Dirk Nowitzki is one of the greatest players in NBA history and the Dallas Mavericks have been lucky enough to have him for his entire 21-year career. Through it all, public enemy number one has been Dwyane Wade.
Very few rivalries in league history have brought forth more memorable moments (for better or worse) than the rivalry between Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade. Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson. Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain. Utah Jazz fans vs. common decency. The NBA has been around since the 1940’s, but only a few head to head matchups will be remembered forever.
The seeds of discord between these two were sewn over a brutal playoff matchup that may not have sparked the distaste, but definitely sparked the recognition of game in each other. As Mavericks fans, we rarely mention the 2006 NBA Finals without getting a bitter taste in our mouths. This time, it has to be mentioned because it was the first sign of a brewing rivalry.
In 2005-06, the Dallas Mavericks were among the best teams in basketball. After a 60-win season, the 2nd time during the Dirk era, the Mavs went into the playoffs with the 2nd best record in the West, behind only the Spurs. Although they had the 2nd best record, the Mavs ended up in the #4 spot in the playoffs, with two teams with worse records ahead of them because they were division leaders.
The Mavs swept the Grizzlies, beat the Spurs in 7 and took down Steve Nash and the Suns in 6 to get to the NBA Finals where the Miami Heat had just dispatched of the Bucks, Nets and Pistons. The stage was set for Mavs vs. Heat in the NBA Finals, a matchup that not many people were too excited about outside of the two fanbases.
The series proved to be a battle between each team’s best player: Dirk and Shaq. Alright, alright, I admit that Dwyane Wade was the clear best player for Miami at the time and for years to come. He was unstoppable in that Finals series, regardless of any help he may have received. His single-handed takedown of Dallas in those finals was the quiet first step to over a decade of rivalry.
Aside from that finals series, Dirk owned the head-to-head between he and Wade. In the first 11 matchups between the two players, Dirk won 10 of them. That spans right up until LeBron James showed up in Miami. At that point, Wade takes over winning in the head-to-head, taking 11 of the next 12.
The 2011 NBA Finals proved to be the perfect moment for Dirk and the Mavs to get Wade back for ’06. Dallas went into the Finals as the underdogs and Miami went into the Finals with Wade no longer as their best player. Either way, Dirk did everything he had to in order to bring a trophy home to Dallas.
This series proved to be the biggest moment in the Dirk/D-Wade rivalry, as Wade decided to show his true colors. Whether he was coughing to make fun of Dirk or coughing up a 2-1 lead in the Finals, it was clear to Wade by the end of it all that the cough had developed into a full on choke. Both players were able to win championships against the other and each won the Finals MVP that year.
There is no denying that both of these players have had great NBA careers. Whether Dirk decides to come back for one more year or not, his career is cemented in history as one of the greatest to ever play the game. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade is constantly mentioned in conversations about the best shooting guards of All-Time. They will both be first ballot hall of famers.
No matter which side you root for or what stats and accomplishments you value more, it is undeniable that these are both great players and deserve respect. Last night, Mavs fans and Heat fans got to witness the cherry on top of one of the greatest matchups of this era. In the end, both franchises won this one.