Dirk Nowitzki Is Enjoying the Farewell Tour That Might Not Be a Farewell Tour

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2019

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 18: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks smiles during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on March 18, 2019 at the American Airlines Center 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
Glenn James/Getty Images

PORTLAND, Ore. — Dirk Nowitzki did not ask for this farewell tour. He isn't even sure it is one.

That hasn't stopped the basketball world from celebrating his career accomplishments all season. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver created extra spots on this year's All-Star rosters for Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade, who actually has publicly announced his impending retirement. In February, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers called a late-game timeout so fans could give him a round of applause in the Dallas Mavericks' final visit to Staples Center this season.

The love-fest continued Wednesday night throughout Dallas' 126-118 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. There was no shortage of No. 41 jerseys in the Moda Center crowd, and the 40-year-old Nowitzki received the biggest cheers of the night when his name was announced in the Mavs' starting lineup. And in the closing minutes, with the game all but decided, Blazers fans broke into a loud, sustained chant of "WE WANT DIRK."

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle did not grant the fans' wishes, but Nowitzki stood up and waved to the crowd, who were well aware they may be seeing one of the greatest, most influential players in NBA history for the last time.

Never mind that Nowitzki has yet to actually make up his mind about his future plans.

"It's been a year-long celebration for a guy who hasn't said he's retiring yet," said Blazers coach Terry Stotts, who served as an assistant on Carlisle's staff during Dallas' 2011 championship run.

Certainly, nothing about Nowitzki's play this season suggests he has much left in the tank. He played just over 14 minutes on Wednesday night, scoring just three points. On the season, he's playing a career-low 13.7 minutes per game and has come off the bench in 30 of the 40 games he's appeared in. He can't move the way he used to, and he's shooting just over 30 percent from three-point range, easily his worst mark since 1999.

Speaking to reporters during February's All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, Silver said what's been on everybody's mind: Nowitzki hasn't announced this is the end, but just look at him.

"In the case of Dirk Nowitzki, I saw him painfully running up and down the court," the commissioner said at the time. "And I think it was clear that this was going to be his last season."

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

It's never been Nowitzki's style to draw attention to himself. Even at his peak, winning MVP in 2007 and leading the Mavs to a championship in 2011, he was always low-key and self-effacing. In the unlikely event that he decides to play another year, he's still not going to announce his retirement beforehand.

"That was never in my plans," Nowitzki said Wednesday night. "My plan was always to play year-to-year the last couple of years, see how my body feels and make my decision after the season."

Nowitzki's influence on the sport is limitless. He redefined the power forward position in the early 2000s with his outside shooting ability—his one-legged fadeaway is arguably the second-most unguardable shot of all time, after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook. He also changed the perception of European players coming over to the NBA and will go down as the greatest international player in NBA history. And now that Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan are gone, he's the last of a dying breed of all-time greats who spend their entire career with one team.

"It's really difficult not to take the guy for granted," Carlisle said. "Whenever he goes, it certainly will not be the same."

Nowitzki spent most of the season coming off the bench. But now, with the Mavericks very much out of the Western Conference playoff picture, Carlisle has reinserted him into the starting lineup, if nothing else so he can hear his name called at opposing arenas down the stretch of the regular season.

"For me, it's been cool," Portland's Damian Lillard said. "Similar to D-Wade and when Kobe was in the league, because when I was younger, I literally had a Dirk Nowitzki jersey. ... To be able to play against these dudes and for them to be, I guess, aging. Now they're so much older, and I remember when they were the best of the best. It's pretty cool to just be able to be in the league at the same time."

CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 16: Joe Harris #12 of the Brooklyn Nets, Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trailblazers, Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks, Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns, Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks, Buddy Hield #24 o
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

The Mavs don't have much to play for at this point of the year. They hung around on the fringes of the playoff race until the end of January, when they traded starters Dennis Smith, Jr., Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan to the New York Knicks for Kristaps Porzingis, who has not played this season as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered last February. Pairing Porzingis with rookie phenom Luka Doncic sets Dallas up to be one of the league's most intriguing teams long after the cornerstone of the past 20 years is done playing.

Nowitzki will readily admit that it's tempting to come back next year to experience the Porzingis-Doncic pairing firsthand.

"I'd love to," he said. "But that's not going to weigh in that much. I've got to see how my body feels when the season is over and make that decision. I can't really make it on what others do or feel. I've got to listen to my body."

While Bryant announced his retirement at the beginning of the 2015-16 season with an open letter on The Players' Tribune and Wade's farewell tour has its own hashtag and line of merchandise, Nowitzki's eventual retirement will likely be closer to Duncan's, Kevin Garnett's or Manu Ginobili's, all of whom simply announced they were finished and rode off into the sunset.

Nowitzki will be around no matter what. There's been talk of him joining the Mavs' front office in some capacity. He's great on TV—funny, self-deprecating and endlessly knowledgeable about the game—and would have a terrific future as an analyst if he wanted to take that post-playing career path.

For now, he's happy to soak in the love he's been receiving from all corners of the NBA as his 20th, and maybe final, season draws to a close.

"I enjoy it," Nowitzki said. "If I come back, we'll do it all over again."

                          

Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. He is based in Portland. Follow him on Twitter at @highkin.

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