Last night, Tablet Magazine’s team, the Dallas Mavericks, lost the first game of the NBA Finals to the hosting Miami Heat, 84-92. Most worrying was that the Heat were able to play their game, relying primarily on their vaunted “Big Three” of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade (I spelled it right), and LeBron James on offense and limiting the Mavs’ perimeter shooting by denying them offensive rebounds.
That Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki’s 27-point, eight-rebound outing was not good enough, and seems merely average for him during these past few weeks, is a testament to how outstanding, how singularly fine, he has been. Throughout the playoffs, I have thought back to an interview last fall with Dolph Schayes, in which the greatest Jewish basketball player of all time said that his favorite player is the greatest German basketball player of all time. I called Schayes yesterday, a few hours before Game One, to discuss Dirk further as well as these sensational NBA playoffs.
Tell me more why you enjoy watching Nowitzki play.
I somehow selfishly picture myself as perhaps playing a little like he did, in that I was an outside player who was tall. He’s a much better post-up player than I was; I think I rebounded better. But I like him because he’s an outstanding player and—usually with a star player, you can depend on him perhaps 80 percent of the time for a good game; [Nowitzki] seems to be there 90 percent of the time! He rarely has an off-game, has great stamina, and for his size—he’s a seven-footer—has great mobility; he’s a great passer, a great team player, and a great clutch performer.
You are both power forwards.
I always felt that the best power forward when I played was a fella named Bob Pettit. And then along came Karl Malone. But I certainly would put Dirk Nowitzki in that group, even though it’s a little different time. He’s very dependable. And he obviously works very hard. He plays the complete game: He’s not just an outside guy or an inside guy.
So whom will you be rooting for in these Finals?
I always root for the underdog, and the underdog would be Dallas. I think, barring injury, Miami will beat them. But Dallas has got a lot of things going for them, especially a preponderance of great three-point shooters. And I think that would certainly help them, because Miami likes to shut off the paint area, which will allow for a lot of perimeter shooting. I think that [Dallas center Tyson] Chandler is going to be a key player in this series—he’s got to play very, very well.
And of course I’d love to see Jason Kidd, after all these years, win a championship. You know, it’s an amazing thing, but to crown off a player’s career in the NBA, a championship is a must. To have that championship ring really caps off a career. And so many great, great players have never won a championship: Malone, Stockton, Ewing, Gervin, Barkley. All incredible players, but they feel incomplete in a career without that championship ring.
Not you, of course.
No, I got mine.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.