Wednesday night was the final night of the NBA regular season, but more importantly, it was the finale for two of basketball’s biggest icons. Dwayne Wade and Dirk Nowitzki played in their last games ever and as we say goodbye to them we are also saying goodbye to an entire era of NBA basketball.
These were arguably two of the top five biggest stars in the league since the turn of the century. They were also among the last of the big stars from the 2000’s. Kobe, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, Carmelo, Chris Bosh are all out of the league and now few players remain from one of the most fascinating periods in the history of the game.
Wade was drafted by the Miami Heat 5th overall in the talent-filled 2003 draft. Apart from a short stint with his hometown Chicago Bulls and about half a season in Cleveland, he spent almost the entirety of his career in Miami. He cemented his legacy as a Miami sports legend when he averaged 34.7 PPG in the 2006 Finals, leading the Heat to their first championship over Dirk’s Mavericks. The image of Wade tossing the ball into the rafters as time expired will always be one of my favorite NBA Finals moments.
A handful of years later the trajectory of his career changed entirely when Lebron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach to form what many consider to be the original super team. Despite Nowitzki getting revenge in the Finals against them the first year, the Heat would be dominant going on to win two championships in a four year span. However, it was evident to everyone that this was no longer Wade’s team. Lebron was the star of the show and Wade was forced to take a sidekick role. Of course Lebron, being the indecisive man he is decided to nope the fuck out of Miami the second they weren’t the best team in the NBA anymore leaving Wade and Bosh to fend for themselves.
Health issues forced Bosh to retire early and while the Heat were still a playoff team, they were no longer serious contenders. After shorts stints in Chicago and Cleveland, Wade was traded back to Miami to finish off his career in the city where it was made.
Nowitzki entered the league in 1998 as a highly touted prospect from Germany. This was a 7 foot tall behemoth who could shoot threes like he’s Ray Allen. In today’s NBA it’s quite common to see big men who can shoot from outside but that was most certainly not always the case. Entering the league, he was a one-of-a-kind talent and the Dallas Mavericks made a franchise altering decision in drafting him.
In his 21-year career he was a 14-time All-Star and got elected four times to the All-NBA First Team. However, the crowning achievement of his career is without a doubt his victory over the Miami Heat’s big three in the 2011 Championship. After the devastating loss to Wade and the Heat in 2006, he not only avenged himself, but led a ragtag team of scrappy veterans to one of the most unlikely championships in sports history.
The Mavericks haven’t seriously contended since then, but that is no fault of Nowitzki. In this superteam era, Dirk has never been given legitimate talent around him and thus never truly got an opportunity to capture a second ring.
Seeing these two go is a bittersweet moment for many fans including myself. Ever since I was a small child these two have been marquee superstars in the league and will no doubt be first ballot hall of famers. These guys were loyal to their franchises and really made basketball relevant in the cities they played in. Dirk and Dwayne played the game the right way and while they will be missed, their legacies will have an everlasting impact on NBA.