Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki has become part of NBA history.
With a made basket in the second quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Nowitzki became just the sixth player ever to score at least 30,000 points in an NBA career.
It’s lofty company – the five players above him are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain – but Nowitzki indisputably deserves his spot at that particular table.
It’s been a lengthy career for Nowitzki, one spent entirely with the Dallas Mavericks. The seven-footer was officially drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks, but that was all part of draft day dealings at the behest of Dallas’s then-coach Don Nelson. The Mavs remain the only team for which Nowitzki has played.
Nowitzki was a huge catalyst in setting off the explosive influx of European talent that has hit the NBA over the past two decades. Few foreign-born players have had anything remotely close to the impact that the German has had on the league; Nowitzki is the highest-scoring foreign player in the league’s history.
As of press time, his career numbers stood as follows: 30,041 points, 10,804 rebounds, 3475 assists, 1153 steals and 1206 blocks. This means that in his nearly 1400 career games over 19 seasons, Nowitzki has averaged almost 22 points, nearly eight rebounds, two-and-a-half assists and just shy of one steal and one block per game. He shoots at a touch over 47 percent – 38 percent from three – and nearly 88 percent at the foul line.
He’s also a 13-time All-Star who has won both a regular season and Finals MVP Award, having helped lead the Mavericks to the championship in 2011.
But what truly sets Nowitzki apart is the fact that there simply wasn’t anyone out there like him.
He came into the league as a seven-foot shooter; this was before the league had evolved into the three-happy bombs-away league that it is today. When Nowitzki showed up 20 years ago, guys his size were still expected to play in the post with their backs to the basket. Luckily, his coaches saw what they had and, rather than force him to play the way in which he was expected, they chose to let him play the way that best utilized his skills.
Yes, size matters. And it always will in the NBA. But what Dirk Nowitzki did was illustrate the possibility that perhaps there were different ways in which that size mattered. His range made it difficult for his fellow power forwards to cover him; his size made it almost impossible for wings to slow him down.
And yes, that size/skill combination has spread much more thoroughly around the NBA in recent years (though it will never be anything remotely resembling common), but in a lot of ways, Nowitzki served as somewhat of a prototype, the guy who showed the game-changing potential of a differently-skilled big man.
Assuming he stays healthy – no guarantee for a guy with as many miles on the odometer as Dirk – he’s set to play for another season. If so, he might pass a few of the guys ahead of him on the all-time lists. One more solid season would push him past Chamberlain into fifth on the points list; he could also move up a few slots on the rebounding list (he currently sits 30th).
But even if he never plays another minute in the NBA, his legacy is cemented. He has a legitimate argument for being the best-ever foreign-born player, though he’s probably still second behind Hakeem Olajuwon. Still, he’s one of the greatest to ever play the game, breathing rarified air inhaled by only five before him.
It’s impressive company. Shut it down – let’s go home.