An Unloved Superstar: The Dirk Nowitzki Story

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An Unloved Superstar: The Dirk Nowitzki Story
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Is it just me or is Dirk severely underappreciated by the general public?

Whenever you hear Dirk's name brought up in any sort of discussion, it is always an attempt to slander the guy and make him out to be some overrated choke artist.

You very rarely see him get praised for the fantastic player that he is, or hear people condone him for the great job that he has done leading the Mavericks since coming into the NBA.

When he first entered the league people were questioning whether or not this 7 foot jump shooting German would ever amount to anything in the league and he didn't really do much in his first year to prove them otherwise as he put up a pedestrian 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds on mediocre shooting percentages (40.5/20.4/77.3).

The Mavs finished at 19-31 in the lockout-shortened season. It seemed like Dirk wouldn't adjust to the contrasting styles of Europe and the NBA and it seemed like former Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino was insane by comparing him to Celtic legend Larry Bird.

In his sophomore season there was a definite improvement in his game as he upped his scoring average to 17.5 and his rebounding average to 6.5 but people were still questioning him.

Would the Mavs ever experience any sort of success with a perimeter-oriented, jump-shooting power forward leading the way?

The Mavs would finish the year under .500 again. There was hope for Dirk though as he was the runner up to Jalen Rose for the NBA's Most Improved Player award.

Nowitzki would go on to prove that this was not just a flash in the pan, but only a sign of things to come.

After a slow start to his career, Dirk would take his game to another level in his third season and has never looked back since then.

He averaged 22/9 and along with Michael Finley and Steve Nash, who Dirk had a very strong friendship with, led the Mavericks to their first playoff berth since 1990.

They would play the Utah Jazz and after they lost the first two games it seemed like the Mavs playoff run would be short lived. That was until Dirk turned it on and carried his team to three straight wins, including back-to-back 33 point games in Games 3 and 4 giving the Mavs their first playoff series win in 12 years.

They would eventually bow out to the San Antonio Spurs 4-1 despite Dirk giving it his all in Game 5 posting 42 points and 18 rebounds in the final game of the Mavs season.

On an individual level, Dirk became just the second player in NBA history to record 100 blocks and 100 three pointers made in a single season (Robert Horry was the first).

He was also the first Maverick player to ever be named to an All-NBA Team when he was named All NBA Third Team. People were starting to take notice of the silky smooth German.

Prior to the 01-02 season Dirk would sign a lucrative new contract that would pay him $90M over 6 seasons, effectively making him the second highest paid German athlete of all time.

Looking to live up to his new deal, Dirk increased his production from the previous season and put up 23.4/9.9 on the season leading his Maverick team to a 57-win season.

Dirk would be named to his first NBA All-Star team as well as another All-NBA team, this time being named to All NBA Second Team.

In the playoffs he would be matched up with another marquee power forward in Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Mavs would easily take care of the T'Wolves and Dirk would outplay his power forward counterpart significantly putting up 33 points to Garnett's 24.

In the Semi Finals, Dirk and the Mavs would be faced with another huge challenge as they would match up with yet another superstar power forward in Chris Webber and the Sacramento Kings.

They would lose the series 4-1 and Dirk would end the season on a sour note yet again. He did receive some good news however as he was named the European Basketballer of the Year just adding another accomplishment to an already growing resume.

In the 02-03 season Dirk would once again up his averages to 25.1/9.9 and be named an All Star and All NBA Second team for the second straight season.

He would also lead the Mavs to their first 60 win season in franchise history and the third seed in the Western Conference.

They would meet up with the Portland Trailblazers in the first round and eventually win the series in 7 games moving on to face the Sacramento Kings yet again.

Dirk had revenge on his mind and it showed in his play as he would put up 30/19 during the pivotal game 7 leading his Mavs to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 14 seasons and just the second time in franchise history.

Dirk would score 38 points and lead his Mavs team to a 113-110 win over the San Antonio Spurs, giving the Mavericks a split in the first two games.

Injury would force Dirk out of the rest of the series and the Mavs would lose in 6 games to the eventual NBA Champions. Dirk would be named European Basketballer of the Year yet again, but Dirk was hungry for more.

Despite the fact that the Mavs were just two games away from reaching their first NBA Finals in franchise history, they felt that they needed to retool their roster.

They would trade Danny Forston, Jiri Welsch and Chris Mills to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Antwan Jamison and they would also send Raef LaFrentz to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Antoine walker.

Without a center, the Mavs were forced to play Dirk at the 5 spot and as a result of playing out of positions, his numbers fell to 21.8/8.7. This marked the first time in his career that he would not improve on his previous season.

Despite the decrease in production Dirk was an All Star for the third straight season and was named to the Third All-NBA team. The Mavs would only win 52 games and bow out to a familiar foe in the Sacramento Kings in the first round.

The following season Dirk would have to say good bye to his best friend in Steve Nash as Nash would sign with the Phoenix Suns. This marked the end of the "Big Three" era in Dallas.

In an attempt to move Dirk back to his familiar power forward position, the Mavericks would acquire defensive center Erick Dampier from the Golden State Warriors and the move did wonders for Nowitzki's game as he would post a career high 26.1 points per game along with 9.7 rebounds.

He would make the All-Star game yet again and he would finish third in MVP voting behind Shaquille O'Neal and the winner of the award, Steve Nash. Dirk would also be named to the All NBA First Team, which marked the first time that a player who didn't attend an American university was named All NBA First team.

In the playoffs, the Mavs would face the Houston Rockets and eventually win in 7 games to advance to the Western Conference Semi Finals.

Dirk and his Mavs would be matched up against his best friend Steve Nash and his Phoenix Suns. The Suns would go on to win the series 4-2, effectively ending Dirk's season prematurely again.

Michael Finley would be waived prior to the 2005-2006 season making Dirk the sole franchise player and the last remaining member of the Mavs' Big Three of Steve Nash, Michael Finley and Dirk himself.

Relishing his new role as the clear cut franchise player, Dirk went on a tear during the season posting averages of 26.6/9, which was a new career high for the German. He would finish third in MVP voting for the second straight season and would be named All NBA First Team for the second straight season.

He entered the postseason with one goal and one goal only, to make it to the NBA Finals. In the first round the Mavs would make quick work of the overmatched Memphis Grizzlies, sweeping the series 4-0.

They would be matched up with former the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in the Semi Finals and this series proved to be one for the ages. Both teams would go back and forth and it would take all 7 games to decide the winner of this series.

In game 7 Dirk would come up with a monster performance which saw him put up 37/15 including a 3 point play that would send the game to overtime. The Mavs would ride Dirk's incredible performance to a 118-111 win and a series victory.

In the Western Conference Finals the Mavs would look to avenge their playoff lost from the previous season as they were matched up against the Phoenix Suns again.

Dirk would put up 50 points in the critical game 5 and would eventually lead the Mavs to their first NBA Finals Appearance in franchise history.

Dirk would receive some of the highest praise that a forward could ever receive as an ESPN reporter was quoted saying that Dirk was playing at the highest level of any forward since Larry Bird.

The Mavs would go on to win the first two games of the Finals and it looked like they were well on their way to their first NBA Championship.

However, Dwyane Wade would take over the series, and would eventually lead his Heat to four straight victories and crush Nowitzki's dream of winning an NBA Championship.

The Mavs would bounce back the following season though as Dirk would lead the Mavericks to one of the best seasons in NBA history.

They would finish with 67 wins and as a result of his fantastic season, Dirk would win the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award, and in the process, would become the first European born player to ever win the MVP.

The Mavs would cruise to the best record in the NBA and looked poised to make another push for the Larry O'Brien trophy.

They would face the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, a team that just happened to be coached by former Maverick bench boss, Don Nelson.

Nelson used his inside knowledge of the Mavericks, Dirk in particular, and would exploit everything that he knew about the superstar German.

He would effectively out coach his protégé Avery Johnson and shut down Dirk Nowitzki en route to a stunning upset as the Warriors would win in 6 games, marking the first time in NBA history that a number 1 seed was upset by an 8 seed in a best of 7 series.

This was probably the lowest point in Dirk's career and you could see the frustration in his eyes as he walked off the court for the final time that season. Dirk's dream season turned out to be a nightmare season, and one in which he is still being criticized for this very day.

The next year the Mavs would make a blockbuster trade at the NBA's trading deadline acquiring aging point guard Jason Kidd in an attempt to toughen up the Mavericks team, who never seemed to get over the crushing defeat of the previous season.

They would make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season, but they would be sent home early by the New Orleans Hornets and Chris Paul. Dirk would have successful playoffs individually, but would ultimately fall short of his goal of an NBA Championship yet again.

As a result of the past two seasons, many people were predicting that the Mavs were done and wouldn't even make the playoffs this season. Experts were suggesting that the Mavs needed to blow up the team and even part ways with the man who has been the heart and soul of the franchise for the past decade, Dirk Nowitzki.

However, Dirk would go on to prove these experts wrong yet again as he put together yet another stellar season posting averages of 25.7/8.3 on the year.

The Mavs were in a dog fight for the final playoff spot for most of the season and when the season started winding down, Dirk began to elevate his game like the superstar that he is. During the months of March and April Dirk put up 26.1/8.6/3.1 and 31/6.3/2.0 respectively.

Dirk led his Mavericks team to yet another playoff appearance, and this time he did it with a fairly weak supporting cast.

Jason Kidd is a shell of his former self, Josh Howard is a very inconsistent second option, Jason Terry is an undersized combo guard and he is without a legit center yet again.

Still, he managed to lead the Mavericks to the sixth seed in the Western Conference and an upset victory over the heavily favoured San Antonio Spurs in the first round before bowing out to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semi-Finals.

During the off-season, the Mavericks added former All Star forward Shawn Marion, giving them an energetic, athletic defensive stopper. They would also hold onto point guard Jason Kidd by resigning him to a new contract, collectively keeping the Mavericks core together.

With the moves that Dallas has made this off-season, people are expecting great things from this team and many believe that they are one of the four major players in the Western Conference heading into the 2009/2010 season.

Ever since Dirk joined Dallas he has done nothing but win and it is a shame that people only point out the guy’s flaws.

I mean he lead the Mavs to their first Finals appearance in franchise history, he has led them to nine straight playoff berths and this past season he led the Mavs to their ninth straight 50 win season.

His supporting cast has changed quite a bit over the course of his tenure with the Mavs as he has had four different starting point guards in Nash, Terry, Harris and Kidd.

He has had three different coaches in Don Nelson, Avery Johnson and now Rick Carlisle. He has never had a good center alongside him in his entire career.

He has basically rewrote the Mavs record books as he is the Mavs all-time leading scorer, rebounder, and various other single game records for the franchise.

Dirk Nowitzki has revolutionized the game and has had a monumental impact on the game worldwide yet it seems like nobody gives Dirk the credit that he deserves and instead only focus on the little flaws that he has.

This leads me to the question, is Dirk Nowitzki the most underappreciated superstar player in the NBA? I'll let you be the judge of that.

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