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Countdown: Ranking the Mavs -- No. 1

Congratulations everyone, you've made it! The Countdown started oh so many days ago, way back when the NBA lockout seemed as if it will go on and on and on... OK, so some things haven't changed.

Dirk Nowitzki, however, proved that everything can change. Remember when Dirk was just the lovable, gentle giant from Germany who could shoot it like Larry Bird, but would never, ever, ever carry a team to a title as long as another superstar didn't sign up to pick up his leadership slack?

Yeah, well, things do change. A championship later and Dirk is the toast of Dallas and Germany and a beacon for all that is right about team sports.

Now, truth be told, I toyed with putting Tyson Chandler at the top. After all, Dirk had played 12 seasons for the Mavs and never won it all. Chandler comes, preaches defense, motivates his teammates and gets it done. It took about a month into the season for Dirk to call Chandler the team's MVP, and he never wavered. But, a certain editor of mine told me I'd lost my mind if I ranked Dirk anywhere but No. 1. He was right.

With the close of the Countdown, we honor the man that can now truly call himself No. 1:

DIRK NOWITZKI

Pos: PF

Ht/Wt: 7-0/245

Experience: 13 years

Age: 33 (June 19, 1978)

Contract status: Signed through 2013-14

2010-11 salary: $17.3 million

2011-12 salary: $ 19.1 million

His story: This is a man many thought would never recover from the 2006 Finals collapse. The 2007 first-round defeat to the Golden State Warriors hurt bad, real bad. Dirk disappeared during that summer, unshaven and in search of solace in the Australian Outback. The next season, he watched Josh Howard implode, the team unravel under Avery Johnson and then the eventual firing of Johnson immediately after a five-game loss to the New Orleans Hornets. Two more years of early exits set up an unexpected announcement after Game 6 in San Antonio after the first-round exit in 2010. Dirk said he would opt out of his contract to explore free agency. Owner Mark Cuban chastised this fine reporter for actually emailing him afterward and asking if he really believed Dirk was serious. Was Dirk seriously contemplating an NBA life out of Dallas? Had he given up hope that a championship could be won in Big D? After some strange anxious moments in early July when the Mavs seemingly didn't know if Dirk was in Germany, Dallas or New York, the big man signed on for another four years at the hometown discount of $80 million, but there was no superstar coming to hold his hand. He wouldn't need it. Dirk was putting up MVP numbers before he sprained his right knee on Dec. 27. After missing nine games and needing another month or so to really regain his full game, he finished the regular season averaging 23 points on a career-best 51.7 percent shooting. Still, was this veteran-laden team that didn't exactly finish the regular season on fire championship material? Not even Dirk could have honestly answered that question at the start of the postseason with an unequivocal yes. Now he can. Dirk had a remarkable playoff run, averaging 27.7 points and 8.1 rebounds. On the road to the title he beat the NBA's best player over the past decade, Kobe Bryant, then the star of the future, Kevin Durant, and finally the game's biggest current stars, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James -- doing it all with class and his own, awkward style that has endeared him to one and all.

His outlook: It's hard to even fathom the weight of personal stress, pressure, negativity -- whatever you want to call it -- that melted away when Dirk hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Immense. No longer is he one of the greatest players without a title. He's just a great player. Add to it that he appears to be in a very stable and loving relationship and at age 33, Dirk's life on and off the court would seem as happy and as complete as ever. He'll sail on his successes to the EuroBasket tournament at the end of September and try to qualify the German national team to a second consecutive Olympic appearance. Then he'll return to Dallas and, whenever the lockout is lifted, look to defend a title for the first time in his career. Now that Dirk has his championship, more focus will begin to be paid to his amazing accomplishments. Here's just one: Dirk will enter next season at No. 23 on the NBA's all-time scoring list with 22,792 points. With another typical season of 1,800 to 2,000 points (an average of between 22.0 and 24.4 points over 82 games), Dirk will pass No. 17 Allen Iverson (24,368) and nip at the heels of No. 16 Patrick Ewing (24,815). With three consecutive 2,000-point seasons, Dirk will pass current No. 5 Shaquille O'Neal (28,596) when his contract is up. The only active players ahead of Dirk are Kobe at No. 6 (27,868) and No. 20 Kevin Garnett (23,323).

The Countdown

No. 16 DeShawn Stevenson

No. 15 Peja Stojakovic

No. 14 Dominique Jones

No. 13 Ian Mahinmi

No. 12 Brian Cardinal

No. 11 Rodrigue Beaubois

No. 10 Brendan Haywood

No. 9 Corey Brewer

No. 8 J.J. Barea

No. 7 Rudy Fernandez

No. 6 Shawn Marion

No. 5 Jason Terry

No. 4 Caron Butler

No. 3 Tyson Chandler

No. 2 Jason Kidd

No. 1 Dirk Nowitzki