Retiring No. 41 Means Dallas Mavericks icon Dirk Nowitzki’s Legacy Will Live on for Generations

Like one of those thousands of majestic, high-arcing jump shots that always seemed poised to scrape the rafters at American Airlines Arena, Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki’s iconic No. 41 jersey soared through the air for all to see.

Silhouettes of his leaning, one-legged jumpers already on both ends of the floor, Nowitzki was honored with a jersey retirement ceremony fit for a king. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who was on hand for the event, even remarked that of all the jersey retirements he had attended before, never had one been as adoring as the one the Mavs treated Nowitzki to on Wednesday.

And you know what? Nowitzki was deserving of every nostalgic moment of it because he has a legacy that is multi-layered, grand, and meaningful as any star player in NBA history.

Nowitzki became an icon in Dallas by playing his entire 21-year career with the Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks shocked the basketball world in 1998 when they traded former University of Michigan standout Robert Traylor to the Milwaukee Bucks for relative no-name Dirk Nowitzki, a lanky German teen who barely spoke any English at all.

Dallas would also flip Pat Garrity — the footnote addition in the Nowitzki trade — to Phoenix for point guard Steve Nash.

It was a series of moves that would forever transform the Dallas Mavericks franchise and eventually make them NBA champions for the first time in 2011.

Nowitzki’s career got off to a rocky start, with him considering going back to Germany after his rookie contract concluded, but by the time it was over, the 7-footer held a slew of franchise and NBA records. However, this is the record that mattered most to basketball fans in Dallas: He spent all 21 of his seasons with the Mavericks, becoming the first player to remain with one franchise that long (even though it likely cost him more than $200 million in contractual earnings).

And after a career that saw him score 31,560 points, make 14 NBA All-Star teams, win the 2007 MVP award and lead the Mavs to the 2011 NBA Championship as Finals MVP, Nowitzki looked on in amazement on Wednesday as his iconic No. 41 soared into the rafters.

During the ceremony, former teammates Jason Kidd, Michael Finley, and Steve Nash spoke glowingly about the greatest player in Mavericks history. As usual, Nowitzki stole the show by once again coming up clutch late in the night.

“I always tell you guys, find your passion in life and work hard,” Nowitzki said in the ceremony, speaking to his kids, but also every other kid in the building and throughout the basketball-playing world. “And great things can happen.”

Nowitzki was always more than just a great basketball player; he was a basketball pioneer

Dirk Nowitzki has a case as the game’s greatest power forward, right there with Tim Duncan, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Kevin McHale, and James Worthy.

But he was always more than just a great player because of his status as a basketball pioneer and a role model to players with NBA aspirations around the globe. Nowitzki wasn’t even close to being the first international player in NBA history, but he might go down as the most important one. He broke down whatever barriers still existed for European players and paved the way for the revolution of the NBA to become a global game. Silver said as much in the jersey retirement ceremony, pointing out that the NBA will forever owe Nowitzki a debt of gratitude.

“They love you here in Dallas, but they love you all over the world,” Silver said during the ceremony. “You’re a trendsetter here in this league — 21 years with one team, which had never been done before; you brought this team a championship, and you are one of the 75 greatest players of all time, and you are a pioneer for international players. `International players’ used to mean something different before you came in, and then it meant championship-caliber, great training, great development, and great culture.”

In addition to retiring Dirk Nowitzki’s number, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will honor the future Hall of Famer with a statue

Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who sees Nowitzki’s legacy live on through Slovenian star Luka Doncic dominating nightly for Dallas, spoke glowingly about Nowitzki’s shy and humble nature. He pointed out how the legendary Nowitzki never wanted his silhouettes placed on the playing floor at American Airlines Arena. However, it was a fitting way to memorialize Nowitzki’s one-legged jump shot as one of the most iconic moves in basketball history, right up there with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s hook shot, Micheal Jordan’s split-leg, tongue-wagging dunk, Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake, and others.

Cuban also unveiled plans for a statue to be built outside of the arena so that Nowitzki’s legacy will live on in Dallas for generations to come.

The jersey retirement ceremony was fit for a king, and Nowitzki was deserving of every proverbial bouquet thrown at his feet. Great players come and go for franchises, but Nowitzki always represented much more than just great basketball talent. His legacy will lie in his global impact, his ability to break barriers and change ways of thinking, and in his permanence with one franchise over 21 years.

Greatest power forward of all time? Greatest international player of all time? The most impactful player internationally? Most revolutionary shooter for a 7-footer? Most loyal superstar to one franchise?

Nowitzki fits under all of those categories. Now, with his No. 41 hanging in the rafters, his statue on the way, and his Pro Basketball Hall of Fame status not too far off, his legacy will live on for generations to come.

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