‘He’s the nicest man ever’: NBA All-Stars, coaches and legends share what makes Mavs’ great Dirk Nowitzki so special

Editor’s note: The following story is part of Dirk’s Domain, our Nowitzki career retrospective. It can be found by going to sportsdaydfw.com/Dirk

Dwane Casey, Detroit coach and former Mavs assistant: “One of the most beautiful human beings you can be around. Very rarely do you find a star player, a Hall of Fame player, as humble and as grateful as Dirk is. Let’s not even talk about his talent. He’s a young man who made himself, hours in the gym, great teammate, is as friendly with No. 15 [on the roster] as he is the No. 1 guy on the team. And a worker. A guy that works and is very coachable.

“And, bottom line, a champion. Every adjective and superlative you can give to him, give to him. … And by the way, there’s only a few players who have a move named after him: The Dirk.”

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota center: “He’s given the bigs a standard of shooting, being who he is as a shooter and as an offensive player. It gave us tall guys a lot of opportunity to really show that we could do much more than just have our back to the basket. And him just willing the Mavericks to a championship is something that’s special. We all, as big guys, try to match what he’s done in the league. His impact on the culture, his impact on the league, his impact on winning, we’re all trying to match that.”

Michael Malone, Denver coach: “My favorite Dirk memory has nothing to do with on the court. A couple of summers ago I participated in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders in South Africa. And Dirk was on the trip. Spending time with Dirk Nowitzki off the court, whether it was when we went to an orphanage, or when we went to build houses, and seeing that side of him.

“Here’s a Hall of Famer, a guy who has had a tremendous impact on the game, and to see how selfless he is … He has no ego and would do anything he could to bring a smile to a young boy or girl’s face. That, to me, was more special than watching him score all the points that he scored.”

Terry Stotts, Portland coach and former Mavs assistant: “When you’re around him every day, you appreciate him even more. What he does for your team every day, whether it’s in the locker room or in practice, certainly off the court, and you see it every night in games and that you can count on him every night, it just makes the appreciation grow.”

“One time, it was early in my career there, he hadn’t touched the ball for a few possessions. He said, ‘Hey, Stotts, give me the [expletive] ball.’ So we did.”

Al Whitley, special assistant to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and close friend of Nowitzki’s for 21 years: “He’s a true professional. I think that’s what makes him so special. I don’t believe he’s changed, other than his bank account has gotten a little bigger over the years. He’s just the most down-to-earth, humble superstar you’ll ever come across. And he cares about people. I think that’s the most important thing.”

Steve Kerr, Golden State coach: “Wow. Where do you begin? Dirk is just one of the guys that everybody loves. I don’t think you can find anybody in the league who doesn’t love Dirk, because not only is he a great player, but how he carries himself and a tremendous self-deprecating sense of humor. He loves the game, loves to play.

“He’s had a brilliant career, and he’s done it all. He’s won a championship, won an MVP and even beyond that I think he’s changed the way people look at the game. You would never have a guy at that position shoot the way he has shot the ball. He’s been part of this 3-point revolution from a position that people really haven’t done that from.”

Klay Thompson, Golden State guard: “The man’s been playing NBA basketball longer than a lot of guys in this league have been alive. We’re dearly going to miss him from an NBA fan standpoint and competitor. He is one of the all-time greats, and he deserves to go out on top, because he gave this game everything he had.”

Charles Barkley: “Let me say this about Dirk Nowitzki: He’s the nicest man ever.”

Scottie Pippen: “I love the game of basketball, and I love when people play the game the right way. You played the game the right way, man.”

Larry Bird: “Dirk, it’s been an honor to watch you play over the years. The game is better because of you. One thing I always tell people, especially young players coming into the league, ‘Leave the game better than you found it, so this game can continue to go on forever.'”

Rick Carlisle, Mavericks coach: “An enduring aspect of Dirk’s great legacy will be how human he is. Over the course of 21 years, his early challenges with his career were the fans’ early challenges. They stuck with him. As he climbed up the slow ladder of success in this league, individually and as a team, he allowed the fans to have access to what that was all about.

“When we reached the top of the mountain in 2011, the fans lived vicariously through Dirk, that experience. He has always allowed the fans into his public life, in a way that is so sincere and authentic.”

Kevin Durant, Golden State forward: “The love he gets in Dallas is unmatched. It’s different from any other player I’ve seen in the league, since I’ve been here, just the amount of love and care and support that he has. It’s pretty special.”

Igor Kokoskov, Phoenix coach: “I started as an international coach. I got in this league 20 years ago, so I understand how difficult it is. Things change a lot, and he is one of the guys who changed the league generally speaking, but also changed the approach and perception of international players. I remember his first year coming to the league and what he did for international players, international basketball. He is arguably one of the best shooters in the history of the game.

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando center: “He’s definitely one of those players who, when I first played against him, I was like ‘Wow!’ because I grew up dreaming about that. Unfortunately, everyone’s career comes to an end. He’s had an amazing run, and he deserves to spend some time with his family and enjoy his life. He did so many great things for the game and basketball, and we’re all thankful for what he did for us.”

Devin Harris, Mavericks guard: “Coming into this team as a 21-year-old kid, watching him come into the gym every night with Holger [Geschwindner, Nowitzki’s mentor], going back every summer better, hungrier, especially after that 2006 loss and again in Golden State the following year, nothing ever broke. He always came back a little bit hungrier the next year. Just watching him and how he attacked things, whether it be on the basketball court or off, he set an example for everybody. I don’t think I’d be as good a player without playing with him.”

Luka Doncic, Mavericks guard: “I don’t think I’ve heard of somebody that hates him. You just cannot hate him. If you want to, you can’t.”

Twitter: @townbrad

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