The two have played a combined 1,837 regular-season NBA games, scoring over 33,750 points while nabbing more than 14,500 rebounds over 24½ full seasons. Each has rewritten the franchise record books of the team for which he spent the overwhelming majority of his career. Each has been underrated for much, if not all, of his career and while each has played in exactly one NBA championship series, both had their title hopes emphatically vanquished.
And both are playing for this year’s NBA title – but only one can win.
Yes, BallinEurope is talking about those European towers facing off in the sure-to-be epic battle between the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Championship Series: Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Dirk Nowitzki … so who deserves bejeweling more? BiE weighs the case for each in four handy categories, followed by – you guessed it – a Fearless Prediction™.
Chances of another chance. Ilgauskas has stated that he will retire from professional basketball at the conclusion of this season and seems pretty adamant about it, so his chance at ever donning a big ring after 2011 would appear to be 0%.
But Nowitzki’s odds might not be any slimmer: Every pundit from J.A. Adande southward – and BiE is inclined to agree – takes it for granted that the Oklahoma City Thunders and Chicago Bulls of the world are the future while “if Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks don’t win a title this year, it will never happen…” The Mavs are too old, they say, their contracts are too temporary. And you know that if Dirk didn’t leave Mark Cuban & Co. last summer when his value was (thought to be) peaking, he never will. One supposes it *could* happen, and so rules in favor of Ilgauskas.
Career highlight opportunity. Having never played for Team Lithuania in international competition and doing the proverbial toiling in obscurity with some very, very (very) mediocre Cleveland Cavaliers teams, a title run during which he contributed quality minutes would without question be the gem of the Big Z’s career. Of course, all those DNPs he’s racking up in the playoffs are a tad depressing and Ilgauskas is destined to simply evaporate from notice.
Nowitzki, on one hand, has solidified his reputation during this playoff run alone to status among the all-time greats – so taken for granted right now that the man’s spending time modestly deflecting comparisons to the pantheon. He’s an unquestionable Pro Basketball Hall of Famer and FIBA Hall of Famer. Jeez, he served as flag-bearer for the German delegation at the Olympics…
However, in America, where individual performance good or bad (or simply publicly perceived as such), the verbal vultures are circling Dirk already and ready to taunt with “choke!” while reminding any blog-followers that they can that Nowitzki “never won a ring.”
That Nowitzki is in fact a clutch player was never a question: In the 2005-06 playoff run that ended in a six-game series against Miami, he tallied more rebounds, free throws and minutes of anyone that year while averaging 19.7 points and 11.3 boards per playoff game. Every other time the Mavs got through to the second season, the big guy has scored at least 23 points per game and until recently was contributing double-digit boards as well.
Nevertheless, the nay-sayers aren’t making this choice, BiE is. Ilgauskas wins this round.
Justice. There is, of course, no justice in the sports world – not really, no matter which side of the Panathinaikos-Olympiacos or Celtics-Lakers or Barcelona-Real Madrid debate you’re on; we’ll pretend such a noble natural cause would be in effect here. A just outcome would probably make for a better story thereafter anyway.
Just as those with online access and a compelling opinion are looking to tear Nowitzki down, pigeonholing him into a memorably ringless category with the likes of Charles Barkley and the late 90s Portland Trailblazers, Dirk has also won over the (now obviously) irrational disbelievers – including BiE. Nowitzki has put together a storied career and as a Dallas Mavericks fan reminded BiE today, “It would be great for the franchise.”
Indeed, this always blows one’s mind when thinking about NBA champions. Since the Bird/Johnson era, exactly seven franchises have won the championship. The last new member to the club was Miami, in 2005. One of the seven, the Philadelphia 76ers, won it only in 1983. The Houston Rockets only took the title in years when Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon was the man. Shouldn’t a new member be added to the club? Nowitzki’s, perhaps, with this odd team in this year the entire world converted to Nowitzkism?
The team. Hmmm, the team that chumped my Lakers harder than anyone this side of Sidney Deane right out of these playoffs versus the burgeoning Evil Empire of Collusion itself? BiE’ll bite the bullet for the greater good and go with Nowitzki’s Mavericks.
So, in answering the question of Z vs. Dirk … BiE rules it a tie. Yeah, it was a bit of a setup but how could a European ball fan root against either of these guys? As for the BallinEurope Fearless Prediction™, well, ye gods it pains me to write this, but reality (not justice) wins again: Miami Heat in seven.