Dirk Nowitzki continues to reward Dallas Mavericks’ loyalty even as he approaches 40

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It is not purely ceremonial. Nowitzki is needed as he strides past milestones, rather than crawling to them at age 39.

The opportunity is not a token. Nowitzki will start for Dallas, just as he has in every other game this season.

Nowitzki is the only player besides Kobe Bryant to have a 20-year NBA career with one franchise. And the 7-foot German might not be done, considering he is making a career-high 43% of his three-point shots.

His string of 14 consecutive All-Star appearances ended in 2016. His streak of 12 consecutive playoff appearances ended three years earlier. But Nowitzki’s run of scoring keeps going strong, putting him in position to pass Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) for fifth place on the NBA all-time list if he returns for his final contract year.

“He’s one of the all-time special athletes in sports history because he’s not only a great player but he’s the ultimate loyal team and franchise guy,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “All those accomplishments are amazing. The longevity, the productivity, the consistency, the durability. He’s just a very rare athlete. As he’s in his last year or two or whatever length it’s going to be, he’s doing it in a way that’s helping nurture our young guys along on one hand. On another hand, he’s filling a role we need.”

Nowitzki shoots endlessly, as if the touch could slip away, and is dedicated to body maintenance with his 40th birthday coming in June.

Mavericks forward Dirk Nowtizki is averaging 12 points and nearly six rebounds despite age limiting his court time to about 25 minutes a game. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)
New Orleans Pelicans

That game within the game still drives him. He enjoys solving the puzzles of how to overcome personal and team obstacles.

The franchise has been loyal in turn, and Nowitzki gained an early appreciation for it. When the Mavericks first ascended, Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley thought they would play their careers together in Dallas. But Nash went to Phoenix in 2004. Finley went to San Antonio in 2005. As hard as it was to see close friends leave, Nowitzki appreciates the relationship he has with owner Mark Cuban and points out that Cuban even came to his bachelor party.

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