Neither Dirk Nowitzki nor Dwyane Wade wanted to rehash the rough moments.
You know, that time during the 2011 NBA Finals that Wade and LeBron James mocked Nowitzki’s flu.
Instead, the NBA legends who are likely in their final seasons (Wade has announced this is it; Nowitzki hasn’t) prefer to dwell on the longtime rivalry that ensued between Wade’s Miami Heat and Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks. First, in the 2006 NBA Finals, when Wade won his first title, and then in 2011, when Nowitzki and the Mavs claimed the franchise’s lone championship.
Some Mavericks fans may not be ready to forgive Wade as was evident when he checked into Wednesday’s game along with Nowitzki. It was two future Hall of Famers coming off the bench in the twilight of their careers. The American Airlines Center crowd cheered wildly, of course, for Nowitzki. Wade received a healthy mix of cheers and boos.
The Heat took advantage of the Mavs’ slow start in the second half and coasted to a 112-101 win despite a near fourth triple-double by Luka Doncic. Dallas started the half 1 for 13 from the field and were 4 of 22 in the third quarter. Doncic finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists.
Wade, who is averaging 25.5 minutes a game in his final season, significantly more than Nowitzki’s 10.8 minutes, scored 14 of his 22 points in the first half on 5 of 7 shooting. He still flashed some of the brilliance that made him a 13-time All-Star, even at 37.
“They’re two all-time great players. I thought they played great,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “To see them on the court together was special.”
Wade and Nowitzki, 40, will serve as honorary All-Stars in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte, N.C., Wade for the East and Nowitzki for the West. It’s Nowitzki’s 14th All-Star Game. Nowitzki finished with 12 points, two shy of tying his season high.
“I think it’s going to be cool. Me and him have had our fair share of all-star games,” Wade said. “I know there will be moments in there where we’ll appreciate this opportunity to be there with the game’s greats, with the up and coming guys, with the guys who are stars in the league now, and to be able to take it all in for the last time.”
Wade and Nowitzki hashed out a perceived rift long ago and share mutual respect for their long, distinguished careers. American Airlines Center and the city of Dallas hold a special place for Wade. It’s the site of his first NBA championship and Finals MVP.
“I remember the hotel we stayed in, the walk into this arena. I was very drunk off champagne, we were standing right here,” Wade recalled. “And I remember the other way too, in ‘11 when we didn’t walk out of here winners. A lot of memories here for me. I’m thankful for those memories because of them I’m able to walk away from this game with my head held high.”
When the game was over Wednesday night, Wade and Nowitzki exchanged jerseys, a ritual Wade has repeated at different stops during his final season.
“My best jersey swap of the year,” Wade said. “to be able to have that, he’s a Hall of Famer, somebody that obviously I’m proud of and have so much respect for. I’m just thankful that he didn’t turn me down and say no.”
Nowitzki dismissed the former rift, adding that he didn’t like most of the Spurs when the Mavs were battling them in the playoffs through the years.
“You don’t love most of your competition but we are in this together,” he said. “We are all family and I’m happy for him. He had a heck of a career. I’ll cherish that jersey knowing the great competition we had for such a long time.”
Before the game, Wade said he thought the jersey swap would be good for the game.
“Two guys who competed against each other, who was in each other’s way to get what each individual wanted, championships,” he said. “To show that mutual respect for each other’s career, I think that would be a great moment.”
Nowitzki, of course, agreed. It was a fitting moment for two of the game’s greats. And a nice prelude to Sunday’s All-Star Game.
“I’m happy to even have my name paralleled to such a great player and a great person,” Wade said. “I know, for me, it will be special that I get to do it with my kids, my loved ones, but also with one of the game’s greats. I’m glad it is me and Dirk. I think it fits, I think it’s right and I’m appreciative of it.”