ESPN Dallas recently held court with Dirk Nowitzki. In this series, Nowitzki shares thoughts about his past, present and future.
As time moves on, Dirk Nowitzki will be remembered as one of the most special and unique players to ever play in the NBA. Among his contemporaries, he is held in extremely high regard. We’ve seen the league’s best -- Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James -- pay their respect to Nowitzki by copying his patented one-footed fadeaway jumper.
In addition, he’s earned the respect of some legends. In February 2013, ESPN.com’s Wright Thompson wrote a feature on Michael Jordan for ESPN the Magazine in which Jordan stated Nowitzki was one player who made the short list of stars who could be nearly as successful as he was in his era. Also included were James, Bryant and Tim Duncan.
Over years and years of blood, sweat, tears and jumpers, Nowitzki has established a legacy that will live on for generations. When asked about his impact, he couldn’t quite put his finger on what kind of mark he’s left on the game he loves so much.
“I don’t know. I kind of let others do that,” Nowitzki said. “I came in as a little kid, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was just working hard, had some talent and came into the right situation with the right kind of guys with [Don Nelson] and [Mark] Cuban. I got better and better.
“A lot of guys come in with talent and never reach their max. Me having a great surrounding, work ethic and coaching and teammates, it just happened.”
With all of that in his favor, Nowitzki has left his mark in the NBA. Based on his body of work and uniqueness, Nowitzki should be considered a revolutionary player of the modern game.
If you look at the past, the likes of Charles Oakley, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and even Duncan and Kevin Garnett defined the power forward position in the traditional manner we knew long ago. Fast-forward to when Nowitzki was starting to gain confidence in the NBA and you see the power forward position being shaped into a position known as the stretch-4.
The idea of a stretch-4 sounded like a gimmick at the time: Stick a big man on the perimeter and present him as a shooting threat to stretch the floor. Players such as Sam Perkins, Kiki VanDeWeghe and Larry Bird were paving the way. Nowitzki took the concept of the stretch-4 and ran with it. The concept of having a stretch-4 is a component every team craves. Nowitzki’s size and shooting are the reason for that.
International scouting already was taking place before Nowitzki joined the league, but his impact forced general managers and scouts to increase the deployment of assets to focus on finding the next international gem. Over the past decade, a goal for front offices has been to find the next Nowitzki.
He came into the league with size and skills no one else had. Time has been his ally when one compares today’s game to that of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The physicality of the past gave way to the fluidity of today’s game, allowing players like Nowitzki to thrive.
“When I first came in, the rules were a little different,” Nowitzki explained. “Now, there’s less handchecking and zone defenses. More of a free-flowing game helped me. I don’t know if the rules were kept the same where there was pounding and one-on-one back-downs for 10 seconds. I’m not sure if I ever would have had the same impact if the rules were the same. There are a lot of circumstances in play that had a role in me succeeding.”
Meshing the rule changes with that next generation of shooter’s like Nowitzki allowed more of a free game. Players now have to respect everyone on the floor as a legitimate scoring threat from anywhere and no matter their size.
"I’m happy now that most of the 5s and 4s can face up and shoot and drive,” Nowitzki said. "It’s fun to watch. Everybody now can score. I think that’s where this game is fun to watch and unbelievable. If all five guys are dangerous, you’ve got to guard everyone. That’s when the game really begins to become fun.”
Though he'll never admit it, his rise in status as an elite scorer provided a key component for those added doses of excitement in today's game. Still, he almost sounds like a proud dad in seeing the league filled with a variety diverse weapons on offense.
Nowitzki's career -- and legacy -- has been the equivalent of a pebble being thrown into the body of water that creates a ripple effect, leading to a wave of shooting big men to arrive after him.