I know it’s blasphemy but it might be true

by Andrew Kennedy

Last night Dirk Nowitzki put together one of the signature performances of his career. He shot 12-of-15 from the floor, made all of his 24 free throw attempts and finished with 48 points as Dallas beat Oklahoma City 121-112 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Another way you know this performance was awesome, as if the numbers aren’t enough, is that it totally overshadowed another great performance. Kevin Durant also went for 40 in the game and made 18-of-19 of his free throw attempts. While looking at the box score you might think this game will be remembered as a great duel between the two stars, it won’t be because Dirk was ht breathtaking.

Dirk’s career has seemed to of flown under the radar somewhat in terms of how high it should rank among other legends. It looked like he was peaking in 2006 taking a Dallas team to the Finals after finally beating their nemesis San Antonio in the playoffs. Only the ring that seemed meant for Dirk would not be as Wade and the refs swooped in and took it from him.

The Mavericks then flopped in the first round of next year’s playoffs after a 67-win regular season when the Warriors were simply that bad of a matchup for them. And since then not a lot has been heard from the purest 7-foot shooter this world has seen.

He started to make a little noise this season when the Mavs got off to such a great start and he was looking like an MVP candidate. But that too went away after he got injured along with Caron Butler and Dallas finished the season the three-seed in the West.

But they were ready for the playoffs beating Portland, a team that a lot of people thought could beat Dallas, in six games and then sweeping the three-time defending Western Conference champion Lakers in the second round. Now matched up with the up-and-coming Thunder, Dirk put together one of the great performances in NBA history to win Game 1.

So now it’s time to overreact to one game. That’s not really the case though. It’s more like it’s time to notice what Dirk has accomplished in his career. I mean, it seems like this guy has been in his prime for the last eight seasons or so and I don’t know when it will end. I assume a foot injury or something like that will eventually slow him down but it’s hard to picture a decline in his career looming.

As far as I’m concerned, Dirk Nowitzki is the closest thing this league has seen to Larry Bird. It’s blasphemy because Bird was one of the greatest and it really seemed like there would never be another Bird. And there still isn’t but if everyone is going to sit there and compare Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan, it’s only fair to throw Dirk in there with Bird.

The shooting numbers and fact that they’re both white and big guys immediately jump out as similarities. While Bird will go down as the greatest passing forward of all-time and maybe top two or three passer ever, Dirk will never be close in that department. Dirk is more of a modern day Bird, if Bird played today and in the same conditions as Dirk, how different would they be? I mean, Bird was surrounded by great talent in Boston and the same can’t exactly be said for Dirk. Imagine of Dirk was playing with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum for the last five years or so. That’d be kind of like Bird standing alongside Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Timing and proximity to greatness is everything and Bird was always fortunate in that department while Dirk has not been.

But the great ones always find a way to win and Dirk may be on the verge of doing that this year with what seems to be very little talent surrounding him. Sure he has the 2002 All-Stars playing alongside him and the floor spacing and shooting of this Mavs team is pretty darn good. They throw multiple looks at their opponents, play zone and have a lineup with Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea from time to time but at the end of the day, this team starts and stops with Dirk.

He’s one of the greatest talents the league has ever seen. He’s the most skilled big man in terms of shooting by far. His numbers don’t lie either as he’s averaged 23 points and 8 rebounds per game over his career while joining the 50-40-90 club once during his MVP season. There’s no reason we shouldn’t remember this guy as a top five power forward of all-time and maybe even greater. The list starts with Tim Duncan and then 2-5 aren’t etched in stone yet: Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Dirk Nowitzki. If Dirk wins a title this year, I think he may jump to number two on that list.

It’s only Game 1 in the West Finals so far and Dirk has already given us one amazing performance. This series seems like it’s going to be a great one where two scorers put up huge numbers in every game (cue my Durant is a top 5 small forward article for Friday). I’m trying not to get ahead of myself but if Dallas gets to the Finals and beats Chicago or Miami, how perfect would that be for Dirk’s career and his legacy? Then he just would need two more to tie Bird.