The king is dead, so who's next in line? That's the question facing Dallas sports fans following Dirk Nowitzki's pitch-perfect Mavericks denouement two weeks ago.
Since dragging the Mavs to the franchise's only championship in 2011, Nowitzki has been the undisputed face of professional sports in the city he's called home since the 1998 NBA draft. If the big German isn't Dallas' greatest-ever athlete, he's certainly on the local sports scene's Mount Rushmore along with Stars legend Mike Modano and a couple of Cowboys — we'll leave which two up to you.
With Nowitzki stepping aside, there's a gaping hole in Dallas' sports landscape, the one that's reserved for the athlete who is almost a stand-in for the city itself. Nowitzki was Dallas, whether he was playing host at his annual celebrity baseball game, tweeting along as he watched the Cowboys or hitting the hardest-to-stop shot in basketball history.
Here are the top candidates to fill the void:
Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus
The case for: He's been the Rangers' starting shortstop for more than a decade, was essential to the team's 2010 and 2011 World Series runs and, after a mid-decade swoon, is playing the best offensive baseball of his career. Andrus is charismatic, a great teammate and plays hard every day.
The case against: Before becoming one of baseball's best offensive shortstops over the last couple of seasons, Andrus' contributions to the Rangers were nuanced rather than over-the-top. Base running and defense are essential to baseball success, but they don't often sell tickets. Mix in the fact that the 2010 and 2011 Rangers fell agonizingly close to championships, rather than winning one, and Andrus starts to look more like a tragic figure, rather than a triumphant one.
Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn
The case for: He is, at worst, the second-best Stars player of all time. He's won a scoring title and starred for Team Canada at the Winter Olympics. Benn is everything a team, and its fans, could want from an NHL power forward.
The case against: Hockey will always be Dallas' fourth, or fifth or sixth, favorite sport, and Benn has won only one playoff series in his career. A deep postseason run this spring could see his star shine a little brighter.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper
The case for: Cooper is as talented as any receiver to ever play for the Cowboys. He's got great speed and great hands and is one of the NFL's best route runners. If the Cowboys win a Super Bowl in the next five years, Cooper will have been one of the team's main contributors.
The case against: He was drafted by the Raiders, which means he'll never have the "one team, one career" thing going for him. Cooper also stays out of the media and is content to let his teammates play the public star role.
Texas Rangers minor league pitcher Hans Crouse
The case for: It's simple. Crouse could be the Rangers' first-ever homegrown legit ace starter. He has fantastic stuff and the mound presence of a top-of-the-rotation starter.
The case against: He's still 20 years old and pitching in Class A ball. He's as likely to flame out completely as he is to start the first game of a playoff series for the Rangers. Crouse seems like the future of the franchise, but Rangers fans have heard that before.
Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic
The case for: Doncic just finished one of the best rookie seasons in NBA history. He's already charmed the city and, given his young age, it seems like things can only get better from here.
The case against: The Mavericks front office has done everything it can to set the table for future championships, but if Doncic's team stays bad, it could doom his potential ascent to Nowitzki-like heights.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott
The case for: He might be the best running back in football, and the Cowboys are a team on the verge of something great.
The case against: While he's stayed out of the (non-sports) headlines for more than a year, the damage Elliott's reputation has already taken during his three years in Dallas is enough to make wearing his jersey, at best, problematic.
Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo
The case for: Like Nowitzki, Gallo's got a laid-back, goofy vibe and fantastic physical gifts. He hits the ball harder and farther than any Rangers player in history not named Josh Hamilton, can play five defensive positions and runs the bases remarkably for a player his size.
The case against: Fairly or not, many fans are going to view Gallo as flawed for the rest of his career. No matter how much he improves his plate discipline, the Las Vegas product is never going to hit for a high average, an unforgivable sin to old-school baseball fans.
Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen
The case for: Despite being more than a year away from being able to buy beer in Texas, Heiskanen, the third pick in the NHL's 2017 draft, is a stylish, puck-handling defenseman on a path to win multiple Norris Trophies in North Texas. He does all the little things, and all the big things, well.
The case against: However precocious, Heiskanen is still a hockey player, and a defenseman at that. He's not going to score like Benn or Modano. Being an overlooked guy in an overlooked sport isn't the quickest way to local sainthood.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott
The case for: Prescott plays the most important position for the NFL's most visible team. He's had no trouble getting endorsements thus far in his career and has led the Cowboys to at least nine wins in each of his three seasons as a starter. Prescott's teammates believe in him, and he's shown the ability to make big plays in big moments, like his game-sealing 16-yard run in the Cowboys' first-round playoff victory over the Seahawks.
The case against: Like Gallo, Prescott is a good player with prominent flaws. During games in which his offensive line struggles, Prescott fails to make plays, and he misses on deep throws more than elite quarterbacks.
Welterweight champion of the world Errol Spence Jr.
The case for: Spence is undefeated, technically sound and a brutal puncher, having recorded 21 knockouts in his 25 professional fights. He is so good that he struggles to find opponents willing to fight him — fellow welterweights Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman are both actively ducking him. He's as Dallas as Dallas gets, too, hiring local marching bands and rappers for recent ring-walks and proudly shouting out his city whenever given the opportunity. Over his last two fights, both in DFW, Spence has turned out more than 50,000 fans.
The case against: Boxing is niche sport. If it wasn't, Spence would be hard to argue against.
Professional golfer Jordan Spieth
The case for: Spieth is 25 and already has three major championships under his belt. He could be around for 20 more years, too, giving him plenty of chances to improve his resume.
The case against: He hasn't won a major, or played well consistently since the 2017 British Open. Golf has a history of players who star, or even dominate, for a couple of years or a half-decade and then fade as they battle swing or mental issues. Spieth isn't one of them yet, but so much of his game relies on feel rather than power that he's at a greater risk for decline than those golfers with more physical games.
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