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Edmonds: Dirk, DWade unsung heroes of the league

| Tuesday, March 19, 2019

With just over three weeks remaining in the regular season and the Western Conference playoff picture nearly solidified — baring minor shifts in seeding — there’s no better time than the present to honor the likely closing of the careers of two legends of the league: Dirk Nowitzki and Dwayne Wade.

While Wade is currently helping lead a Heat team that’s battling to defend their eighth seed in the Eastern Conference standings, Nowitzki has settled into his role as a bench player, contributing more in leadership than anything else on a young team that’s struggled to perform on the road. Regardless of their team’s respective outcomes, these two players’ contributions to the game and the cities they’ve represented can’t be denied.

In his 21st season in the league, Nowitzki has made his way around NBA arenas across the country, being honored by fans and foes alike as they acknowledge the contributions he’s made to the game in, likely, their last in-person opportunity. Although the seven-footer from south-central Germany has recently tried to rebuff claims of his approaching retirement — saying he’s going to see how his body feels and whether he continues to enjoy playing over the next couple weeks before he’s makes any decisions — there’s a general assumption within the league that this is his farewell tour, as he nears his 41st birthday this June. Meanwhile, Wade has announced this season will be the last of his 16-year career.

On the court, Nowitzki has distinguished himself as a selfless teammate, having spent the entirety of his career with the Dallas Mavericks after being traded by the Milwaukee Bucks on the night of the draft in a multi-team deal that sent point guard Steve Nash to join Nowitzki in Dallas. Together, the two forged a bond unlike most teammates, and, along with forward Jason Finley, were integral to a new era of Mavericks basketball under the “Big Three.” His signature fadeaway became the model for all lanky teenagers — a contrast to the fast pace of the rest of the league.

On a personal note, I once met Dirk and Steve Nash in a popular Dallas market, Eatzi’s, and although my 4-year-old self has little recollection of this interaction, my mom claims they were both so kind to my sisters and me, even autographing a poster of the “Big Three” that rests somewhere in my brothers apartment today.

After Nowitzki took the court last night against the Pelicans, he moved into sixth on the list of all-time scorers in the NBA, passing Wilt Chamberlain — yes, 100-point-game scoring Wilt Chamberlain.

On the other side of the league, Wade has distinguished himself as a gritty floor commander, often willing to take on whatever roll needed for the team and knocking down clutch shots late into the game. The 36-year-old recently revealed that he nearly left the game altogether several years back when he, LeBron James and Chris Bosh were running South Beach due to debilitating knee pain, going so far as needing three surgeries. His 4.1 assists per game along with his signature step back have continually made him a threat throughout the course of his career.

Although I have no personal anecdote to offer in defense of Wade’s character, he has continually distinguished himself as a leader on the court, winning three NBA Championships, one of which he was named Finals MVP.

Although some uncertainty remains as to whether Nowitzki will hang up the jersey this season and how far Wade’s swan song can extend into the postseason, the likely end of both of these players careers marks something much bigger — the end of an era. An era prior to the 2005 collective bargaining agreement negotiations that established the current draft eligibility rules. An era that grew up idolizing the 1992 Dream Team on the heels of Michael Jordan and the Bull’s dominance of the ‘90s.

As much as I love watching the Russell Westbrook’s and Paul George’s of the league — I’ll give you one guess where I’m from — those players were shaped by the Wade’s and Nowitzki’s of yesterday.

Farewell to you both. You’ve given fans around the world something to rally behind and may you receive all the credit you deserve in these final weeks.

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