By NICHOLAS VINSON
As the semester comes to a close, it seems sports are either starting the season or starting the postseason. The NBA playoffs began Saturday, Apr. 13. Before they began, however, the Association had two of its greatest players play the final games of their respective careers. Dwayne Wade played his last game with the Miami Heat and Dirk Nowitzki finished his career with the Dallas Mavericks.
There is no doubting that Wade is a superstar and future Hall of Famer. Drafted by the Heat in 2003 after playing for Marquette University, Wade spent the majority of his NBA years in a Heat uniform. In 2006, Wade’s third season, he led the team to the franchise’s first NBA championship and was named the 2006 NBA Finals MVP, per ESPN. He struggled with injuries in the next season, but after helping the U.S. National Team win gold at the 2008 Olympics, Wade returned in the 2008-09 season and averaged 30.7 points per game, earning him his first NBA scoring title.
“D. Wade is definitely one of the greatest to play the game,” said senior economics major Daley Pagano. “Not just play the game, but his demeanor was usually smooth, collected and cool. I think that puts him in a class that’s different than most other basketball players.”
This was all before what most people know him for: his partnership with LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The “Big Three,” as they were known, appeared in the NBA Finals four consecutive times, beginning in the 2010-11 season (the season the trio was first assembled). Together, the three also won back-to-back championships, in 2012 and 2013. However, the first season James, Bosh and Wade were together, they did make the finals, but were defeated by a team almost no one had guessed would make it that far, a team led by none other than Nowitzki.
Nowitzki is often regarded as one of the most well-liked superstars to ever play in the NBA. As a teen in Germany, Nowitzki played basketball for his local sports club, DJK Würzburg, and according to biographers Dino Reisner and Holger Sauer, always stood “a foot or more” above his peers and opponents. He played four seasons for DJK Würzburg before impressing a number of scouts, analysts and players during the 1998 Nike Hoop Summit. Dirk was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998, then traded to the Dallas Mavericks.
Nowitzki’s first few seasons with the Mavericks were characterized by a slow start, followed by huge improvement. With him at the helm, Dallas made the playoffs in 2001 (per NBA Hoops, this was the first time since 1990), but were eliminated in the second round in five games by the San Antonio Spurs. They made the playoffs every season following, but were eliminated in the early series.
Dallas first made a finals appearance with Nowitzki as their franchise player in 2006. They were matched up against the Miami Heat, and a young Wade. After taking a 2-0 lead in the series, Dallas ultimately lost the next four games, giving Wade and the Heat their first championship.
After that season, neither the Heat nor the Mavericks made the finals again for at least three seasons. As mentioned before, the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took the Heat all the way to the series in the 2010-11 season. Coincidentally, Dirk Nowitzki took the Mavericks there as well, in the same season. The stage was set for a rematch.
Analysts and commentators from SB Nation, SportsCenter, and other sports shows heavily favored the Heat to win. After all, Wade had proven himself once against Nowitzki and the Mavericks, and that was before Bosh and James signed with the team. However, it was clear that Nowitzki was looking for redemption. In a back-and-forth series that had Miami leading twice, Notwizki and Mavericks did the improbable, beating the Big Three and Miami in Games 4, 5, and 6, giving the Dallas Mavericks their first ever NBA Championship. Nowitzki was named the Finals MVP., and played with a fever of about 101 degrees during Game 4, according to SB Nation.
Fast-forward to the 2017-18 NBA season. Dwyane Wade left Miami for his hometown Chicago Bulls in 2017. After agreeing to a buyout with them, Wade signed a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers in September 2017, in an effort to recapture some of the success he had with LeBron James. In February 2018, Cleveland decided to restructure its roster almost in its entirety, and Wade was traded back to Miami. In the summer of 2018, he declared that the 2018-19 season would be his last, and launched a campaign called “One Last Dance.”
Nowitzki stayed in Dallas his entire career, and earned a lot of admiration from fans, critics, and players for his attitude on and off-the-court, love for the game, and loyalty to a single franchise. Though the Mavericks made the playoffs many times in his career after their historic title run, they never really could recapture that lightning in a bottle. During the 2018-19 season, though he made no announcement that it was his intention, fans and audiences across both conferences gave him standing ovations and “MVP” chants at almost every game, as if this was his last season.
Wade and Nowitzki met and played against each other twice this year. As if their careers were not already intertwined by the past, their Mar. 23 meeting, what would be their last game against each other as professionals, showed compared stats of the two players against each other over their careers. At the end of the game, the two swapped jerseys, a common tradition in the league as a sign of respect.
“It’s interesting that they were so even throughout their careers, even though they didn’t play each other that much.” said senior communication and digital studies major Aaron Osman. “Especially since Wade had so much more media attention than Dirk did.”
In their final games, Wade posted a triple-double with 30 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and Nowitzki posted 30 points and 10 rebounds. For players of different positions, gameplay styles, and stature, Wade and Nowitzki will both leave the league as two of the greatest ever, tied together by their stats and history together.