Thursday, June 30, 2022 Jun 30, 2022
80° F Dallas, TX
Basketball

To My Friend Dirk: Congratulations and Thank You

I was there when he won the MVP. He insisted it wasn't about him then. Tonight, it is ... just as it should be.
By |
Image
Dirk Nowitzki's legacy in Dallas remains bigger than what he did on the floor. Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

“I got it,” Dirk said.

It was a late morning in May 2007, and I was lounging on Dirk Nowitzki’s couch, shaking off a hangover from trying to drown my sorrows in drink after the top-seeded Mavericks were upset by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors. I was the team’s former director of player development. Dirk was looking at a text. 

“You got … what?” I asked. 

“I got it,” Dirk replied, matter-of-factly. “I got the MVP.” 

That was it. No jumping up and down, no flexing, no posting on social media. The fog in my brain lifted, and I leapt up to congratulate him. Dirk acquiesced half-heartedly to my high-five.

Ever since the news broke that the Mavericks and Mark Cuban picked tonight to raise Dirk’s jersey to the rafters, I’ve caught myself reflecting on his career, his life, and his journey. To try and sum up my thoughts and feelings on who Dirk is and what he has meant to me—as a fan, a friend, and a citizen of Dallas. There were championships, milestones, kids, but it was this moment that showed me who he really is.

He had just learned that he had won the highest honor the league bestows on an individual player, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award, but his mind and heart were still lingering on that playoff disappointment. Traditionally, players receive the Maurice Podoloff trophy from the commissioner at center court prior to the start of their second-round playoff series, in front of adoring fans. But Golden State ensured the Mavericks had no second-round series, which meant there would be no such presentation. Dirk would receive his trophy in a side room in the bowels of the American Airlines Center in the middle of the afternoon. The press was his only audience.

There would be celebrations later, and today the trophy sits in his boyhood home in Germany. But it wasn’t about him in that moment. It was about us. He felt sheepish about winning the MVP when his team had lost, like he somehow didn’t deserve it despite piloting the Mavericks to a franchise-record 67 regular-season wins with what would go down as some of the best numbers of his career. He felt he had let his team down, his fans down, the city down.

Every year after the Mavs bowed out of the playoffs, Dirk would return to his hometown in Germany, upset that a year of his prime had gone by without a title. He never lost his determination to improve his game, to add to his skill set. In August 2005, I flew out to Wurzburg and joined him for a typical offseason day. We took a one-hour drive to an un-air-conditioned gym to work out for three hours. I saw left-handed hook shots, among other moves, tricks he wouldn’t incorporate into his arsenal until years later, if at all. After the hour-long ride back came a treatment session. Then, later that night, an hour on the bike. 

In August. Day. After day. After day.

This was the level of commitment that made 2011 happen—the dedication when no one was looking. It was about embracing the challenge of getting over the hump and delivering a title to a city that embraced him in his rookie year when he didn’t know if the NBA was for him. It was about fans who hugged him during the lows of 2006, protected him during personal crises, cheered with him during the highs of game-winning shots, and cried with him when he retired. We have watched him grow from a teenager into a man. A husband. A father. A philanthropist. An ambassador for the city. His version of “We are the Champions” may have been ear-piercingly off key, but it sounded like sweet music to Mavericks fans. He’s ours, and ours only. 

Everyone else around the country took notice, too. We heard it in the spontaneous cheers during road games when Dirk made his way through NBA cities for the last time during his final season. Doc Rivers stopping the game. Greg Popovich telling his players to clear the way. Cheering in Boston or Madison Square Garden for an opponent? Unheard of. Not for 41. His place in the NBA’s pantheon of greats is secure, just like it is on the Dallas Sports Mount Rushmore. 

Mavs fans are rightly geeked about their new one-named wunderkind from across the pond. The promise and the play are there for Luka Doncic. But while Luka Magic is real, Doncic isn’t and shouldn’t be compared to Dirk. He is his own man on his own journey.

As Mavericks fans and citizens of Dallas, we can only hope his journey is half as special as the one we got to share with a shy 19-year-old German when he first arrived in our city, in 1999. A journey he and we are still on as he embarks on the latest chapter of his life. First, a street. Now, a jersey. Soon, a statue.

In 2007, he “got it,” and in 2011, Dallas got it. For 21 years, we all got the privilege of watching him leave it all on the court while being a vulnerable, good man off it—someone we can be proud to call our own. Wurzburg is his hometown, but Dallas is his home. And for that, all I can say is … thank you.

Author

Brian Dameris

Brian Dameris

View Profile
Brian Dameris writes about the Mavericks for StrongSide. He is the former Director of Basketball Development for the Dallas Mavericks…

Related Articles

Image
Basketball

The Dirk Statue Is, Um, Not Great

People, it's OK to love him and still criticize this goofy thing.
Image
Football

What I’m Watching: Dallas Cowboys Playoff Football

Plus a big Southwest matchup and the start of the Wings' offseason