30 Players in 30 Days: An Oral History of Dirk Nowitzki


So many previews… so little time.

The NBA season kicks off on Tuesday, Oct. 25… or roughly 100 hours from the time I finished this sentence. If you’ve been counting, you’ll know that we’re up to No. 14 on the list. Also, if you’ve been following this list from the beginning, you know that the list’s order is based upon the team’s predicted order of finish… not by that particular player’s skill. Hopefully by now it’s obvious, but I just wanted to re-state that just in case rando Russell Westbrook fan gets ornery about Dirk Nowitzki being “ranked” above him.

That said, I’m sure I’ll hear that I have the Mavs ranked way too high. My whole thing is this: how can you EVER bet against a team that has Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle?

My Fave Video

I’ll circle back to the video in a minute, but first, let me give you an oral history of my time as a Nowitzki fan.

May 13, 2002 (Justin Age 19)

Just goes to show you that sometimes Charles Barkley is right. Who would have thought some tall, goofy-looking seven-foot jump-shooter would revolutionize the NBA? Even though the Mavs got smoked by the Sacramento Kings in the playoffs, the future looks bright. They just have to find a way to play better defense collectively.

Welp, time to go do some shrooms and play basketball at the gym.

June 20, 2006 (Justin Age 23)

I’m trying not to wake my six-month-old daughter, but…


I’m never going to hear the end of how Dirk choked… yet we’re going to just ignore how one-sided this ENTIRE series was officiated.

It’d probably be easier to see if HD TV’s were more prevalent, but damnit. I hope it comes out one day about how refs have their own self interests in mind.

May 5, 2007 (Justin Age 25)

As much as I love Dirk, I’m starting to think he doesn’t have the temperament to be an alpha dog on a championship team. I just watched the Mavs become the first top seed in NBA history to lose an eight seed. I have no doubt that the Mavs were the better team… but they definitely weren’t tougher than the “We Believe” Warriors, and that has to fall on No. 41.

It’s not like he’s getting any younger. At 28, he may just be who he is. He may have won the NBA MVP, but he looked like the fifth best player in this series.

June 12, 2011 (Justin Age 29)

As a spectator, no sporting event has ever brought to tears. But watching Dirk attempt to hold it all together after beating LeBron JamesDwyane Wade and the heavily-favored Miami Heat? I turned into Stephon Marbury.

In all of my years watching basketball, I’d seen legendary players put teams on their backs. But, without bias, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of them do it better than Nowitzki in these playoffs. As amazing as 28 and eight on 48-46-94 splits look, you can’t measure his impact by the numbers.

Save for the 2004 Detroit Pistons—and even THEY had four top 20 guys—I can’t think of a team in NBA history with so much of a quality drop from their first to their second guy (no disrespect to Jason Terry). Not just that, but he more or less single-handedly eviscerated three of the top 15 guys (including two of the top FIVE) during that six-game series.

Not only that, he shut up every single last doubter (myself included) that said he couldn’t win when it counted.

To examine Dirk’s evolution, look at the video at the top of the page. He’ll be remembered first and foremost as the best shooting big man of all-time, but it’s the little things he did to help the Mavs miraculously win Game 2 on the road. He was able to pass effectively out of the double-team to find Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. Not known for his defense, he had a magnificent close-out against James, then had the awareness to sprint down the floor and catch a trailing pass from Shawn Marion and finish a running, off-hand lay-up.

But maybe what impressed me the most was the final play. Since his first game in the NBA, he’d listened to whispers about how he was soft. How he shied away from contact. How he couldn’t be trusted in the clutch.

Nowitzki, struggling with his shot the entire game due to a hand injury, took the ball to the rim and iced the game… using his injured hand.

As a Mavs’ fan… as a Nowitzki fan… as a basketball fan… I’ll never forget today.

Oct. 22, 2016 (Justin Age 34)

It’s not Dirk’s fault that the Mavs free agency failures haven’t allowed him to effectively slide into the background. He’s 38 now, and even though he can barely run up the floor anymore, he somehow averaged 18 a game in 15–16.

Our (and I say “our” because, like Nowitzki, I’ve remained loyal despite the mediocrity) roster doesn’t look like much. Yet, I guarantee you they’ll be right there in the six to eight spot, possibly higher if Harrison Barnes breaks out or Seth Curry can play like 20% of his brother.

I leave you with this, hoop fans. Cherish the days your team wins a title. Even if it never happens again, it’ll be a moment you’ll never forget.

Reminder: tune in tomorrow for the live, video version of our podcast. Big Hak and I will discuss Western Conference win totals and, judging by last week, a whole lot more.


30. Jeremy Lin, Brooklyn Nets

29. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

28. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

27. Tyler Johnson, Miami Heat

26. Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets

25. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

24. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

23. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

22. Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic

21. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

20. Zach Lavine, Minnesota Timberwolves

19. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

18. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

17. James Harden, Houston Rockets

16. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

15. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder



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