Gil LeBreton

Dirk again rose to the occasion, when it counts

They said there would be no math in this job, but we all counted to 20 Tuesday night.

And we had to count quickly, as it turned out.

Barely 13 minutes into Tuesday’s game, Dirk Nowitzki, as dependable a German import as this nation has ever seen, cradled teammate Devin Harris’ lob pass at the right side of the free throw lane, squared his broad shoulders and leaped over defender Larry Nance Jr.’s outstretched arms and into the NBA history books.

He needed 20 points to pass the 30,000 career mark, a golden standard achieved by only five players.

Dirk had eight points in the first 2:15 of the game and 18 at the end of the first quarter.

What’s the promise on the Mercedes-Benz commercials? “The Best or Nothing”?

This was Dirk Nowitzki, again at his best even at age 38, giving the Dallas Mavericks crowd what they came to cheer for.

He made his first six shots against the Los Angeles Lakers, who were in town Tuesday for a cameo as the night’s Washington Generals. And while the game continued after point No. 30,000, with the American Airlines Center audience still standing and roaring, Dirk got the ball again and nailed a 25-footer from the top of the 3-point arc.

The Mavericks had a 47-30 lead and the Lakers called timeout. And then the celebration finally could begin.

Nowitzki’s teammates mobbed him. The arena’s video board saluted him.

“We all witnessed one of the most amazing accomplishments in the history of sports,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after his team’s 122-111 victory. “For me, it was a 13-minute, 2-second microcosm of one of the greatest careers in the history of this game — meticulous preparation, total commitment, unbelievable competitive spirit and a real flair for the moment.

“Watching Dirk the last couple of days there was no doubt that this was going to happen tonight.”

It was a muggy June night in 1998 when we sat transfixed as then-coach Don Nelson announced — or so some of us (wince) wrote — that the Mavericks had swapped the family cow for a young German kid we had never heard about.

The night was dizzying. Nelson had actually drafted Robert “Tractor” Traylor of Michigan and then traded him to Milwaukee for the rights to Dirk. A side deal with Phoenix had brought the Mavericks a then-unheralded, second-string point guard named Steve Nash.

The word, from Nowitzki’s coach no less, was that teenager Dirk wasn’t going to start his NBA career until after the 2000 Olympics.

So some wise guy wrote, “The latest cornerstone, alas, is now Nash ... And a kid from Germany to arrive later?

“That’s going to sell tickets?”

Doh! OK, I miscalculated by 30,000 points.

Dirk Nowitzki has, indeed, sold a lot of tickets over his 19 seasons. He’s helped to win a lot of games — 11 50-win seasons in a row at one point.

And one magical night, also in June, he delivered the Mavericks franchise to the NBA’s summit. His version of We Are the Champions is forever excused.

“I’m in awe of everything he is and everything he stands for, both as a man and as an athlete,” Carlisle continued. “When you think about how he has carried this franchise, really single-handedly in many ways.”

After the 30,000th point and the 3-pointer that followed, the rest of the night almost seemed a blur.

He finished with 25 points. At age 38, Dirk Nowitzki is still counting.

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