The myth died for good only two years ago, but it seems more distant than that because it was so silly. It’s unlikely that it will return, but then again, people are still looking for Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, mermaids and flying saucers.
So who knows? Maybe at some point, some basketball idiot will call Dirk Nowitzki “soft” again.
That person would indeed have to be an idiot. But then, that was always true. Those who preached such nonsense – individuals such as Chris Webber, who, by the way, has undergone a spectacular conversion to Dirk devotee – had an unseemly agenda when attempting to label the 7-foot German “soft.”
Webber was hardly the only one; his other TNT buddies, including Kenny Smith, occasionally joined in. But the essay exposing those who attempted to create the ugly stereotype of a European player has been written so it will be left alone today.
Besides, when Dirk obliterated any phony criticism by leading the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA title, ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy blasted all the critics and said, “Dirk has never been soft.”
In 2012-13, however, Nowitzki has been several things that he has not been for many years.
He was not an All-Star, missing his first midseason showcase since 2001.
He will not be a 20-point scorer for the first time since 1999-2000 (he is currently averaging about 17 points a game).
He will play in the fewest number of games in his career (not counting lockout seasons), missing the first 27 games recuperating from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
And for the first time since 1999-2000 – again – Nowitzki will not play in the postseason. The Mavericks’ run of 12 consecutive playoff appearances has ended, and now they are left with what we will refer to as “The Tim Duncan Dream.”
“Maybe we’ll win the lottery, pull a Spurs and get the No. 1 pick,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said.
The unfortunate reality of Cuban’s fantasy, however, is there is no Tim Duncan in the current draft. But Cuban and the Mavericks are hardly basing their rebuilding effort on the luck of the lottery. They are basing it on nine expiring contracts, a large amount of cap space and the solid foundation they have built in Dallas.
That foundation goes by the name of Dirk Nowitzki, the face of the franchise, the greatest 7-foot shooter in the history of the game, the greatest player to ever come out of Europe, and – most importantly in Dallas – a Maverick for life.
Nowitzki caused a few ripples earlier in the season when he said he planned to always be a Maverick, but at this point in his career he didn’t want to be competing only for lower level playoff spots. That was characteristic honesty, but it did not mean he wanted to leave. He has made the commitment stay in Dallas and in many ways, he and Cuban are almost like brothers.
Nowitzki has always understood Cuban’s decision to not re-sign key players from the title team – most notably Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea – and create cap space in hope of luring a younger premium free agent to Dallas.
That plan sputtered last summer when Deron Williams rejected an offer from his hometown team and went with the Nets to Brooklyn. This year, the primary focus will be on Dwight Howard, but the Mavericks are far from the favorite to lure The Dwight Drama Show to Dallas.
Nowitzki has promised to be an active recruiter for the Mavericks, and even though he will turn 35 in June, his shooting ability is as good as ever. And since he has never been confused with
Usain Bolt, the subject of losing a step is, well, not a subject.
Besides, when Cuban speaks of rebuilding, he does it in internet time, which is his instant approach to everything.
“It’s a quick rebuild,” Cuban said. “It’s not a four-year rebuild recycle.”
So how soon is it?
“Next year,” Cuban said.
Is that possible?