players of his size who could shoot, but Dirk is without question the stud of that group.
He has paved the way for guys like Kevin Love, Kristaps Porzingis, and LaMarcus Aldridge to transform their game into the dominant forces that they are. But he has also enabled lesser talented guys like Ryan Anderson, Andrea Bargnani and Channing Frye, among others, to carve out a successful role in today’s NBA.
That’s greatness, and that’s why we as NBA fans, watch the game.
It is not, of course, why Dirk plays the game.
“I’m happy we’re winning games. That’s the No. 1 thing for me right now,” Dirk said from the postgame podium. “We’re still trying to make this playoff push and we’re playing well, so the main thing is we won the game and it we happened early. Leading up to it, it hasn’t been a lot of great scoring nights. It was a couple of off-shooting nights, and it’s been a little slow there. But this was perfect.”
There was, of course, an entire game enveloped around Dirk's moment here. Check out the highlight reel (we give you the long version here as this night is time-capsule stuff) ...
Mavs owner Mark Cuban was elated with Dirk and happy to declare, "I'm not ready to say we're a good team, but I'm ready to say we're not a 'shit team' anymore." In a way, maybe Dallas can never be a 'shit team' as long as Dirk is around it. His presence is that special ... and his appreciation for our appreciation is kind of special, too.
"Thank you, guys," Nowitzki said to the fans in a postgame interview that was broadcast throughout the AAC. "It's been a crazy ride, with a lot of ups and a lot of downs, but you guys hung in there with me."
Rick Carlisle says there just aren't enough accolades, there just aren't enough words, for Dirk Nowitzki.
"There will never be another guy like this,'' the coach notes, and we must say, we're fine with that.
Because the one we have is plenty incredible enough.