Monday, December 27, 2010. That may seem like a regular date in the NBA. It was one of the 82 games the Mavericks played in the regular season en route to their first NBA championship in franchise history. That game did see a situation go down that could have possibly created a small ripple effect with Dirk Nowitzki.
For those who don’t remember, Dirk left the game at the 9:10 mark of the third quarter, as he landed awkwardly after he was fouled on the arm by Serge Ibaka. The foul didn’t really seem to have a major influence on his fall to ground as it honestly appeared to be just an awkward landing. Initial X-rays on his right knee came back negative. The big man ended up missing nine games due to the injury. To date, that’s the longest stretch of time Dirk has missed during a season due to injury. The Mavericks ended up going 2-7 while Dirk sat due to what was classified as a sprained right knee. It was for the best that he sat out until he was healthy and ready to go. When he finally did return, Nowitzki went on to be the best player on the planet during the NBA Playoffs and was named the MVP of the Finals.
The wear and tear of that season, commitments to the German national team and the uncertainty of the actual existence of the 2012 season led to Dirk coming into the actual start of the lockout-shortened a little behind. He didn’t look quite right. People started to notice that he started wearing a sleeve on his right knee. He was eventually shut down from actual game activity for four games during the early portion of the season due to the knee. It wasn’t deemed as a rest situation. It was far from that as he actually went through a crash course training camp of sorts as he rehabbed his knee and got back it back into gear. The Mavericks ended up going 3-1 during the stretch of games he missed.
That leads us to the present day. Dirk has commented multiple times during this early stage of the preseason that he kept in shape during the offseason and lifted weights more and more in order to keep his legs strong in order to be ready to go for a long and grueling season. Despite that, the face of the franchise sat out Tuesday’s second and final European exhibition game due to a sore right knee. Dirk told Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News that the knee in question is sore and swollen and that those issues came after a practice session leading up to the game. Dirk’s quotes didn’t sound comforting from a fan’s or a team perspective, but the man doesn’t often beat around the bush.
The team is cautiously optimistic that this will not be a major issue going forward. We now all wait on pins and needles to see what the next step is. Rest and rehabilitation could potentially fix everything, but there is another possible resolution; the thought of an arthroscopic procedure sounds scary for anyone, let alone the player that has been the cornerstone of your franchise for over a decade. We aren’t to that point yet, but it is a possibility.
For many, Dirk is the compass of the sport. He’s shown himself to be a one-of-a-kind superstar as he clearly wants to stay out of the spotlight and let his work on the floor do the talking. Dirk has also shown himself to be humble, funny and very down to earth. Winning is the only thing that drives him. He has lived through plenty of disappointment, plenty of close teammates leaving him for new locations and other issues. Through it all, he’s pushed through it and did things his way.
As a man who was born in Germany, he’s become Dallas’ own son. Fans understand his greatness and appreciate that they’ve been given an irreplaceable talent. Alongside the consistently inconsistent Cowboys and the persistently disappointing Rangers on the local sports scene, Dirk has been the one that brings people’s hopes up. A good friend of mine said he’s become Dallas/Fort Worth’s “basketball snuggie.” When times get tough or you’re just feeling down, despite its awkwardness, your basketball snuggie will be there to help you feel right. With all the disappointment in the Metroplex, the now is the perfect time for Dirk to play his part. Yet with that familiar snuggie picking up dirt and showing wear at its seams, we’re instead left pondering possible repairs.
Jumping to the conclusion that Nowitzki is going to need to have surgery and that he’ll miss significant time is just that. It’s jumping to a conclusion. The safe and smart thing for now would be to let him get some rest and see how the knee reacts over the next few days, and draw up a plan from there. If surgery does become an option, it’s likely better to take care of it now rather than later during the actual season. You wouldn’t want what happened to him during last season to affect the team during the coming year. You wouldn’t want your star player to miss a significant part of the season and then spend a small portion of that getting the rust off as he returns. If there is such a thing as the perfect time for a procedure to happen, the time hovering around this window might be best. Again, it all boils down to waiting, regrouping, and evaluating.
If he does have to miss games, preseason or regular season, it will provide the ultimate magnifying glass on the rest of the team to see how they can react when they have to pick up the slack as their leader is down. In a weird bit of timing, Deron Williams — the top target for the Mavericks during the free agency period this summer — chimed in again over the last week and said that Mark Cuban not being present during the Mavs’ “pitch” to him during the free agency period was among the factors that led to him re-signing in Brooklyn. Back during free agency, Williams also said that a concern he had would be how the organization handled things when Dirk retired. Again, it’s a big if, but if Dirk decides to have a procedure on his knee and misses roughly 4-6 weeks due to it, Deron and everyone else would get to see how things would have gone. To the front office’s credit, they did an incredible job assembling a roster full of talent that provides a nice amount of depth. That being said, things would be radically different when you take Dirk out of the equation.
When speaking to Nowitzki on Media Day, he told me that he’s well aware of the fact he’s in the final stages of his career and that there’s no hiding that fact. It would just be a shame if the twilight of Dirk’s sure-fire Hall of Fame career was mired in lingering knee issues. It’s either going to be a weird coincidence with this case of swelling or an incredibly swift twist of fate that the awkward fall in Oklahoma City in 2010 could be remembered as the precursor to a looming issue that Dirk just can’t shake for the remainder of his career, however long it may be.
Again, this is all speculation and suggestion. Things really won’t be set in motion until team doctors can do more evaluation work on Nowitzki’s knee, and the latest episode of “As Dirk’s Knee Turns” approaches its climactic conclusion. In the meantime: you hope for the best, but you also plan for the worst. It’s a waiting game — and have I mentioned yet how much waiting sucks?