Some time ago, I posted a blog entitled, Winning with Class. I am going to revisit today some of the concepts and movies I discussed there. But I couldn’t help myself in light of the recent events in the Dallas sports world. Of course, I am referring to the announced retirement of Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks. And if anyone exemplified winning with class, it was Dirk. In my mind, when it comes to the sports world, he is by far the classiest of class acts.
His numbers[i] speak for themselves and emphasize what a remarkable athlete he is. His ability, standing at seven feet tall, to be able to hit jumpers from outside the three-point line consistently, revolutionized the game. He became and still is the epitome of the “stretch four” position so prevalent now in the NBA. In short, his game changed the game. Or as the legend, Larry Bird said it, Dirk left the game better than he found it.
But it is Dirk, the person, that sets him apart from other great athletes. Another of Dirk’s childhood idols, Charles Barkley, once described Dirk as, “the best combination of player and person ever.” When I think of Dirk, the person, five characteristics immediately come to mind. These are qualities that each of us should emulate. And these qualities remind me of some terrific movies as well.
Dirk is loyal. Dirk played his entire NBA career of 21 years with one team. That is more years with one organization than any other player in NBA history. That is a remarkable feat in today’s professional sports world of free agency. I agree with Dirk’s coach of eleven years, Rick Carlisle; it is unlikely anyone will ever break this record. Instead of following the money, as most professional athletes do, for several years now Dirk has agreed to accept much lower salaries than he could have received elsewhere because he knew his actions would allow the Mavericks more opportunities to bring in better players. Please don’t misunderstand me. There are times when we can take loyalty to an unhealthy extreme; where we need to look out for number one. And like all of us, professional athletes deserve their due. But when you reach the salary levels of elite athletes, is there really that much difference in a salary of $25 million per year and $10 to $15 million a year? As one of Dirk’s childhood idols, Shawn Kemp, expressed it, being willing to play with the same team, the same family, and the same people for so many years speaks for itself.
When I think of loyalty in sports, I think of this scene from the film Rudy.[ii] Like Dirk, Rudy’s Notre Dame teammates were loyal to a fellow teammate who gave his all every day to help the team, even though he knew he would likely never play in a game for the Fighting Irish:
I believe, if Dirk had played for the Notre Dame football team that year, he would have been the first to offer his jersey to Rudy. Are we willing to go to such extremes for a family member, friend or coworker?
Dirk works hard. His work ethic is legendary among NBA players. He spends more time in the gym perfecting his skills than just about anyone. In the press conference after Dirk’s final home game, Coach Carlisle told reporters that even getting Dirk on the court this year was a miracle because of nagging injuries Dirk has suffered throughout the years. Of course, in Dirk’s typical way, no one knew anything about that other than his teammates, the coaching staff and the trainers. Coach Carlisle attributed Dirk’s even being able to play this year to Dirk’s dedication and hard work. When a reporter asked Dirk about his work ethic, he answered, “It makes victories just a little bit sweeter if you work really hard and really, really long.”
When I think of physical demands, I think of the movie, Lone Survivor.[iii] No one trains harder than Navy Seals, as illustrated by this clip from the beginning of the film:
Dirk has always worked hard to stay in the best possible shape for the NBA wars. Here is a brief clip about Dirk’s workouts with his mentor.
Are we as willing as Dirk is to put in the hours of practice to perfect our talents or abilities?
Dirk is humble and always put his team first. At that final home game celebration, Coach Carlisle called Dirk “the greatest athlete in Dallas sports history,” while 20,000 fans chanted in unison, “Thank, you, Dirk!” Later at the press conference, a reporter asked Dirk what he thought when he heard that well-earned compliment. Dirk said, “I don’t see it that way. There’s been some tremendous athletes come through here. This is a great sports town, as you guys know. There had been great sports played throughout history here. I’m honored that you say that, but just to be mentioned with some of these guys is an honor for me. I’m humbled by that.” Throughout his career, Dirk has always complimented his coaches and fellow players for pushing him to reach new limits and inspiring him with the confidence that was not always there. For those of us who have watched Dirk for more than 20 years, it is evident to us that it was Dirk that inspired his teammates and pushed his teammates to reach new limits.
Basketball is a team sport, and although there is an “I” in Dirk, there is no “I” in team. When the Mavericks made their championship run in 2011 and beat the Miami Heat with what everyone thought was an unbeatable combination of Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, although Dirk led the way, you always felt it was a team effort. And what a run it was. To win the title, the Mavs beat their arch-rival and perennial champions, the San Antonio Spurs led by Tim Duncan, then swept Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers, before overwhelming the Heat in six games. Through it all, Dirk gave most of the credit to his teammates. It reminded me of this scene from Mean Girls:[iv]
I suppose most fans feel this way about their favorite teams, but as a Dallas Mavericks fan, I felt as if Dirk and his teammates won the championship not just for themselves but for all of us. They even let me get up close and personal with the trophy.
Dirk laughs at himself. Dirk always took the game of basketball seriously, but he never took himself too seriously. During his final home game celebration, when overcome with emotion as his illustrious career was coming to an end, in his typical fashion of never taking anything in life too seriously, Dirk said, “I’m trying my yoga breathing, but it’s not really working too well.” And who can forget all the videos Dirk was willing to make where he became a multitude of silly characters to entertain us during timeouts and halftime of games? When it comes to being able to laugh at yourself, I always think of this clip from Roxanne:[v]
While perhaps not as funny as Steve Martin, Dirk has earned his share of laughs. Here is a clip of some of Dirk’s most hilarious moments:
Dirk gives back. Dirk commented that he came from Germany over twenty years ago and immediately became a Texan for life. As fans, at first, when the skinny 19-year-old joined the Mavericks, we worried that he might be a bust. But it didn’t take us long to accept him as our new basketball hero. And it didn’t take Dirk long to return that love. He did it both on and off the court. Dirk never tires of posing for photos and signing autographs. A friend of mine and his son went to an activity where a former manager of the Texas Rangers was to be the speaker. As luck would have it, my friend, his son, and this manager arrived at about the same time and had to walk across a field together to where the gathering was to take place. There was no one else in sight, so as they were walking, my friend asked the manager if he would mind stopping for a brief moment to pose for a photo with his son. Without breaking stride, the manager curtly told my friend that that was not going to happen. Contrast that to another friend of mine whose son wanted to attend a Mavericks game and perhaps get Dirk’s autograph. They went to the tunnel where the players entered and exited the locker room. When Dirk came down the tunnel, Dirk willingly obliged and posed for photo after photo. Is it any wonder that I fist-pumped when I heard the news the Rangers had fired their manager, but couldn’t help but shed a tear or two when Dirk announced his retirement?
Dirk gives back in other ways. For many years, his trips to Children’s Hospital as Uncle Dirk remained mostly unknown. Dirk finally let a reporter accompany him one year to watch Dirk in action. During a quarter break at that last home game, the Mavericks played the video of that reporter’s trip with Uncle Dirk. Of all the feelings Dirk had that night, he felt the most emotion watching that video. And the reporter paid Dirk one of the best compliments possible: during the several hours they were there together, Dirk never looked at his watch or asked anyone what time it was. Here is a video of a few moments of one of Uncle Dirk’s trips to Children’s Hospital:
As I watched that video, I thought of this similar clip from the film, Patch Adams:[vi]
Dirk might not be quite as entertaining as Robin Williams, but no one has a greater love for these kids than Dirk.
When my kids were young, Michael Jordan was almost everyone’s favorite basketball player. Nike even cashed in on his popularity with an ad campaign encouraging everyone to “Be Like Mike.” With no disrespect to the great Michael Jordan, if I had my way, I would rather have my children (and me!) be like Dirk.
[i] Dirk by the Numbers:
- Games played: 1,521 (3rd all-time)
- Total points scored: 31,560 (6th all-time)
- Games scoring 30+ points: 245
- Career wins: 916 (6th all-time)
- Three pointers made: 1,982 (11th all-time)
- Field goals made: 11,169 (8th all-time)
- Total rebounds: 11,489
- Blocked shots: 1,281
- Assists: 3,651
- Field goal percentage: 47.1 %
- Three pointer percentage: 38.0 %
- Free throw percentage: 87.9 %
- 14 time NBA all-star
- NBA finals MVP (2011)
- NBA regular season MVP (2007)
- NBA three-point shootout champion (2006)
- NBA teammate of the year (2017)
- Production Company: Tristar Pictures
- Director: David Anspaugh
- Screenwriter: Angelo Pizzo
- Starring: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, and Ned Beatty
- Release date: October 22, 1993
[iii] Lone Survivor:
- Production Companies: Film 44, EFO Films, and Spikings Entertainment
- Director: Peter Berg
- Screenwriter: Peter Berg (based on the book by Marcus Lutrell)
- Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, and Emile Hirsch
- Release date: January 10, 2014
[iv] Mean Girls:
- Production Companies: Paramount Pictures, M. G. Films, Broadway Video
- Director: Mark Waters
- Screenwriter: Tina Fey (based on the book by Rosalind Wiseman)
- Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Jonathan Bennett, and Rachel McAdams
- Release date: April 30, 2004
- Production Companies: Columbia Pictures Industries, IndieProd Company Productions, and L.A. Films
- Director: Fred Schepisi
- Screenwriter: Steve Martin (based on the play by Edmond Rostand)
- Starring: Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah, and Rick Rossovich
- Release date: June 19, 1987
[vi] Patch Adams:
- Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Blue Wolf Productions, and Farrell/Minoff
- Director: Tom Shadyac
- Screenwriter: Steve Oedekerk (based on the book by Patch Adams and Maureen Mylander)
- Starring: Robin Williams, Daniel London, and Monica Potter
- Release date: December 25, 1998