What If Dirk Nowitzki Weren't White?

His critics wouldn't call him soft, but his teammates would still lead the Mavs to another early exit.

Let's face it: If Dirk Nowitzki were black, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

You know the one, where each spring I throw out his accolades as the Mavericks' elite player and a first-ballot Hall of Famer, only to have some of you swat my argument into the fifth row because "Dirk is soft!" Above Nowitzki's locker at American Airlines Center sits his very own bobblehead. But there's no title at the top of his resume—and until there is, there's no way to combat critics who crow about his empty statistics and claim his will be a hollow legacy.

"I think I've pretty much done everything in this game except win a championship," Nowitzki said last week, before the start of the Mavs' first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers. "It's not so much that I want to prove something to my critics. It's just that I want to win. At this stage of my career, every time I don't win a championship it's another disappointment."

Until he gets a championship ring or a new skin color, Dirk Nowitzki's critics will unfairly call him "soft."
Zuma Press
Until he gets a championship ring or a new skin color, Dirk Nowitzki's critics will unfairly call him "soft."

And with that, Nowitzki, at age 33, willed the Mavericks to a Game 1 victory, turning in a vintage 28-point, 10-rebound performance. Stifled for three quarters, the supposedly soft superstar bulled his way to the basket time and again in the fourth. He scored 18 points in the final 10:44, sank a momentum-seizing three-pointer from the corner with three minutes left, and made all 13 of his clutch free throws in a gritty 89-81 win. He followed it up with 33 points and seven rebounds in Sunday's Game 2 win.

"Dirk was Dirk," said Mavs point guard Jason Kidd, who hit six 3-pointers, scored a season-high 24 points and played a surprising Robin to Nowitzki's consistent Batman in Game 1. "You get kinda used to it, but what he does in games like these is amazing."

If Dirk were black, covered in tattoos or saturated in self-promotion, he'd be George Gervin or Jamaal Wilkes or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or even Paul Pierce. Like those players, his finesse game would be appreciated, not attacked. He'd be known as the most-skilled 7-footer in the history of the NBA. He'd have a cool nickname like Gervin's "Ice Man" or Wilkes' "Silk," and his one-legged fadeaway would be alongside Jabbar's sky hook as one of basketball's all-time best unblockable shots.

But instead of a clutch player—a guy who joins Hakeem Olajuwon, Elgin Baylor and Bob Pettit as the only players in NBA history to average 25 points and 10 rebounds in the playoffs—his critics call him a choker. Instead of being known as only the fourth player (along with Jabbar, Moses Malone and Karl Malone) to amass 1,600 points and 500 rebounds in four consecutive seasons, he's written off as one-dimensional. Instead of being known as the guy who led his team to 11 consecutive playoff berths, all after 50-plus-win seasons, his critics dub him a loser.

Instead of being appreciated for what he is—the best player in franchise history—Nowitzki's haters keep coming, confirming that he's the most underrated athlete in the history of Dallas sports.

Nowitzki stiff-armed potential interest from other teams last summer and quickly re-signed with the Mavericks, explaining the decision romantically: "My heart is here." But many fans responded with a shrug, as if without him the Mavericks would have filled the giant, floppy-haired void and still fired another bullet at the NBA Finals target.

Let's be clear: Without Nowitzki, the Mavs wouldn't even be in the postseason. They proved that in January, when Nowitzki's absence prompted a 2-7 dry spell.

"Dirk does everything for us and does it at an exceptionally high level," head coach Rick Carlisle said recently. "He's a one-of-a-kind superstar. Aren't many like him."

The problem throughout the years hasn't been Dallas' best player. It's been the team's second-best player. Dirk is the Lone Ranger, but his is a sad list of Tontos when compared with the No. 2s on title-winning teams.

Russell had Cousy. West had Chamberlain. Bird, Jordan and Magic were blessed with McHale, Pippen and Worthy. Olajuwon won a title with Clyde Drexler, and David Robinson didn't win his first ring in San Antonio before the arrival of Tim Duncan. The Celtics' '08 title was fueled by three stars. After pairing with Shaq for his early titles, Kobe's newest two rings with the Lakers were made possible by the arrival of Pau Gasol.

The No. 2s on Dirk's 11 consecutive playoff teams? Michael Finley, Steve Nash, Jason Terry and Josh Howard. Other than Nash—who didn't win his two MVPs until he left for Phoenix, where he was paired with Amar'e Stoudemire, among others—that group doesn't sniff basketball immortality. And who is this year's second-best player? Is it Terry, whose outside shooting is streaky and whose temperament is sketchy, evidenced by his being benched the final week of the season for yelling at Carlisle and teammate J.J. Barea? Kidd, who's 38 and needed a week off down the stretch to prepare for the post-season? Or Tyson Chandler, a talented center for whom the Mavericks rarely, if ever, run a play?

Truth is, the Mavericks' second-best player crumbled in a heap when Caron Butler tore up his knee in January, and the Mavs' title hopes went with him. So while the Chicago Bulls have Carlos Boozer to complement Derrick Rose and the Miami Heat have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to choose from, the Mavs have no one to turn to when the bodies start flying at Nowitzki.

"We don't have one guy," Carlisle says. "We have to do it by committee."

And now you know why the oddsmakers pegged the Mavericks—despite another 57-win regular season and No. 3 playoff seed—as 18-1 longshots to win this year's title, well behind the West's fourth-seeded Thunder. When Carlisle says the team has "a lot of doubters," that obviously includes Vegas.

First-round losses in three of four years will indeed bloom skeptics. So will a 2-13 road playoff record since the epic collapse against Miami in the '06 Finals, and a first-round exit as a No. 1 seed the next year.

As the playoffs started last weekend it was all too familiar: the giant, burning basketballs and The Who's "Eminence Front" during pregame intros; Mark Cuban reacting to every play as if his portfolio were in peril; and, in crunch time, Dirk saving the day. Afterward, the guy who strode to the post-game press conference alongside Nowitzki was Kidd, that night's rent-a-Robin. The Mavs will have enough spontaneous cameos like Kidd's to survive Portland, but they won't get past the second round against the Lakers. (Yes, they will play the Lakers.) And when it's all over, and another autopsy is performed on another ultimately disappointing Mavs season, Nowitzki will be written off again, because Nowitzki will still be white.

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43 comments
biffula
biffula

What if Dirk wasnt white? Well, I guess he'd still have a ring!

Dbt29
Dbt29

The NBA is exploiting a racial tone that has been a market mecca for all aspects of entertainment. White vs. Black for top dog in a non-white dominated venue. Blacks are given prowess over basketball and football, but with white leadership. Stop these posts of division and just print the facts of why the critism exists.

Dbt29
Dbt29

The media is amazing with the constant repetition of how great Dirk is. If it is said enough, people will start to believe it, and I can't turn to one sports station without them mentioning Dirk as a one man show, despite the argument that he could not do it alone and the fact that five players from the bench, carried this team throughout.

Ttnhance
Ttnhance

I hope this is a joke editorial; for the NBA's sake. Watch the And1 exhibitions or even the NBA all star games and show me where Dirk is effective without the ref's putting him on the free throw line. The Mavericks will win the championship, only to solidify Dirks place in the NBA hall as his career has come to an end. Why has everyone written of Duncan, Kobe, Garnett, and other 30 somethiners, but annoint Dirk as a top teir player despite the bad knees, ankles and judgement in relationships. Cuban has obviously broken the bank to market this cat, and it is plain sickening to see a non-athletic, ungraceful clutz be considered tops among athletic marvels.The NBA is a joke!!

Worthyworthy_
Worthyworthy_

okay so how do you explain the admiration and respect for Larry Bird then, huh?? It's less to do with his skin tone and more to do with his calm laid nature that's counter culture to what the average American sees as a "dominant" player...Dirk;s only "evil" is that he doesnt have an chip on his shoulder and possess an aggressive persona like the average American athlete....this goes for Bird as well.....Bird had an attitude and could back it up.....Dirk makes it look so effortless and ergo "not competitive" because he's making it look TOO easy!

Jon May
Jon May

dude none of that matters if he hasnt won a championship! The problem is if Dirty Dirk could play his position like he is supposed to and not be a soft pussy the Mavs would have won a championship by now. You cant have the biggest guy on your team playing from the 3 point line away from the basket PERIOD! Your reasoning is just a sense-less cop out.

Lbcitycycle
Lbcitycycle

Great article!! I am so sick of all the dirk bashers, there is only two players that have better stats in play off games that are currently playing, Kobe and Howard.. If he was black no one would say jack about his abilities..And all those great black players have always had the support of a smart white player setting up the ball hog "super star" Kerr, Stockton, Kidd.. No one can do it alone... So what if he doesnt have a ring yet. Malone.....Dan Marino..... How are they going to look in the hall of fame and record books without a ring? Just fine I think!

Willylooney11
Willylooney11

Tyson chandler gets the ball a lot. Ur an idiot.

Dallas Love
Dallas Love

I guess Dirk should act more like Bynum and Artest. When they get frustrated they try to hurt the smallest guy on the court and then the "champions" end their season and their coaches career with no heart or class whatsoever. Dirk took out 5 of Carl Landrys teeth driving to the basket in '09. Maybe if he had done it on purpose and then taken off his shirt he would get some street cred? Give me a break, I will take Dirk over a thug or a rapist any day.

Brenda Hitt
Brenda Hitt

Critics call Dirk 'soft' because he carries himself completely opposite of most players...ie, he doesn't 'talk trash', he doesn't 'play dirty', and he doesn't have co-workers who 'have his back' when the going gets tough, and he doesn't play 'street ball'. DIRK NOWITZKI is the epitomy of class. Dirk's stats speak for themselves, and the fact that the Mavs have melted in the playoffs these recent years plays part in the perception of Dirk. Human nature places blame on the star when things don't go the way they want them to, and Dirk is our star. If the Mavs hadn't fallen apart in the Finals in 2006, critics wouldn't be so hard on him. Why do we think ONE player can win it all for us? Doesn't happen like that. As for his race being a factor, that has to be the most ignorant statement I've heard in a long time. Lest we forget Larry Bird? Isn't he WHITE? Yes, he's an American, but still. Regardless, true Dirk followers know his worth to this city, we know he is a future Hall of Famer, and we know that without his existence on this team, we wouldn't be having this conversation. He plays a HUGE factor in the fact we've been in the playoffs this last decade. But he can't do it alone. He plays his position with finesse, but he hasn't mastered playing all 5 positions at one time.

Michael Simpson
Michael Simpson

I find it very gross to see professional players who are lucky to have the privelage to play professional sports wearing tattooes are degrading. Seroiusly do you have to wear tattooes to make yourselves intimidating. Sounds like a self esteem problem. The top brass has let down the people with their dress and appearance code.

duke
duke

DALLAS will never win a championship with Dirk yes he's a great jumper shooter but what else do he do no defense ? who does he scares no one everybody knows that he will shoot a jump shoot before backing down some one like K.G or Paul Gasol or hell any big man the reason why people call him soft is because his game is soft watch him just like paul gasol, there not good with contact Dirk had his chance to be the top dawg and what happen ill tell you its dewayne wade and cast so who cares if he is white, black, green, or yellow he dont scare no one or get into nobodys head like jordan, bird, magic, or any other great player did basketball is mental just as much as it is physical dirk only has one not both thats why he's soft hell be just like barkley,malone, and the rest or greats who didnt win a ring but leave race out because all he has to do is play with aggression and be physical but thats not his game thats why dallas brought n tyson chandler but were's his help tha jet , jason kidd, marion yea i know REALLY doubt that to small and not physical

HENRY MOSS
HENRY MOSS

YOU DID'NT HAVE TO COMMENT ON AND ATTACK BLACK PLAYERS IN DEFENSE OF DIRK. NO NEED IN INSULTING REMARKS ABOUT THE TATOOS OR SELF SERVING. LET HIS STATS SPEAK FOR HIM. COMMENTS WERE LOST WHEN YOU STARTED NAME CALLING AND JESTING. DIRK DID NOT ASK FOR ANY OF THIS BEHAVIOR. HENRY MOSS

Jerrelwade
Jerrelwade

I don't think race has much to do wth it, but if he were American he'd be held in higher regard. The NBA wants, really needs, a white superstar Americans can relate to. If he were FROM Dallas, it'd be a whole new ballgame with his image.

But being international is already gonna come with a label. Add to the fact he is by and large a jump shooter, and his past playoff failures, and he plays no D, that isn't gonna do much else for overcoming the international rep. The faults of his game get nit-picked even more.

Tstonenyc3
Tstonenyc3

The Mavericks suck and Dirk is a loser. It doesn't matter he's white. Play some D-E-F-E-N-S-E DIRK.Then maybe you'll get the recognition that he thinks he deserves. He already got an MVP trophy that he didn't deserve. What MVP doesn't play defense. That's why he is called soft.

RDITR
RDITR

I'm a Richie Whitt fan. Listen to him 5 days a week if I'm in town. This is his most ridiculous article ever. Dirk is not labeled soft because he is white. He is labeled soft because his teams melt under pressure. Dirk is a hall of famer. A top 100 player. If he doesn't want to be labeled as soft, he needs to do what other "soft" players have done. Win a championship.

David Robinson was considered soft for the same reason Dirk is considered soft. He is 7 feet tall and spends too much time falling away from the basket, not drawing fouls in clutch situations, and getting punked in the paint. David Robinson won a championship and is still considered soft because we all know Tim Duncan was the backbone of those teams.

Speaking of Tim Duncan, he was considered soft as well. Until he won. Tim Duncan plays fundamental basketball including bank shots, layups and excellent footwork. He doesn't posterize opponents and he was considered soft until he got a ring and then multiple rings. Tim Duncan went from soft to legend.

Michael Jordan was labeled as a selfish, showboat who would never win a championship. He didn't make players better and he didn't understand that basketball was a team sport. And then he won a championship.

Dirk's soft label has nothing to do with him being white. It has to do with his team's underwhelming performances in the post season. Dirk can rewrite his legacy by winning.

Richie please don't become Jason Whitlock or Stephen A. Smith. You can do better. No need to scream race where it doesn't belong.

Sean Mimsrealestdudeintheroom.com

Mark Cuban
Mark Cuban

Who cares? Cuban and the Mavericks suck and have since their inception. LOSERS!

Mike
Mike

Basketball is now a black game. I gave up watching it because of what it has become years ago. Who is Dirk Nowitski anyway? I didn't know there were any white guys playing this game.

Shaw87588
Shaw87588

No matter his color he is a good player, If Cuban would have not been so stubborn and kept Nash in 2006 he would have his championship.

Sylver272000
Sylver272000

I thought the same thing the other night. If Dirk was Karl Malone, he'd never be called soft, because other teams defenders would be called for fouls just for coming near him. Instead the NBA refs allow the other teams defenders to smack the crap out of Dirk, and I guess since Dirk doesn't rape the guys mother in the locker room after the game, then he doesn't rep the thug life that the NBA is so black analysts like Chris Webber that have no basketball IQ and are jealous call Dirk soft.

real talk
real talk

100%agreeed...it makes me sooo mad even talking about this,,this guy has given all he has to this organization and city and still people want more..how about bringing in another super star by him???

tommyjohn44
tommyjohn44

Somebody quoted Richie Whitt...that's a first!

DirkFanMVP
DirkFanMVP

You can't be serious. Will you at least attempt to provide support for your argument that people who call Dirk soft do so because he is white? I'd even appreciate a weak or clearly erroneous argument rather than your clear attempt to throw out a sensational, divisive title in order to entice us to read this article. The Observer should be embarrassed.

Fagpddfswm
Fagpddfswm

Richie Whitt really hit the nail on the head by taking on Dirk Nowitzki's detractors. If there's one thing all of the so-called spo'ts "experts' absolutely cannot stand, it's seeing a "White Boy" beat them at their own game.

Very refreshing article! Thanks for calling a spade a spade.

Craigers
Craigers

Your headline and introduction said you were going to talk about how his disrespect comes from his race, but you never actually talked about that at all. It was all about disputing his existing reputation and discussing his lack of a "Robin".

Your premise is probably flawed, which explains why you were unable to defend it. Any player, white or black, would catch shit if they've been a top 5 player for a decade and yet never won a ring.

boo
boo

i agree that that maybe some of the deal about his race is true--but i don't think it's racial in a hated sense black players dominate this game it could be compared with the new kid on campus he has to prove himself worthy i think dirk has done that because of his improved play in recent years like passing a little more too open teammates that being said theres also a thing called rep --whatever you start out doing seems to stick with you dirk was a finesse player when he came into the league i think that stuck on him more because he was crowned the superstar on the team early on-- he had to prove that--after all i never heard anyone one call john stockton,kevin mchale,larry bird,jerry west,john havelicek,and list goes on soft.

Kstein
Kstein

Whitt, you are dead on here in your analysis. It's the best stuff I think I've ever read of yours. And you know what? It's liberals like yourself that have created the very thing you write of... that is, the reverse double-standard.

MFFL/Dirk Fan
MFFL/Dirk Fan

Although Dirk is greatly under appreciated by mass media (especially given his consistent playoff output), this treatment has very little to do with him being white. He is one of the best players in the league and a former MVP. However, the logic in this article (re: tatoos, self-promotion, being black etc.) are fabricated at best with no facts to support this presumed correlation. That premise is very far-reaching, and frankly pretty ridiculous. There are other reasons why he may (whether justified or not) get characterized as soft/etc. The brunt of this article fairly describes he under-appreciated status, but the title/premise just seems out of place.

jamal
jamal

This shit is the gospel.

B440un00
B440un00

It has nothing to do w/ his race; it's all his actions (until last night, imo). If he would play defense like he did last night (commit 1 or 2 "HARD" fouls and block 1 or 2 shots a game), instead of picking up and telling other teams players he's sorry, and attack the rim more, he might not incur all the criticism. Now who's playing the race card....?

Mavdog
Mavdog

Anyone who says that Dirk is "soft" exposes themselves as ignorant.

Dirk may very well end his career in the same category as Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and others like them....great players, hall of fame players actually, who never made it to the promised land and got a ring.

That does not negate their greatness, and should not detract from their wonderful careers, hard work that they put into their games and their overall specialness.

We here in Dallas are so very fortunate that Dirk came here to play ball. He is the greatest player to ever put on a Mavs uniform, and IMHO a very special athlete who has few that can compare.

Bona Castillo
Bona Castillo

Watch the playoffs this year and the previous years. He is one of the top players even without the championship that he just won.

Kjtvc
Kjtvc

"okay so how do you explain the admiration and respect for Larry Bird then, huh??"

The rings. If Dirk had a couple rings by now, his rep would be hugely different. Even though he plays a team game, writers and fans still rate players' success or lack thereof on their championships or lack thereof.

Bona Castillo
Bona Castillo

Well clearly you can have the biggest guy on your team playing from the 3 point line away from the basket PERIOD! Sorry, can't help rubbing it in. Although, Dirk did go to the rim and did layups and fadeaways which he has done for years now.

Dbt29
Dbt29

If he were black, he would be Rasheed Wallace. Wallace played better defense though! Dirk is the worst defender I have seen in the NBA to receive these accolades.

realtalk
realtalk

you are missing the point here...the point was to say he is under appreciated in the league and city of dallas..being a mavs fan for a long time, I 100% agree with that..this guy is one of the greatest athletes in history of NBA and still people don't give him enough respect because of many reasons..one could be because he is not black!

Fagpddfswm
Fagpddfswm

Cragiers wrote: "Your premise is probably flawed, which explains why you were unable to defend it. Any player, white or black, would catch shit if they've been a top 5 player for a decade and yet never won a ring. "

What?! The list of top players in all sports that never won a championship would fill a VERY large book. Your rationale is bogus. Better if you said he "appears" to be such a great player because the rest of the team is so lame.

Jordan Munn
Jordan Munn

Agreed, a pretty loaded and sensational, and in the end irrelevant, headline for the story.

Halzhaz
Halzhaz

MFFL,Dirk Fan:

You have to understand that you're dealing with a "journalist" here that has never met a fallacy he didn't embrace. Thus, logic/critical thing is not one of his strong points. Just think of Martin Short portraying the synchronized swimmer who wasn't a "strong swimmer" and you'll get the picture regarding Whitt.

KrC
KrC

100% agree. Anytime I hear someone going on about Dirk sucks cause he doesn't have a ring or soft etc., I immediately think to myself wow this guy really doesn't know shit about basketball, he's a moron. I mean jeez you don't have to know much about the sport to grasp how good he is!I've always agree'd with the real main point of this article. I have cursed Terry many times in the playoffs for disappearing. I have often wondered why Cuban doesn't package him up with someone else to upgrade to a real Robin..

DirkFanMVP
DirkFanMVP

real talk - I see your arguments are just as well developed as the "journalist" who wrote this article (which, in case you missed my point, is a very low bar). Statements like "one could be because he is not black!" are conclusory and do nothing to support the article's premise.

For the record, I agree 100% that Dirk is under-appreciated and underrated, which is what the article is largely about. My point is that the title and premise are ridiculous and unsupported. And they lead to prejudicial and stereotypical comments about "blacks" being thugs or the other ridiculous, divisive comments that you can read for yourself. As if we need to flame the fires of those types of people....

Dirk is Great Player
Dirk is Great Player

DirkFanMVP didn't miss point, just brought to light his premise...the article should have been titled "How Dirk is the most underated player" or something similar. His article is way of mentioning race.

 
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