TSFJ Presents Dirk Week: Dwyane Wade and Being Assertive Enough

Dirk Week - Dwayne Wade's Words Resonated

It's Dirk Week here at The Sports Fan Journal. For no reason in particular, we thought we should take some time to show our appreciation for one of the NBA's most underappreciated superstars. At some point in his next four games, Dirk will join one of the most exclusive clubs in all of sports, the 30,000-point club, cementing him as one of the greatest players in league history. It's not just Dirk's game that we love, it's everything about his storied career on and off the floor. So this week, we'll remember the ups, the downs and everything in-between. Happy Dirk Week, y'all. 

Monday: An Open Letter Apology To Dirk Nowitzki
Tuesday: June 2, 2011 - The Night Dirk Won Me Over
Wednesday: An Appreciation of the One-Legged Fadeaway
Thursday: Dwyane Wade and Being Assertive Enough
Friday: Coming Soon.

Ten years ago, Dwyane Wade landed a glancing verbal blow to Dirk Nowitzki, questioning his leadership months after Wade’s Miami Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. The now-Chicago Bulls guard said:

''At the end of the day, you're remembered for what you did at the end. Dirk says they gave us the championship last year, but he's the reason they lost the championship, because he wasn't the leader that he's supposed to be in the closing moments. That's because of great defense by us, but also he wasn't assertive enough as a leader's supposed to be.''

And to think that Nowitzki was still a few months away from an even greater indignity to his name, being named the regular season league MVP after the biggest upset in NBA playoff history.

Just a few seasons later in the 2011 Finals, you could say that Wade twice more needled him, both times in relation to a sinus infection Nowitzki had suffered prior to Game 4. The thing about that was that D-Wade was understandably miffed that Miami couldn’t get the better of a sluggish and sickly Nowitzki, who missed all but two of his first 15 shots in the game before leading Dallas with 21 points. The post-game quotes from that night were interesting: both acknowledged that neither team was playing with optimum health, but Wade was clearly annoyed when he said that he wouldn’t “get into the fun-loving story of him being sick.”

Perhaps being one of the millions of Bulls fans growing up, eating up every part of the Michael Jordan “flu game” that was actually the “food poisoning game,” the Chicago native wasn’t interested in being part of someone’s legend. Except that he played right into it that very next day, this time with an accomplice.

It was the video seen ‘round the world, immediately thrown as a redwood-sized log to the raging fire that was the hate for the Heat. Wade and Public Enemy No. 1 at the time LeBron James were seen mocking Nowitzki’s cough after practice between Games 4 and 5. Sports fans generally tend to scrounge through any and all media for moments that might become emblematic of a team’s inevitable demise. Wade and James provided red meat for a rabid audience looking for some schadenfreude.

Nowitzki had never been known for anger or even mere agitation, but maybe neither Heat star knew if they woke a sleeping giant or not. Though he was already giving them trouble in these Finals, a mere insinuation that he faked illness didn't exactly please him nor add extra lift to his game ... so he said. Thirteen seasons in the league and another chance to wipe the bitterness of one Finals loss out of his mouth seemed like enough motivation for him to beat the snot out of Miami.

The entire series is remembered much more for James’ relatively subpar performance. However, it kind of ignores that Dirk – who won Finals MVP with averages of 26 points, 9.7 rebounds, two assists and a 97.8% free throw shooting percentage over six games – was brilliant in the fourth quarter of nearly every game.

Miami put the clamps on the Mavs late in Game 1, but Dirk got to the free throw line quite a few times and scored 10 of his 27 points in the fourth. In Game 2, Nowitzki hit four of the team’s last five shots, including that deft layup that made a former detractor fall in love. In a Game 3 loss, he was a one-man show in the final frame, scoring 15 of his 34 and nearly tying the game in regulation. In Game 4, his “sinus game” of a 100+ degree temperature and bad shooting for three quarters, the Tall Baller from the G had 10 of his 34 points in the final period.

You could take in this entire clip for Game 5 where Nowitzki was taking souls much earlier than the fourth. However, he would sink all six of his free throws in the quarter (he scored 8 of his 29 points).

In Game 6, Dirk gave Heat fans at Miami’s American Airlines Arena so many tears. Knowing how he had feasted in the perimeter through the entire postseason, the mere threat of him on the wing caused Heat defenders to belatedly chase Mavs’ other shooters. The greatest European player in NBA history had ten of his 21 points and four of his 11 rebounds in the last quarter to capture his first and only NBA championship to date.

Dallas had the right team at the right time. A trade deadline acquisition of Tyson Chandler covered Nowitzki’s defensive lapses. The Jasons (Kidd and Terry) played their roles to near perfection in the Mavericks’ four wins. The Heat guards had to chase JJ Barea around seemingly forever. Shawn Marion, with some help, gave LeBron enough problems to shake the future Hall of Famer out of his offensive rhythm. DeShawn Stevenson (!) got him some, too.

In retrospect, it is easy to think that it was written for Nowitzki and the Mavericks to have another crack at Wade and the Heat. When you consider the hype built from the formation of basketball’s nWo in the 2010 offseason, the opponent wasn’t supposed to matter so much. But the Dallas Mavericks ended up being the proper foils – or in the case of many who loathed LeBron James at the time, the proper heroes – to those Miami dreams for a different reason. It took five years, but when the 2011 Finals were over, Dwyane Wade ended up remembering what Dirk Nowitzki did at the end after all.

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