Although the prestigious moment is many years away, some Basketball Hall of Fame members can’t wait until the day when Dirk Nowitzki is enshrined into their exclusive club.
They know the Dallas Mavericks’ 12-time All-Star has earned it.
Nowitzki has been the heart and soul of the Mavericks’ franchise for more than a decade. And last week he passed legendary Oscar Robertson to become the No. 10 all-time scorer in NBA history.
That milestone prompted Alonzo Mourning to praise Nowitzki for putting in the hard work that it takes to be mentioned in the same sentence with basketball’s legends.
“When he came into this league, you didn’t hear about him at all,” said Mourning, who was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame last week. “He was just a tall, lanky, white kid, European, that could shoot a little bit.
“But he is the one that pretty much defined who he is today because he kept working at it, and that just kind of speaks to his dedication on getting better as a player, and all the work that he’s put in to make himself who he is today. So I commend him for that.”
Ralph Sampson also praises Nowitzki, 35, for changing the way people view the power forward position. A “stretch four” — a term to describe a power forward with uncanny shooting abilities from the perimeter — was mainly coined because of Nowitzki’s 3-point shooting.
“He’s revolutionized the high post with his ability to spread the court, and I love to watch him play,” said Sampson, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012. “He’s developed the great footwork, a great game, and he used his ability to the fullest.
“He’s not the fastest guy that jumps the highest, but he used what he had to maximize his success and he’s done a helluva job. He’s a great player.”
Nowitzki joined the Mavericks from Wurzburg, Germany, at the age of 19 via a pre-arranged NBA Draft day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998.
And as is the case with most youngsters, there were some early bumps in the road as he tried to transition his perimeter-oriented game to what was more fashionable in the NBA.
In Nowitzki’s first game with the Mavericks, he had just two points, no rebounds and five assists and was 0-of-5 from the field as Dallas lost in Seattle 92-86 in overtime on Feb. 5, 1999 in the lockout-shortened 50-game season.
“He was a kid,” said David Stern, who retired in February after 30 years as NBA commissioner. “We had lots of kids who didn’t look that good, but he has improved every year and he’s still going pretty darn strong.
“I’m always impressed by his loyalty to his national team as well. He played more year-round basketball than anybody.”
Stern, selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame last week, put Nowitzki among the elite players today.
“In a conversation I was recently having, someone said to me, ‘Well, when is the best player in the NBA going to come from outside the United States?’ Stern said. “I said, ‘Maybe he is there. Maybe it’s Dirk Nowitzki.’ ”
Nowitzki holds the majority of the Mavericks’ individual records and is the franchise’s emotional leader. In addition, the ninth overall pick of the 1998 draft is respected by his peers, even those who never played against him.
“He’s just a great, great player,” said Robertson, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980. “He’s changed the way we all look at the power forward position with his ability to shoot from long range.
“My hat’s off to him for what he’s been able to accomplish.”
David Robinson, a 2009 Hall of Fame inductee, also marvels at Nowitzki’s achievements and how his career has soared worldwide.
“There is probably no international player that has brought to the game what he’s brought to the game,” Robinson said. “He has a sustained level of excellence, and really from the first time he came in the league he showed what he can do and has never backed down and he seems like he still hasn’t slowed down.
“Even after all these years he’s still putting up ridiculous numbers. He’s clearly the best international player ever.”
And one of the best players to ever don an NBA uniform.
“I think Dirk has been incredibly resilient and he’s been a cornerstone of this [Mavericks] franchise for many, many years,” said Clyde Drexler, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004.
“We’ve watched him grow up and become a dominant player in this league, and it’s a tribute to his work ethic and the Mavericks’ franchise that Dirk has become the icon that he is here in Dallas.”
Nowitzki has scored 26,756 career points and is only 191 points from passing Hakeem Olajuwon, 558 points from passing Elvin Hayes and 654 points from Moses Malone.
As he continues his own Hall of Fame journey, Nowitzki should pass those three legends early next season and move up to the No. 7 spot on the scoring chart. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is first with 38,387.
With Nowitzki’s help, the Mavericks won the NBA title in 2011 and are back in the playoffs again this season for the 13th time in 14 years.
The Mavericks will finish the regular season Wednesday in Memphis and open postseason play this weekend as the Western Conference’s sixth, seventh or eighth seed.
In any case, it’s a good bet the future Hall of Famer’s fingerprints will be all over whatever success they’ll have.
“Having played against Nowitzki all those years I personally know how difficult it was to stop him from scoring,” said Robinson, who played for the San Antonio Spurs from 1989-2003. “He hurt us in the playoffs a couple of times.
“He’s just a fantastic player. So I have the utmost respect for Dirk.”
So does Stern.
“He’s a great, great player,’’ Stern said. “He’s been an extraordinary contributor to the NBA and he demonstrates why people are Hall of Famers, because he’s always working to improve himself and he’s been a joy to watch.”