On April 13th, Dirk Nowitzki received a text from Joel Embiid. The day before, the Sixers beat the Mavs, and Embiid dropped 36 points. One of his buckets was a one-legged fadeaway, and Joel wanted to make sure Dirk knows it was all for him.
“He texted me the day after, and said, ‘I had to show respect to you and shoot it on your silhouette.’ My silhouette is now on the Mavs’ floor, and he said he had to shoot one for me. That made me of course feel really good. I’m honored that he thinks it’s a good shot to have.”Dirk Nowitzki, Takeoff with John Clark podcast
It’s one of the most iconic, unguardable shots in NBA history, and Dirk is still so humble about it. One could argue that after the revolution Steph Curry and his 3 pointers made in the NBA, no other player, and his signature move did as much to impact the modern NBA as Dirk and his fadeaway. For a no.1 scoring option on a title, team to be a big man whose game is almost entirely based on facing the basket and shooting the ball? After Dirk proved you could win like that, another big man got the green light to let it fly.
We all know Joel fell in love with basketball because of Kobe. A 16-year-old Embiid watched Kobe do his thing against the Celtics in the 2010 Finals, and that’s when Joel knew he was going to be a basketball player. But not many people know, Dirk Nowitzki was his first idol.
“When I first started playing basketball, my coach had a tape of Dirk from the past, and that’s where I first saw his fadeaway move. When I started playing basketball, that was all I knew, and I loved him for these moves.”Joel Embiid, 2019 All-Star game
So the connection between Dirk and Embiid goes back a long way. When asked about The Process, Dirk spoke in superlatives. Nowitzki gave credit to Embiid for being a lot better on the block, as he is obviously a lot bigger and stronger than Dirk. What makes Embiid truly special is that at his size, he isn’t only good from the mid-range dropping fadeaways a’la Dirk – his footwork and handles mimic a guard.
“But then if they put smaller guys on him, he just takes them right to the block, and he can overpower somebody because he’s so big, so strong. His legs are so big and strong, and his butt is so wide. He’s just a matchup nightmare because he’s got both worlds. Mine was a little more outside-based. If I took somebody down low, it was more shooting over them — more finesse. But to me, he’s a great combination of power and finesse. On any given night, he can use both. He’s a matchup nightmare, for sure.”Dirk Nowitzki, Takeoff with John Clark podcast
We all know basketball is a matchup sport. Remember when the Pelicans smoked the Blazers simply because Portland had no one to match up with Anthony Davis? Well, Joel Embiid is like that for most teams. Put a big guy on him; Embiid can dominate with his outside shot, handles, and footwork. Put a smaller guy on him; it’s bully ball time. So whatever you decide, the 76ers can build off of that mismatch.
That’s why Nowitzki is convinced that if he remains healthy, Embiid will join him in the Hall of Fame – a place we have no doubt Dirk will join in 2023.