2011 NBA Finals: How Does Dirk Nowitzki's Legacy Stack Up to All-Time Greats?

Brandon PraterContributor IIJune 11, 2011

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 09:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks looks on against the Miami Heat in Game Five of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 9, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

For the sake of this article, let's assume Dirk wins his first-ever championship Tuesday night, after a hard-fought seven-game series with the Miami Heat.

Let's also assume Dirk retires after his triumph, doesn't give in to an "itch" to return to the game (I'm looking at you Brett Favre), and settles in Germany with his well-deserved ring.

Where does he stand among the all-time greats?

Rick Carlisle went so far as to proclaim Dirk is a top 10 player all-time, even with the Finals still undecided. While that may be a pretentious thing to say, a case can certainly be made. So let's look at some of the consensus top 10 players in NBA history:

Michael Jordan. Bill Russell. Magic Johnson. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Larry Bird. Wilt Chamberlain. Oscar Robertson. Hakeem Olajuwon. Karl Malone. Isiah Thomas.

Now of course, with any list, these choices are highly debatable. But most would agree these are some of the best players in NBA history, and each have a case to be included in a list like this. So where does Dirk stack up?

First, before any comparisons, let's look at what Dirk himself did in the league.

Nowitzki is widely considered the best European to play in the NBA, next to Pau Gasol and perhaps Tony Parker. He revolutionized the way big men play the game; before Dirk, a seven-footer making his living on the perimeter was unheard of. As of now, he is the only player in NBA history to get over 100 blocks and 150 three-pointers in a single season.

In the 2006-2007 season, Nowitzki became the first European-born player to receive the Most Valuable Player Award.

He has been on 11 All-NBA teams, and has made 10 All-Star appearances. Since starting his career with Dallas, he has led them to 11 straight 50-win seasons, including three 60-win seasons.

In 2006, Dirk led the Mavericks to the NBA Finals, ultimately losing to the Miami Heat, and now has them battling in another Finals confrontation to finally secure that coveted championship.

He is much more of a superstar than LeBron James. He isn't outspoken about his desires, or grievances. He doesn't bash the coach when things get low, or when he doesn't get his way. Dirk was a free agent too this past summer, but you didn't see a fiasco like "The Decision." He's very loyal to his team, which is what a superstar needs to be.

So how does Dirk's career compare to, say, Larry Bird's?

Some "analysts" have drawn parallels between Larry's career and Dirk's. And I must say, it isn't treason to suggest so. Seeing as how Bird retired at the end of his 13th season, and Dirk is about to finish his 13th, it's the opportune time to compare the two.

Here are their career averages:

  Dirk Nowitzki Larry Bird
PPG 23.0 24.3
RPG 8.4 10.0
APG 2.7 6.3
BPG 1.0 0.8
SPG .9 1.7
FT% .877 .886
3P% .381 .376
FG% .476 .496


While Dirk's career averages aren't quite what Larry Legend's were, they come pretty damn close, enough to show that Dirk does for his team what Larry did for the Celtics back in the '80s.

How about their playoff career averages?


  Dirk Nowitzki Larry Bird
PPG 25.6 23.8
RPG 10.9 10.3
APG 2.6 6.5
BPG 1.0 0.9
SPG 1.2 1.8
FT% .882 .890
3P% .372 .321
FG% .459 .472


Both step it up in the playoffs, and Dirk's averages are sure to rise after these playoffs have been set in stone, especially since he's averaging 94 percent free-throw shooting and 51 percent from beyond the arc.

But, in my eyes, it's unfair to Dirk to continually compare and contrast him to the greats of yesteryear. He's shaping his own legacy, now.

Throughout these playoffs, Dirk has firmly cemented his name around the world, not just in the United States and Germany. He has joined the list of household names, consisting of MJ, LeBron, Kobe, Magic, Kareem.