Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki is retiring from the NBA after a record 21 seasons with the same franchise. Nowitzki announced his retirement Tuesday night after scoring a season-high 30 points in his final home game, a 120-109 win over the Phoenix Suns at the American Airlines Center.
The 40-year-old became emotional during the game, fighting back tears just before action resumed at the start of the second quarter following a tribute video that detailed his holiday visit as 'Uncle Dirk' to Children's Medical Center Dallas.
Nowitzki's final basket in Dallas was his signature one-legged fadeaway from slightly above the free throw line for a 120-108 lead with 1:22 remaining after the Mavericks had let a 30-point halftime cushion get cut to four in the fourth quarter.
After speeches from Larry Bird and others he idolized growing up in Germany, Nowitzki told the crowd, "As you guys might expect, this is my last home game."
The sellout crowd that followed owner Mark Cuban's orders by showing up early chanted "M-V-P" and "One More Year" throughout the game. But after he made the announcement, the chant turned to "Thank you, Dirk" as Cuban started to speak.
The 14-time All-Star has one game remaining, Dallas' season finale in San Antonio on Wednesday night.
"This is obviously super, super emotional," Nowitzki said. "Just too many people to really thank. I put you guys on a helluva ride with a lot of ups and downs, and you guys always stuck with me and supported me, so I appreciate it."
Dirk went on to reassure fans that though he was leaving the court, he wasn't leaving Dallas, or maybe even the Mavericks.
Fans arrived Tuesday to find larger-than-life placards of Nowitzki's face perched on most of the roughly 20,000 seats at American Airlines Center as well as a huge mural hung over one of the entrances to the arena.
Nowitzki, a few steps slower than in his prime and a role-model player on a team now led by rookie sensation and fellow European Luka Doncic, was serenaded in every road arena this season like it was a farewell tour.
Last month, he gave the home folks the thrill of passing Wilt Chamberlain to regain sixth on the career scoring list. Nowitzki reached that spot last season, but LeBron James passed him. Nowitzki, who led the Mavericks to their only championship in 2011, has 31,540 points with one game left.
The NBA's highest-scoring foreign-born player broke Kobe Bryant's record of 20 seasons with the same franchise, although it took longer than expected because of setbacks following ankle surgery that sidelined Nowitzki for the first 26 games. Bryant retired from the Lakers three years ago.
Nowitzki has earned ovations in road arenas around the country this season and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver added both he and Miami's Dwyane Wade to the All-Star Game this season (Wade announced his plans to retire at season’s end and Miami held their own ceremony Tuesday). Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers even called a timeout late in the fourth quarter of a game at Staples Center, grabbed the public address microphone and called for the crowd to stand and salute Nowitzki.
"This has been a beautiful thing, really. It's just been beautiful. The love that he's gotten universally, throughout the league, has been just amazing," Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said. "I've never seen anything quite like this, where you've got a guy that hasn't declared that this is his last year, but people are – even so, they still are showing their support, and their respect, and their love for what he's done over 21 years. It's been an amazing experience to be a small part of."
Since his debut in 1998, Nowitzki has become the only Mavericks player to win an MVP award and led Dallas to North Texas' only title in the four major professional sports this century.
Nowitzki's place as the best Maverick is solidified — he's the career leader in games, points, rebounds and blocked shots. Meanwhile, his longevity has allowed him to surpass many of his peers and enter into elite territory.
He has never led the league in a major statistical category during any one regular season, but after 21 seasons in the league only five players ever have scored more points than Nowitzki: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan.
He's had many Western Conference nemeses over the course of his career, at various times it was Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Chris Webber-era Sacramento Kings, Tracy McGrady's Houston Rockets and, of course, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.
Starting with the 2000-01 season, the Mavericks won 50 or more games 11 years in a row. That's the third longest streak of 50-win seasons in NBA history behind the San Antonio Spurs, who won 50 or more games in 18 consecutive seasons from 1998-99 to 2015-16, and the Los Angeles Lakers, who did it 12 straight seasons from 1978-79 to 1990-91.
With all due respect to those who suited up for Dallas in those 11 seasons, Duncan and Magic Johnson had significantly better rosters surrounding them during their runs.
Duncan had two sure-fire Hall of Famers by his side the whole time in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and David Robinson was still around when the streak started.
The Lakers of the 1980s had Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, joined in some years by Jamaal Wilkes and Bob McAdoo — all five are in the Hall of Fame.
Nowitzki had three current or potential Hall of Famers on his teams in those 11 seasons — Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion — either before or after the prime of their careers. Nash won two MVP awards with Phoenix, Kidd spent the bulk of his career in New Jersey and Marion was a four-time all-star with the Suns.
In those 11 seasons though, the Mavericks still won 620 regular season games, second only to the Spurs' 634. This despite a rotating cast of Robins to Nowitzki's Batman that included Michael Finley, Nash, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Kidd and Marion.
In addition to the all-time scoring list, Nowitzki is a member of another elite club: players who have posted a 40/50/90 season. The numbers signify shooting 40 percent from the field, 50 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line.
Only seven players in the history of the NBA have posted those numbers since the league introduced the three-point line ahead of the 1979-80 season. They are Larry Bird, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Nash and Nowitzki.
Bird did it twice, while Nash achieved it four times.
Of the players on that list, Nowitzki is the tallest – and it's not close. He helped usher in the era of power forwards and centers stepping outside to shoot the ball from deep.
"He deserves all that, he deserves even more," Mavericks' rookie point guard Luka Doncic said. "All the things he gave to the NBA, to basketball. You can see, every big fella trying to shoot the ball from three. Dirk made it happen and he deserves everything."
And while his contributions to the game of basketball have been great, his connection to the city of Dallas is just as strong. No NBA player has spent as many years with one team as Nowitzki's 21 seasons with the Mavericks.
"He's a legend man. Like everybody calls him, he's the GOAT, one of the best players ever to play in the NBA," said Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, now in his 11th season with Texas. "Really a guy that I kind of admire throughout the years, here in Texas. Everything he brought for the city, for the organization in a Hall of Fame career."
He brought an unprecedented run of success to Dallas-Fort Worth and delivered North Texas' first NBA title. Now, the city – and the NBA – have returned the favor.