NBA Rookie of the Year candidate Luka Doncic kept Dirk Nowitzki‘s famous company on the court for the first time in the Dallas Mavericks December 2018 matchup against the Phoenix Suns. The German-born Nowitzki was playing his first game back from injury — in his NBA-record 21st consecutive season with the same team.
Doncic is well aware of Nowitzki’s iconic status as the primo example of NBA success for players born outside the US. Doncic, a Slovenian, will basically have to pummel his NBA competition for the next two decades to approach Nowitzki’s standing. Were he to somehow break Nowitzki’s record, Doncic would have to retire as a Maverick after the year 2039.
How good has Nowitzki been? The 2007 NBA MVP won a title in 2011 and ranks as the 7th all-time leading scorer in league history. (And he’s still going, with Wilt Chamberlain in his sights). But Nowitzki’s impact is measured by more than just the consistent scoring over time — it’s the style too, and the Nowitzki innovation. Nowitzki one-footed fadeaway jumper is as iconic (and unstoppable) a shot as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s sky hook. And Nowitzki was a game changer in a specific way — all these “stretch 4s” in today’s NBA, giant players who fill it from 3-point territory, Dirk started all that.
Yes, Larry Bird played a similar role as the progenitor of the “point forward” position, but Nowitzki at 7-feet is far taller than Bird, and he’s the true model for the stretch big man in the new ball-movement-obsessed NBA. Here’s a way to think about Nowitzki: he’s already scored nearly 3,000 more career points than Shaquille O’Neal, and LeBron James has described him as “one of my favorite players of all time.”
Good luck, Luka! You’re off to a killer start.
Here’s Dirk v. late career MJ, for some viewing fun: