DALLAS — 21 seasons is a long time for anything.

We didn’t get 21 seasons of Friday Night Lights, Lost, or almost any other show not named Grey’s Anatomy. But we got 21 seasons of Dirk Nowitzki, and on Wednesday night, the Dallas Mavericks commemorated everything he meant to the organization by retiring his number 41 jersey, never to be worn again.

“Here in Dallas, we got to see him grow,” Jason Kidd said. “His career on the court and off the court is like no other. He is the blueprint for the European pathway… This is the payoff. He and his family get it once, so you have to enjoy it. There will be a statue sometime down the road. And then, the final chapter will be the hall of fame. He carried a lot of us.”

Nowitzki the legend

41 played 21 seasons in Dallas. He set the standard. He became the torchbearer, taking Dallas into that good night with countless historic battles that go down in NBA lore and mystical ethos.

“Dirk wanted to be accepted and then he wanted to be feared,” Kidd said.

The 2006 NBA finals loss to the Miami Heat. The 2007 MVP. Playoff heartbreak followed by the 2011 championship. Nowitzki was excellent within the storm. Always humble and always honest. He was loyal in the age of disloyalty. He allowed himself to become every part of Dallas, and he earned a street name for it. But also so much more.

So, when one thinks of Nowitzki, it’s almost innate to marvel at him. And it’s ok to do so because he’s earned it. His 21 seasons of clutch moments, memorable games and big shots earned it. And his overall human greatness earned it.

“When you end your career, you’re always looking for signs that you did it right,” Kidd said. “The biggest sign you can get is when someone retires your number.”

Nowitzki
Jan 5, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban hugs former Dallas Mavericks player Dirk Nowitzki as Nowitzki has his number 41 jersey retired after the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Golden State Warriors at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dirk Nowitzki’s forever send-off 

On Tuesday, the eve of his jersey retirement, Nowitzki gawked at the amount of praise and fanfare he’s received since his retirement in 2019. The look on his face somehow hinted that he — a first-ballot Hall of Famer — felt undeserving of recognition. That’s just who he is. He’s always looked to be a piece of a larger puzzle, he said.

His jersey retirement shows he was always the biggest part of that puzzle.

“To get your jersey retired, your number is never being worn again in franchise history,” Nowitzki said. “That is super special — I’m going to soak it all in.”

And that’s exactly what Nowitzki did throughout an evening tailor-made in his image. He enjoyed countless video cameos on the arena big screen, cheers from the sell-out crowd and chants during timeouts. The shy “glass is half empty” kid grew into the man that stood center circle and accepted the praises of 20,000 people who grew up with him.

“It’s special,” Nowitzki, while holding back tears, said of the fan support he receives in Dallas. “It’s really special.”

Nowitzki historically 

The beauty in Nowitzki’s career is that there won’t be another jersey retirement. 41 was never 41 for any other city. And in the era of player movement, that’s a rarity.

All his wars were won and lost in Dallas. When he didn’t get the job done, he faced all the pressure in Dallas. He never ran from those who demanded that he be great. He welcomed them. When he did get the job done, in 2011, he celebrated with the same people who helped him build the foundation.

He’s celebrating with those same individuals in 2022, as his jersey hangs in the rafters. A playwright couldn’t conjure up a better script.

“It’s forever up there,” Nowitzki said in disbelief. “It’s forever up there.”

He serves as living proof that sometimes the process matters more than the results. And that the mark of a career isn’t the number of championships, but how one conducted themselves through the valleys on the way to the peak of success.

What 41 forever means 

Dirk
Jan 5, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban unveils a replica of a statue for Dirk Nowitzki as Nowitzki has his number 41 jersey retired after the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Golden State Warriors at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

He’s a testament to doing things right, which is oftentimes harder. As a result, when one measures him against other greats, his championships won’t stack up, but the body of his work will. The character will. The man will.

“He’s respected all around the world,” Luka Doncic said. “He is an amazing person and one of the most humble. Everything that happens to him, he deserves.”

By retiring his jersey, Dallas commemorates Nowitzki’s achievement on the court, but also his personhood off of it. Basketball was just his stage. He was an artist. He coined his own move — the one-legged fadeaway.

But 41 is in the rafters because he said what he meant and meant what he said. And in a world where stars typically don’t do so, that matters just as much.

“Talk about a legend, icon, on and off the floor,” Kidd said. “He always worked. Early in his career, he was nervous. By the end of his career, he was feared. He found a way and Dallas accepted him. He just found a way.”

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Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.