DALLAS — The DFW sports universe said goodbye this week to the greatest of all-time in Dallas Mavericks history, Dirk Nowitzki. The certain Hall-of-Famer finished his career with 31,560 points, 14 All-Star selections, two NBA Finals appearances, and one big Finals MVP from 2011 that MFFL will never forget.
In the wake of Nowitzki calling it a career after 21 seasons, it makes one wonder who exactly is the Dirk of the Dallas Cowboys.
Nowitzki represented so much to the Mavs. He was the franchise's first league MVP, Finals MVP, led the team to its first championship. He finished sixth all-time in league history in scoring. He is tied for the most seasons played in NBA history with 21. Even though there were qualified individuals who preceded him in franchise history, such as Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper, Jason Kidd, and even Steve Nash, Nowitzki was the first ambassador of excellence to come from the organization.
The seven-footer from Wurzburg wasn't just a great player, he was also a great teammate and a great philanthropist. He partnered up with the Heroes Foundation to continue their celebrity baseball game after Dallas Stars center Mike Modano went to Detroit in 2010. Starting in 2016, he added another component to his blend of celebrity sports and community outreach by adding a similarly formatted tennis tournament in the fall.
The easy answer to this question is Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach. After all, like Nowitzki, Staubach led Dallas to its first championship with a Super Bowl VI win at the end of the 1971 season, and he has been an excellent philanthropist off the field with his involvement with the United Way, the Children's Cancer Fund, and the Salvation Army.
However, Nowitzki is the Mavs' all-time stats leader in games, seasons, points, rebounds, blocks, field goals, three-pointers, and free throws. Staubach isn't the franchise leader in any of the Cowboys' passing categories, which is the result of having another Super Bowl winner and Hall-of-Famer follow up your career and the NFL to make the game more passer friendly.
In terms of leading all statistical categories, running back Emmitt Smith would be the closest. After all, he leads the franchise in points scored, just like Nowitzki, with 986. He is the NFL's all-time leading rusher. No one has scored more touchdowns than Smith's 164. The only problem is Smith was part of the embarrassment of riches the Cowboys have enjoyed since the 1960s when they broke out of the mold of an expansion team and challenged the Green Bay Packers for two straight NFL titles.
Pick your Hall-of-Fame quarterback. Pick your Hall-of-Fame running back. Pick your Hall-of-Fame receiver, pass-rusher, and defensive back. Pick two multi-Super Bowl winners you like. Smith was kind of like the compound interest from a hefty investment account; he wasn't part of what made the franchise great to begin with, but certainly he has been a welcomed and identifiable fixture.
When it comes to longevity with the franchise, again, Smith has to be a part of the conversation as he spent 13 seasons with the Cowboys. However, Nowitzki stayed in Dallas for all 21 seasons, a task not even Dwayne Wade was able to accomplish with the Miami Heat. Tight end Jason Witten has played the most games for the Cowboys with 239, and he still wants more of the action as he returns for his 16th season. No one has been seen more in a Cowboys uniform than Witten, just as no one has been seen more in a Mavericks uniform than Nowitzki.
Witten is also a great comparison when it comes to media availability. Like Nowitzki, Witten routinely makes himself available for comment and works with the media to provide quotes and material. Nowitzki was more fun with his occasional self-deprecation, but that is a matter of style. Substance wise, the two were very comparable.
As a superstar, perhaps quarterback Troy Aikman is the most apt comparison to Nowitzki in terms of community outreach. After winning three Super Bowl championships, Aikman began teaming up with Staubach to help generate interest and co-chair the Children's Cancer Fund annual luncheons. The year is 1996 and the winningest star of the biggest sport is getting involved to raise awareness for childhood cancer. Aikman has also stated numerous times that he will continue to work with the CCF as long as they call upon him. While there has been no word as to Nowitzki's involvement with the Heroes Foundation's celebrity baseball game for 2019, he did take it over the season before becoming a NBA champion, which raised the stock of the event in 2011 considerably.
The fact is the Cowboys have had parts of the composite superstar split apart throughout their franchise. Some of it is the nature of the game, as football requires a core 25-30 players to win ballgames as opposed to basketball with its 7-11. Therefore, it is easier for Nowitzki to lead in as many categories as he did. You know, it's kind of hard for Smith to lead in any passing categories.
Another part is the Cowboys were on the map starting in 1966 when they lost to the Packers in the NFL championship game. Since then, they have never departed from the public's conscious, and they have consistently had the players worthy of conversation.
When the Mavericks lost Game 7 of the 1988 Western Conference Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, they never bounced back until Don Nelson made the trade with the Milwaukee Bucks for Nowitzki's draft rights, acquired Nash, Mark Cuban bought the team, and away the adventure went. Nowitzki and the Mavs became an important part of the NBA conversation, and now it will be up to Luka Doncic and company to keep that Mavs brand relevant.
Even if they are successful, no one will forget what Dirk was able to accomplish and his significance to the franchise.
So who is most comparable to a legend like Dirk with the Cowboys? Share your opinion with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.