In many ways, the Dallas Mavericks‘ 2011 Championship victory over the newly assembled superteam in Miami was a victory for the game of basketball. It was teamwork triumphant over talent, humility over Hollywood, and most importantly, validation of the loyalty of a one-of-a-kind superstar in Dirk Nowitzki.
Players like Dirk don’t come around too often these days, as the German did not only stay with the same team for his whole career but reportedly took less money to do so. In 2014, Nowitzki apparently received two massive contract offers from two Western Conference teams looking to re-establish themselves as contenders by pairing their backcourt stars with one of the top five power forwards of all time.
Dirk ended up staying with the Dallas Mavericks, the team that drafted him and did their part in putting together a roster worthy of a championship. Nowitzki rewarded their efforts by putting on one of the most dominant postseason runs in NBA history; Dirk was simply unstoppable in the 2011 playoffs. Fate would help bring Nowitzki and the Mavs back to the Finals that year for a rematch with the team that beat them in 2006, the Miami Heat, but with a very different set of characters this time around. Dirk torched the Heat from everywhere on the floor, and when he was doubled teamed, the pieces Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson brought to the Mavericks made shots to help them win the championship. Unfortunately, the Mavericks were quick to break up the defending champions the following season and, in turn, have yet to reach the Western Conference Finals since then.
Nowitzki gave the Mavericks organization more than they had bargained for, not only by playing his heart out each game but by taking a page out of Tim Duncan‘s book and taking contract discounts to help the franchise bring in talent to help them contend. Still, the Mavericks blew it up in the summer of 2011 and didn’t even give the champions the chance to defend their title. For all these reasons, it would have been perfectly understandable for Dirk to leave Dallas and make the most out of his remaining years by joining a contender.
Houston was trying to build around James Harden then, while the Lakers were trying to get Kobe the necessary help to give it one last championship push. Both teams offered 92 million, but even that could not get Nowitzki to jump ship. To top it all off, Dirk ended up signing back with the Mavericks for 25 million over three years, nearly a quarter of what the other two teams offered him. That’s loyalty, and also, that’s what the league should aim to instill in its players. The NBA should be more about winning one for your team or city, not just winning as many as possible to attach to your legacy.
The NBA thrives on the persona and legacies of its stars, but basketball is a team sport, and perhaps it’s time we start treating it like one. Enough GOAT talk and Rondo telling Chris Paul that he is better because he has a ring – that is the stuff that gives birth to super teams. If fans don’t like super teams, then fans need to start appreciating the game for the competition aspect and not just the result because superstars shouldn’t be taking discounts just so their teams can beat superteams. In fact, wouldn’t you want to see a league with more than 2-3 championship contenders? I would, and perhaps if we allowed more Dirk-type players to compete in the cities they’re playing for, then we would get what we want as basketball fans.