Dirk Nowitzki is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and is unquestionably the greatest European talent to ever grace the NBA. His performances inspired a generation of international hoopers, and his legacy is seen throughout the league. Players such as Luka Doncic, Nikola Joki, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are all in the NBA today thanks to the bridges Nowitzki built.
All of the premier European talents grew up idolizing Nowitzki, and now, there are millions of young fans idolizing them. However, before the Dallas Mavericks legend entered the NBA, there was one player he idolized – the same player the entire world idolized. Of course, it was Michael Jordan.
His Airness was at the height of his powers when Nowitzki cut his teeth as a professional, and the big man hoped to one day face off against the greatest player to ever lace them up. But as fate would have it, Jordan was no longer in the league when Nowitzki entered in 1999.
"MJ retired with the shot Game 6 in Utah," Nowitzki said during an interview on the Dan Patrick show. "I was drafted that summer, and then we had the lockout, and I'm thinking I'm about to play against my hero, against my idol.
"And then he retired, and I'm like, 'Oh, no, I've just missed my hero by a few months, so he didn't come back for the lockout year in '99, so I didn't get a chance to play against him."
Luckily for Nowitzki, Jordan decided to return to the NBA with the Washington Wizards in 2001, at age 38. He played in the league for another two seasons. Just like that, Nowitzki got his wish of facing off against his childhood hero, even if Jordan had lost some of his superpowers by that point.
"Then he came back with the Wizards a few years later, and, of course, he was a little up there in age, but it was still amazing," Nowitzki said. "I mean, he guarded me a couple of possessions on the post, and I tried to post him up, and I was excited. I remember just shooting a brutal fadeaway.
"I don't think I even made it, but I was just so hyped to play against MJ and be on the same court as my idol."
Jordan averaged 21.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists with the Wizards. Considering his age (he was 38 and 39), those averages are incredibly impressive and have seldom been replicated since. So, while Nowtizki never got the opportunity to compete against a prime Michael Jordan, he got a feel for what he was capable of.
Nowitzki retired in 2019 after a 20-year career in which he averaged 20.7 points, 7.5 rebounds. and 2.4 assists per game. He won a championship and the Finals MVP in 2011. The European sensation was also a 14-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA first-team selection and joined the prestigious 50/40/90 club in 2007.
So, while Nowitzki grew up idolizing the achievements of Jordan, he had a memorable career himself. After all, you don't get your jersey retired for nothing.