He walked into a packed press conference at American Airlines Center on crutches and wearing a large boot – a reminder of the ankle surgery he had just last week that ended his season with 3 games left – and uttered four words:
“I’m planning on coming back.”
And with that, Dirk Nowitzki – the face of the Dallas Mavericks franchise for the past 20 years – confirmed his plans to return to the only team he has ever known.
“That’s why I went ahead and got the surgery to kind of get the whole process started, get the rehab process started early, and I plan on coming back,” Nowitzki said “I didn’t really miss a lot of games this year and I felt fine most of the time.
Photo: Dorothy J Gentry
Nowitzki underwent left ankle surgery last Thursday with, he said at the time, the sole purpose of being ready to play again with no problems by the time training camp starts in October.
The 39-year-old Nowitzki, affectionately known as “The Tall Baller From the G,” is currently in the middle of a two-year, $10 million contract signed last offseason that will carry over into 2018-19, when he’ll become the 28th player to play in the NBA at age 40. He turns 40 in June.
“I always said all year that I want to fulfill that two-year contract if possible. I saw nothing this year that was going to stop it, so as of now I’ll see how the rehab goes in the next few weeks and how the ankle responds, but obviously I’m going to work toward another season.”
Nowitzki’s announcement came prior to Tuesday night’s Phoenix Suns-Mavs game, the team’s last game of the year. They lost 124-97 and finished the season with a 24-58 record, and likely will be tied with both the Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 3 spot in the NBA Draft Lottery this summer.
Dirk’s decision eased the mind of Head Coach Rick Carlisle.
“I couldn’t imagine being here and Dirk not being here, so I feel very relieved that its looking like he’ll be back,” Carlisle said. “It’s great news. The timing of everything makes perfect sense to him and to all of us.”
Nowitzki started all 77 games he played in this season but his 20-years in the NBA showed as his production dropped significantly. He averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, both of which were his lowest averages since his rookie season in 1998-99.
The German big man is as sure of a first -ballot Hall-of-Famer if there ever was one. He’s already the all-time leading foreign-born scorer in the league, as well as a 13-time All-Star and sixth on the all-time scoring list with 31,187 career points, only 232 points behind Wilt Chamberlain for No. 5 on the list.