In big business, the relationships you have are just as important as your assets and skill. The NBA is big business. Lucky for Dallas, Mark Cuban has had no problem keeping his relationship with the face of the franchise on the forefront. Who knew it would go this well?
Roughly 18 years ago the Dallas Mavericks acquired the draft rights to Dirk Nowitzki. While everyone expected the 20-year-old German to be a rare NBA talent, no one could have expected him to become the best thing that ever happened to the franchise.
Over the span of his career, the Mavs have reached the playoffs 15 times. They made the playoffs just six times in the 18 seasons prior to Nowitzki's arrival. Dirk took a franchise that was viewed as a perrenial loser and made them winners again.
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But more than all the accolades, statistics, and winning Dirk has provided, he has shown undettered loyalty. With household names like Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant jumping ship (with valid reason to), it is just another round of players that Dirk has seen move around the league, but not him. Dirk has shown Dallas is the place he wants to be and the front office has shown that they want to keep him around.
He has become synonymous with the Mavericks brand. Many fans see Dirk, a German-born superstar, and think of Dallas. They think of Mark Cuban passionately cheering from the end of the bench. They think of the 2011 Championship over the Miami Heat. What makes any of these things memorable? The fact that Dirk has been around for all of it.
Nowitzki has been malleable. Whatever the Mavs ask of him, he delivers. It has worked well for all sides, bringing a face to a franchise that so desperately wanted a winner and it brought a championship to one of the leagues most respected players.
While so many superstars have tough ends to their career, due to the deterioration of the team or their own play, the Dallas Mavericks have found a way to keep that from happening.
Messy situations in Los Angeles and Miami led to the Lakers fielding an abominable team at the end of the Kobe-era and the Heat losing the face of their franchise (Dwyane Wade) to the Chicago Bulls over contract disputes.
Somehow the Mavericks have managed to keep their superstar happy and the team competitive. That way Dirk can spend the last couple years of his career fighting for a playoff spot, instead of being run out the gym because he's on an inferior team or, even more unsettling for Mavs fans, wearing another uniform.
Over the big-German's time in Dallas we have seen dominant regular season teams collapse in the playoffs and sub-optimal teams out-produce their expectations, but the constant has been Dirk. Even when it looks as if the team is falling apart and the rebuild may be beginning, he has not bailed ship.
The reward? The team has remained competitive.
Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks have not have been as successful as their in-state rival San Antonio Spurs, but they have also not had the luxury of younger star players entering the fold. The level of success this franchise has sustained, focused almost solely around Dirk, is rare. How many other player-organization relationships have gone so smoothly for so long? It is remarkable how well this has gone and the real winner of all that is the fans.
The Mavs have only been sub-.500 three times during the Nowitzki-era. Mark Cuban, Dirk and the Mavericks have run been a high-functioning machine for almost two decades and no party could have done it on their own.
So few players spend their entire career with one organization. The longer their career lasts, the more likely it becomes time for a change. For Dirk, that change has all been able to take place within the organization.
Good things do not always happen to those who wait, but when it comes to 41, there is no better example of loyalty paying off.