Mac Engel

We’re watching the final year of Dirk’s Hall of Fame career. Go watch while you can

Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, center, made his season debut Thursday night in Phoenix as he has now played in 21 seasons with the same team, an NBA record.
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, center, made his season debut Thursday night in Phoenix as he has now played in 21 seasons with the same team, an NBA record. AP

* The following is not a paid advertisement from the Dallas Mavericks: Be sure to go to a Mavs home game before the season ends. Take your kids to show them one of the greatest players in the history of professional sports.

The Mavs won’t say it, and Dirk Nowitzki has not announced it, but we are watching Dirk’s Farewell Tour.

The player we have taken for granted for so long will not be playing too much longer, so we need to appreciate him now.

The plan for this season was for Dirk to come off the bench. The plan now looks like it’s just to keep him there.

Still recovering from ankle surgery in April, Dirk barely averages 10 minutes a game. He’s shooting less than 30 percent, and averaging 3.5 points per game.

If a fan buys a ticket, hoping to watch Dirk play, will they actually see him play?

“In most cases, yes,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said Tuesday. “There may be exceptions. There are no guarantees with anything. In most cases, yes. I’m comfortable saying that.”

Take the risk and buy a ticket. Luka Doncic is the player we want to watch, but we will never see another Dirk.

“I want to still compete and help. I still enjoy the grind,” Dirk said Tuesday after practice. “So, yeah, if I could do it all over again I would have had the (ankle) surgery a couple of years ago. But that’s hindsight.”

Unlike Kobe Bryant, or Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, final seasons, which were marketing gimmicks used to sell Nike junk, Dirk’s Final Dance was never going to be a T-shirt.

Dirk is no longer Dirk, which is all the more reason to watch him now more than ever. Do not miss the chance to see him do any of it one more time, because the last time is here.

DIRK’S FAREWELL TOUR OF HURT

What was once a thing of beauty is now both beautifully inspirational: Watching Dirk Nowitzki walk, run, jump and play basketball hurts.

Imagine how painful it must be to be Dirk.

There is something motivational about a 40-year-old, who has achieved everything a person could do in a cutthroat world of NBA basketball where the young thrive, competing against kids young enough to actually be his kid.

If you are not yet 40-ish, you can’t appreciate just how hard it is to run around, sweat and workout pain free. Because it’s not possible; something always hurts.

Now do it to keep pace against someone half your age.

Der Mann does it. Or is trying.

As much as the Mavs, and specifically owner Mark Cuban, like and are indebted to Dirk, at some point basketball is the priority. Dirk is too often a liability on the floor. Dirk was never known for his D, but in 13 games this season he has scored in double figures once.

In a recent article in The Dallas Morning News, both Dirk and Carlisle explained how this recovery and reintegration process will now go. Dirk may not play some nights. He may skip a half. If the matchup is bad, he’s on the bench.

The recovery from the surgery on his left ankle was always going to take a long time, now factor in that he’s 40.

“It’s better, better than when I first started (playing again),” said Nowitzki, who made his first appearance this season on Dec. 13. “My legs are better. Wind is better. Everyday trying to get that ankle stronger. It will be a piece of work for the remainder of the season. Keep grinding. When there is not a good matchup out there, we’ll roll with (Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell).”

Few basketball players have successfully boxed out Father Time as well as Dirk, but this season is the first when the results are not good. He simply can’t move.

“I felt like I wasn’t moving well last year already,” Dirk said. “I might have had a better shooting rhythm last year. Hopefully that will come. Movement wise, it’s not that much worse than last year.”

Last season will never be the most memorable of his career, but it is one of the most impressive. He averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds in 77 games as a 39 year old.

The hope was that he could duplicate those statistics, and possibly surpass Wilt Chamberlain as the sixth highest scorer in NBA history; Dirk needs 187 points to move past Wilt.

The reality is that Dirk’s body, and all of those young players he schooled for so long, simply are in the way.

There has been no formal announcement that this is the end, and there won’t be of course.

Just accept that we are approaching the conclusion of a career to one of the most magical, humble and decent men to ever grace the NBA, and north Texas.

Don’t miss the chance to see him one more time.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
Support my work with a digital subscription
SUBSCRIBE TODAY
  Comments