Mavs Victory Parade route
I've always called Dirk Nowitzki a "reluctant superstar." His ability and skill set force him into a role that does not match his humble personality.
After Dallas finished off Miami in the NBA Finals, mark one up for the good guys.
Dirk is a team guy, and when the right play was for him to pass out of a double-team, he passed, even if his teammates didn't always justify his trust in them. He played that way during this past regular season and never changed during the playoffs, or in the Finals. And that makes this team and this championship so fitting, because Game 6 was maybe the biggest team win the Mavericks had throughout the playoffs.
I've covered the Mavericks and Dirk for years. I don't pretend to know him, but I feel confident about saying that he is as good as a guy as everyone says he is. I can't think of a single time when he's acted like a jerk (not a stretch for many professional athletes). On days when he doesn't talk to us in the media, he either slips out of the gym early or makes a joke as he sprints past us up the stairs to the locker room. To see him at the end of practice (when the media is allowed in) is to see someone who just wants to be one of the guys. That's all he wants. And while his talents make him elite, and his height makes him stand out, Dirk manages to remain one of the guys.
On a personal note, about 2 1/2 hours after the Mavericks had finished off the Heat, I had packed up my camera equipment and was walking through the bowels of the American Airlines Arena, heading for the exits. And 10 feet in front of me, here comes Dirk emerging through a door, from an area off-limits to the media. To appreciate the rest of this story, you need to know a couple things about me: I don't try to make friends with pro athletes, and I don't pretend to think they know who I am or are familiar with my work on TV. Usually if I pass an athlete in a hallway, I will give him the silence that I think he prefers. But in this instance, I walked straight up to him, stuck out my hand and said, Congratulations, I'm very happy for you. And he smiled (he was smiling all night) and thanked me and gave me a good handshake, and then continued on his way. The point is, the thought never crossed my mind that I should just hang back and leave him alone. Not for a second, which is out of character for me, but that's the effect Dirk's personality has on people.
I don't have any doubt that Miami will win an NBA championship with their big three, and they might win several. And when it happens, LeBron James will be overwhelmed with emotion (if his reaction to beating Boston in this year's East semi-finals is any indicator). But LeBron will never feel what Dirk felt Sunday, because LeBron will never have the kind of connection to his franchise and city that Dirk does. 13 years with one organization is a long time, and when Dirk re-signed with the Mavericks last summer he was agreeing to throw his lot in with this franchise. He was all-in. He would either win a championship with the Dallas Mavericks, or none at all.
I've always had a problem with the criticism some athletes receive for not chasing the ring at all costs. There is something noble about the career of guys like John Stockton and Reggie Miller. These guys stayed with their team throughout their entire career, played on some very good teams, gave it their best shot but came up short. Neither spent their twilight years playing as mercenaries chasing a title, like Clyde Drexler and Karl Malone. And there is something to be said for that.
Dirk could have ended up like Stockton or Miller, or like Malone or Charles Barkley (considered two of the best players to never win a title), and there is nothing wrong with that. But he's not. He's a Finals MVP and an NBA Champion. And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.