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Dallas Mavericks fans had plenty to celebrate Wednesday night as the franchise hoisted Dirk Nowitzki’s No. 41 to the rafters. But for all the things Dirk achieved in his 21 seasons with the Mavs, the 2011 NBA championship run will always be the most special. Kobe Bryant predicted it all.

Ever the fiery competitor himself (in just about everything), Bryant hoped to lead his Los Angeles Lakers to a third consecutive title in 2011. However, after facing Nowitzki and the Mavs in the conference semifinals, even Kobe had to acknowledge that Dirk was playing on a totally separate tier from the rest of the planet.

Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks destroyed Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the 2011 playoffs

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers won 57 games during the 2010-11 regular season and seemed destined to compete for a 3-peat. Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks had other ideas.

Dallas dominated LA, dispatching the Lakers with a four-game sweep. Dirk played a huge role throughout the series.

The Mavs outscored the Lakers 25-16 in the fourth quarter of Game 1 to earn a razor-thin 96-94 victory. Nowitzki scored 11 of his 28 points in the final period, including a go-ahead jumper and clutch free throws in the last minute. Bryant’s 36 points came in vain. Dallas never really let LA get back into the series.

Nowitzki and the Mavs quieted the home crowd again in Game 2, holding the Lakers to just 81 points. Thanks to another fourth-quarter surge, they defended their home court in Game 3, with Dirk going off for 32 points. Dallas emphatically closed the series in Game 4 with a resounding 122-86 win.

Dirk averaged 25.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists on a stellar 57.4% shooting from the field. He also went 8-of-11 from beyond the arc. Perhaps even more importantly, he helped keep Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol off the glass as much as possible.

Kobe saw something different in Dirk and his Mavs teammates throughout the series. He believed Nowitzki would lead Dallas to the mountaintop.

Bryant foresaw Nowitzki and the Mavs winning the NBA championship

Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant embraces Dallas Mavericks great Dirk Nowitzki at the conclusion of a 2011 playoff series
Former Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant congratulates then-Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki following Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference semifinals | Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Kobe Bryant could have stewed over getting swept. Instead, he gave praises to Nowitzki and the Mavericks.

Bean said that Dallas had played fantastic team basketball. He attributed (h/t The Athletic) much of the success to Dirk, whom he felt could not be prevented from getting whatever he wanted.

“Nobody’s going to be able to stop [Nowitzki]. He’s on another planet right now.”

–Kobe Bryant (2011)

That’s some incredibly high praise from the Black Mamba. In actuality, what Dirk and the Mavericks did to him in the playoffs had even greater resonance. Nowitzki revealed that, years later, Bryant tried recruiting him to join the Lakers.

In any case, Kobe understood the depth of Dirk’s greatness. He watched Nowitzki help bring his prediction to life in the next two rounds of the playoffs.

Dirk triumphantly captured his first title


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Bryant’s words proved strangely prophetic.

Nowitzki overwhelmed a young Oklahoma City Thunder squad in the Conference Finals, averaging 32.2 points on 55.7% shooting from the field while also averaging close to 12 free throws. As good as he was in that series, though, it merely served as an appetizer for an NBA Finals showdown with the “Big 3” Miami Heat.

Dirk’s numbers don’t look quite as dazzling. His scoring dipped (26 points), and his efficiency went way down. But it’s how and when Nowitzki scored that matters most in this case.

The eventual Finals MVP scored seven points in the final minute to help the Mavs even the series in Game 2, including the game-winning layup with under five seconds to play. He posted a 21-point, 11-rebound double-double in Game 4 despite playing with a fever and flu symptoms before scoring 29 points in Game 5 to help Dallas earn a 3-2 series lead. The Mavs closed it out in South Beach in Game 6.

Nowitzki finally had his championship. Not even the Heat of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh could stop him. Kobe nailed his prophecy almost to the letter.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.