BOSTON – Once Dirk Nowitzki finishes his NBA career, he will be remembered as the greatest international player in NBA history.
And while no one disputes his career has been nothing short of amazing, Nowitzki says he had added motivation to go out and steadily improve.
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That added motivation goes by the name of Paul Pierce, whose jersey No. 34 will be retired after today’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Both Pierce and Nowitzki were part of the 1998 draft class, with Nowitzki going ninth overall to Milwaukee (they traded his rights immediately to Dallas) with Pierce being selected right after him with the 10th overall pick by Boston.
Being drafted right next to each would bring about comparisons.
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Early on, that was not a good thing for Nowitzki, who struggled at both ends of the floor, prompting some hecklers to refer to him as “Irk Nowitzki” because he didn’t play defense.
He averaged 8.2 points per game in his first season.
Meanwhile, Pierce’s transition to the NBA seemed relatively smooth on the floor.
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Pierce was a strong contender for the league’s rookie of the year award, averaging 16.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.
“Paul came out the gate, played unbelievable right away,” Nowitzki recalled. “That put a lot of heat on me in Dallas.”
But in time, Nowitzki developed into the franchise player Dallas was hoping for and now ranks among the NBA’s all-time greats in several categories.
And Nowitzki credits the example set by Pierce as being a motivating factor in his evolution into one of the NBA’s better players for more than a decade.
“It made me work, pushed me to work hard and get better in the summer and add new things,” said Nowitzki, a 13-time All-Star, league MVP (2007), NBA Finals champion and Finals MVP (2011). “He’s been tremendous for this franchise.
Nowitzki added, “Just a clutch gene he had, the big-time shots he made. He really was the whole package offensively. You couldn’t send him one way to shoot. He could post with the best of them. He was the complete package and it’s been fun and an honor to compete against him for a long, long time.”