With every flick of his textbook aligned wrist, every unwavering swish of the rock perfectly tickling the twine, Dirk Nowitzki not only vanquished the hopes and dreams of the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night, he fundamentally exorcised many of the same ghosts and demons that have similarly dogged him throughout his otherwise illustrious career.
All the talk about 2006-07 league MVP being ‘soft,’ ill-equipped and unworthy of ever claiming an NBA chip … well, let’s just say a couple 40-point showings in the Western Conference Finals, nights where you even outduel the league’s two-time scoring champ, can go a long way toward recementing one’s rep.
But the way Dirk Nowitzki sees it, his honor is still on the line. Has and will be as long as the memories of his team’s 2001 Finals shortcomings (4-2 loss to Miami after leading 2-0 in the biggest collapse in finals history) continue to haunt him. And so, as his owner, coaches and teammates marveled and rejoiced in their five-game annihilation of OKC that got them to this point, Nowitzki did the one thing he hadn’t done all series long for the Mavs… he shied away in the heat of the moment.
“All that celebration stuff,” said Nowitzki , shaking his head at his locker as his voice faded away, “this is not what we play for, bro.” No, Dirk Nowitzki seems motivated by far more regal endings. Scenes that end with him hoisting golden riches and being unarguably saluted as the finest his game has to offer.
And be it against league MVP Derrick Rose or the three-headed monster that is the ensemble of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Nowitzki seems poised for the moment.
“We talked about it after the game, that this is a great moment,” said Nowitzki. “We can enjoy it for a day, but we got one of those (conference championship) trophies already. And it didn’t mean anything.”
No, make no mistake about it, Dirk Nowitzki is playing for keeps.— Glenn Minnis