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A Look At The Legacy Dirk Nowitzki Is Leaving In Dallas After His 21-Year NBA Career


All right, Dallas, Texas, has long been known as a football town where the silver star looms large. But sports fans paid new attention to basketball when a 7-foot German player named Dirk Nowitzki joined the Dallas Mavericks in 1998. Now Nowitzki has officially announced he's retiring after this season, his 21st with the Mavericks. Here he is at last night's ceremony.


DIRK NOWITZKI: As you guys might expect, this was my last home game - yeah.

CHANG: Over the decades, Nowitzki and his Dallas fan base forged a deep bond. And to talk more about that, let's bring in Donovan Lewis, who's a sports radio host at The Ticket in Dallas. Hey, Donovan.

DONOVAN LEWIS: Hello. How are you?

CHANG: I'm good. So you've been there for most of Nowitzki's career. What was the atmosphere like last night for his final game in Dallas?

LEWIS: I think we all thought that this was his final year and his final home game, but Dirk never let on that it was officially the end. So, you know, you always hold on hope because this guy brought so much joy to every single basketball fan in Dallas because we all thought for a long time that basketball just wasn't going to be king around here and we never would...

CHANG: Yeah.

LEWIS: ...Get a title. But this guy came in. And all of a sudden, he just won us over. And they played relevant basketball in Dallas for a decade and a half. And I don't think a lot of people realize or appreciate that because we just got spoiled because basketball was so good, and it was...

CHANG: Yeah.

LEWIS: ...All because of this one guy. We won a title...

CHANG: Yeah.

LEWIS: ...In 2011, and that's climbing a mountain. And that's like, OK, this is the ultimate. You know what? I'll take that back. I love the title, but the ultimate was celebrating the guy that's been here for two decades...

CHANG: Yeah, yeah.

LEWIS: ...Playing basketball. He's one of ours, and I just absolutely loved it.

CHANG: I mean, it wasn't just the fans who adored him. He loved Dallas. He spent 21 seasons with the Mavericks. Why do you think Nowitzki felt so loyal to Dallas?

LEWIS: I think Mark Cuban, the owner of the Mavericks, had a lot to do with it. And I think winning that title had a lot to do it also - with it all so. This town was so starved for success in basketball.

CHANG: (Laughter).

LEWIS: And OK, maybe you were close to climbing that mountain, and it didn't happen. So being here for so long, he wanted to do it for this city. And once that happened, it was like, OK, this guy sacrificed blood, sweat and tears. We see, we hear that all the time.

CHANG: Yeah.

LEWIS: But that's literally what happened.

CHANG: Now, a few of Nowitzki's his favorite players, I understand, were in attendance last night. They made speeches about him. Here's what Charles Barkley had to say.


CHARLES BARKLEY: Let me say this about Dirk Nowitzki. He's the nicest man ever.


CHANG: There it is, that love again. Why do you think so many people felt such a personal connection to this guy?

LEWIS: A, because it's true. He is the nicest guy ever. And for him to be a superstar, one of - I guess we kind of equate superstars as being a little standoffish. I mean, you have to because a lot of people demand a lot of your time, whether it's pictures or autographs or whatnot. Social media yesterday was filled with people posting their pictures with Dirk, just ordinary people.

CHANG: Well what about you? Do you have a favorite personal story with Dirk?

LEWIS: You know, on our radio show, we have a yearly interview with Dirk. The first time I met him was 2007, and I'm starstruck. This is the - my favorite basketball player, and he's sitting right down and talking to us. Even every year after that, he'd come up, and he would remember my name and sit down and talk and all that stuff. So it's really crazy to think that this guy that you see on TV that's doing all the things that he's doing and winning championships will sit down and, you know, know you by name. It's - it kind of blows your mind a little bit. But he's just that kind of guy.

CHANG: Donovan Lewis with The Ticket in Dallas, thanks so much for joining us.

LEWIS: Thank you for having me. It's my pleasure - anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.