TSFJ Presents Dirk Week: June 2, 2011 - The Night Dirk Won Me Over

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.

In 2011, Dirk Nowitzki had a postseason run in which he transformed from great current player to legend and greatest European-born player ever. But there was a night—rather, a play—where he truly won me over as a fan.

We remember the 2011 NBA Finals most for LeBron James' ineptitude in the series. We remember how the Miami Heat won a relatively close Game 1 and were up big on Dirk's Mavericks well into the fourth quarter of Game 2 (the entire game is online). Then, something miraculous happened. Dallas began to make a run. Gradually, but efficiently, the Western Conference champions sliced into Miami's lead. Think of the Heat as a cartoon character carrying an unrealistic number of heavy objects. By the basket, the Mavericks piled on the pressure, making Miami's weight to win tougher to uphold.

The genius behind this move has been well understated. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

After Dirk hit a three with 26.7 seconds left to give the Mavericks a 93-90 lead, Mario Chalmers tied it with a three of his own two seconds later. Then, in the final seconds, Nowitzki made such a brilliant move to put himself in position to shoot a layup—winning both the game and my heart.

There have been more miraculous shots, shots with higher stakes—for all the grief we give LeBron and the Heat for the collapse in that game, they did win Game 3—and made more athletic individual plays to secure a team's victory. But the reason Dirk in 2011 is near the top of my favorites is because of the underlying brilliance in his decision-making. There was a plan that had been laid out for what seems like Dirk's entire career.

Let's break down the play from the beginning. Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle drew up a sideline out-of-bounds play for his best player who had been nothing short of a demigod the entire postseason. Jason Kidd runs the clock down to limit Miami's chances at a final possession. Dirk catches just beyond his "sweet spot"—the free throw line extended or the mid-post area—at the top of the key. Nowitzki's signature shot, the one-leg fadeaway jumper turning over his right shoulder, is as unstoppable as one move can be. Chris Bosh, who Miami assigned to defend Dirk, played tight defense to better contest Dirk's bread and butter. And like a basketball genius, Dirk gave Bosh a head fake after a reverse dribble that lifted Bosh from his defensive stance just enough for Dirk to take one dribble and finish lefty off the glass. Game, blouses.

Buckets. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The reason why Dirk's place in my heart grew three sizes that day is because of just how intelligent and aware Dirk was in that moment. To eschew his best move for the counter move requires an understanding of self and situation.

There were times earlier in Dirk's career where he could and would be bothered by smaller, more athletic defenders. For example, Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes flustered Dirk in the Warriors' famous upset of the Mavericks in 2007. That shot to beat the Heat in the 2011 Finals signified his growth and adaptation, and I admire and respect that.

I'm now a fan of Dirk Nowitzki. This post is my game day leftover plate of appreciation for the player he's grown to become. Still, the search goes on...

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