(AP) – The tribute officially began in 2019 with Dirk Nowitzki Way, a renamed street in Dallas to honor the greatest Mavericks player of all time. Then in January, Mavs retired his No. 41 jersey. Then in September, Germany retired the No. 14 jersey he wore for his country.
Even after scoring 30,000 points, he still wasn’t amused by all the hype.
“It was very surreal, and a little bit embarrassing for me,” Nowitzki said.
Merry Christmas, Dirk. Here comes another celebration. Two of them, in fact.
On Wednesday, he will be announced as a 2023 honors tournament nominee by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. And on Sunday, when the Mavs host the Los Angeles Lakers as part of the NBA’s Christmas Five Header, a statue of Dirk Nowitzki will be unveiled at the American Airlines Arena.
It would be the perfect and incredibly appropriate Christmas gift to come on a day when so many of the world-class superstars Nowitzki helped pave the way for – Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Maverick teammate Luka Doncic – will be featured. On the big NBA day.
“It’s been a lot of fun to watch,” Nowitzki said when asked about the continuing mark internationals are making on the game. “And along the way, if I inspire someone to pick up a basketball or if I motivate someone to work harder or dream about the NBA, of course, that humbles me… very humble. It definitely makes me proud.”
It is not a new development. The last four best players – in reverse order, Jokic, Jokic, Antetokounmpo and Antetokounmpo – from Serbia and Greece. It seems logical to think that this season’s player of the year will also be an international, with Jokic, Doncic and Embiid likely to be among the early adopters.
Entered the top five scorers in the NBA on Tuesday from five different countries – Embiid (Cameroon), Doncic (Slovenia), Shay Gilgos Alexander from Oklahoma (Canada), Antitokonmo (Greece) and Kevin Durant (USA).
This was unthinkable only a few years ago. Over 13 seasons, from 2004-05 to 2016-17, only one international has reached the top five – Nowitzki, who has finished fourth on two occasions during that time. Every other slot was taken by an American.
That’s what former commissioner David Stern wanted – and why he prioritized getting the NBA to go international.
“His vision was to make the NBA and basketball a global sport,” Commissioner Adam Silver said last weekend before the Miami-San Antonio game in Mexico City. “I started in the league in 1992, shortly before the Barcelona Olympics and the Dream Team. We’ve seen the impact of that. Now looking back 30 years, 30 years of playing games in Mexico City, it’s really happening.”
It is no coincidence that Doncic, Antetokounmo, Jocek and Embiid are getting the treatment for the Christmas game. It’s trademarks, huge draws globally, and the NBA has embraced more and more international viewers over the years.
Preceding them all, Nowitzki was a German doormat kid who was initially unsure if he wanted to come to the NBA when he was drafted and ended up making the best decision possible for himself and the Mavericks. Played three times at Christmas. Dallas went 2-1 in those games and Nowitzki averaged 27.3 points.
This year’s Christmas lineup goes something like this – first Philadelphia in New York, then the Lakers in Dallas, Milwaukee in Boston, Memphis in the defending champions Golden State, and then Phoenix in Denver at night. Some star power will be lost, with the Lakers without Anthony Davis and the Warriors without Stephen Curry. It will be LeBron James’ 17th Christmas appearance and first for the Grizzlies.
“These are the games everyone grew up watching,” James said last year when asked about Christmas.
The NBA is doing its part to make sure “everyone” can watch – like the NBA Finals, Christmas games are broadcast to more than 200 countries and territories, with commentary in more than 50 languages.
Of course, the German language will be one of them. Nowitzki’s statue depicts his famous one-legged jump, a game-changing shot. He was a unicorn when he arrived in the United States; A 7-foot player who could shoot, pass and dribble and wasn’t just a hoop guy. Now, these skills are not uncommon in big guys. It is basically required.
Again, very fitting that the statue came around at Christmas. His game was a gift. And in the way it has been imitated by so many in the past 20 years, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.
“This will be forever,” Nowitzki said. “I think that’s the thing that’s so incredible, that this statue is going to stand there, and my kids are going to grow up with it. That’s what’s really mind-boggling and so amazing about it — that this piece is really forever and will be there long after I’m gone.”