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Nowitzki has finally arrived

June 17, 2011

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“. . . (It’s an honor for me just to have his name mentioned with mine,” said Larry Bird this week about Dirk Nowitzki.

Put my response down as “Wow.”

We will call it a “resurrection,” because from the standpoint of perception, maybe even more local than national, The Dirk did resurrect his basketball career over the past nine weeks.

Think about that. In the world of pro sports, how many careers have been forever altered, from a positive standpoint, 13 years into it?

But those Bird comments?

Be it the MVP award for the NBA finals, be it the world championship ring that’s coming for all the Mavericks, be it “everything” else The Dirk has accomplished in a decade-plus, mark “it’s an honor for me just to have his name mentioned with mine” is a quote that puts the gravy on the chicken fried steak.

When The Dirk was 20 years old, first arriving in a foreign country (Texas) with a bad haircut and an oversized earring, the Bird comparisons had already started.

It was the ultimate compliment, of course, but those Bird comparisons also became the ball-and-chain that hung forever around The Dirk’s neck.

He’s no Larry Legend, right?

I’d say no, but also say this about Bird:

He’s not a guy who now does many interviews and he’s not a Hall of Famer who loosely throws around compliments about today’s players.

As a player, Bird always spoke frankly, and was also known as one of the most fierce competitors ever, plus one of the most legendary trash-talkers on the court.

But when he agreed to come on local ESPN radio Wednesday, Bird was loose, funny and, as someone who doesn’t know Larry Bird, I can only guess on this, but he seemed to be speaking from the heart.

When the “comparisons” question was asked on 103.3 radio, Bird said, “I don’t get into that. That’s for other people to debate. I just know that I love his game. I like his demeanor on the court, the way that he loves to play.

“You can compare him to me if you want to. I’m just happy for the young man, and it’s an honor for me to just have his name mentioned with mine.”

Granted, there will be those who scoff at that comment, claiming that Bird was simply “being nice.”

But it doesn’t matter. Winning a world championship, being named the finals’ MVP and now the Bird comment, all fit nicely into the resurrection of The Dirk’s basketball perception.

I’ve always maintained The Dirk’s harshest critics were a local fandom as opposed to the national audience.

And watching everything that has happened in his career, particularly in the last five years, can anyone claim there weren’t doubts about The Dirk being able to lead the Mavs out of the basketball wilderness and into the throne room?

Don’t start lying to me. Sure, the doubts surfaced at times, particularly after the dark days following what happened in the finals of 2006. Then there were four more years of those dark days that continued into this season. “Can they win it all with Dirk?” became an ongoing local question that even surpassed “Can the Cowboys win with Romo?”

As the former coach and now as president of the Indiana Pacers, Bird said Wednesday he had seen Dirk play in high school in Germany and thought that Nowitzki “had it all,” basketball-wise.

Well, not exactly. Not in the beginning, and certainly not for the first half of his career. All this changed over 13 years. And that change finally hit home this season.

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