Ahead of jersey retirement, Nowitzki looks back on beating LeBron a decade ago

Jan 3, 2022
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PHOTO: AP

IN A few days, the Mavericks are expected to retire Dirk Nowitzki’s jersey number 41 during a home game against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday (Thursday morning, Philippine time).

Dallas has pulled out all the stops in honoring an athlete who played for the city for 21 years — and never thought about taking his allegiances elsewhere.

Not only are the Mavs giving him a jersey retirement ceremony, the city has named a street after him, and will soon unveil a statue of the Dallas big man in front of American Airlines Center.

“It's of course very humbling that when I first left Germany as sort of a 19-, 20-year old kid, [and you would say] that over 20 years later I would have had all this stuff in Dallas, I would have said you're absolutely out of your mind,” Nowitzki told the press in a media conference. “It was a dream career that worked out great for me that I could stay in one city and be part of this community for such a long time and part of this organization.”

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He told reporters how, in one Mavs game this season, he took a right on Nowitzki Way.

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“That is still surreal,” Nowitzki admitted.

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    Dirk Nowitzki looks back on 2011 NBA Finals

    Of course, the highlight of his 21-year run was the ring he and the rest of the Mavs earned for Dallas, beating the Miami Heat in their own home arena to clinch the series at 4-2.

    Dallas’ own stacked roster was then facing up against a Miami composed of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, and other stalwarts who would go on to win back-to-back championships in succeeding years.

    “I think we were a little fortunate,” reflected Nowitzki. “I think [LeBron] just went to Miami at the time, and I don't think they fully had all the roles defined, and I think everybody was still trying to find their way with Bosh and Wade and who scores when, who gets the ball at certain times of the game.”

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    In contrast, the Mavericks were “an older team that wanted to play, wanted to win, and we kind of had our defined roles.

    “We had our good defenders. We had J-Kidd who was kind of calling the game and making the passes. So, we had very defined roles, and we knew what time everybody had to step up, and our defense was really good that way with Tyson [Chandler] and J-Kidd and Shawn Marion was huge.”

    Of prime importance? Containing a supercharged LeBron James, fresh off "The Decision" that led him to Miami Beach and into a "super team" that, in Nowitzki's estimation, was still finding its footing back in 2011.

    "Really what we tried with LeBron is what you would try with any great players, and that's mixing it up," he said, "sometimes trapping, sometimes go under the pick-and-roll, sometimes hedge a little harder on the pick-and-roll, just keep mixing it
    up, keep mixing up the guys who were on him."

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    As for his own role in those momentous finals?

    “I got the ball when it was close and we needed some scoring,” said Nowitzki in his typical self-effacing way.

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    PHOTO: AP
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