Dirk Nowitzki Has a Chance to Be More Popular Than Larry Bird Ever Was

May 25 3:58pm
Will Brinson

I probably should have added “temporarily” to that title, but, hey, I’ve only got so much space.

Also, white-on-white NBA comparisons are just so awesome, I didn’t want to lessen the impact.

Anyway, it’s true: Dirk is likely going to get a shot at becoming — easily, right? — the most popular German in America in a long time when the NBA Finals roll around.

And for a brief moment, he might surpass Larry Bird in terms of popularity.

Not in terms of their all-time popularity; Bird’s probably going to win that battle. Plus, in case you haven’t noticed, everyone’s only really watching Dirk for the first time in his career this week.

That’s hyperbole of course, but it’s not THAT far off. Everyone keeps acting really amazed and stunned that Dirk is going bananas in the playoffs. Which, frankly, is kind of stupid.

Because Nowitzki’s always been good in the playoffs, owning a studly postseason line that has him averaging 25.9 points per game, 10.4 rebounds per game and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor.

That’s not a guy who’s suddenly found his ability to be clutch and is turning it on for the first time in his life. That’s a guy who’s been flat-out dominant during the postseason for his entire 117-game “playoff career.”  (The Mavs missed the playoffs during Dirk’s first two years in the league, 98-99 and 99-00, but haven’t been left out of postseason play since. Which should also tell us something.)

Back to the whole “more popular than Larry Bird” thing, though.

See, Nowitzki, barring a really, really surprising comeback by the Bulls (UPDATE: Yeah, the Bulls are done) is probably going to get a shot at redemption in the NBA Finals.

Way back in 2005-06, Dirk’s Mavericks were beaten by a Heat team that featured Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal. Now, it’s likely that Dirk’s Mavericks will face a Heat team that features Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

You may have heard of them, and you may have heard that people don’t exactly love them.

In fact, that’s the ultimate irony of these NBA playoffs: they’ve been immensely entertaining, and the league’s most reviled team, the Heat, have been the primary source of interest and intrigue amongst those watching the games and following the storylines.

But that interest, like a Yankees playoff run, doesn’t equate to fan love. In fact, it’s all but guaranteed that, should things play out as expected, 99 percent of the non-Miami world will be pulling for the Mavericks.

Mark Cuban could burn down a Dairy Queen tomorrow, and that wouldn’t change, mainly because of the vitriol that the world feels towards the Heat.

That’s not to say we are still angry at LeBron these days, but let’s just say no one’s going to be rooting for him. There’s a clear-cut difference there.

The very nature of the public’s view towards LeBron and the All-Star crew that’s assembled in South Beach is what gives Dirk such an easy opportunity: the world will be hoping that he can keep the Heat from beginning a potential title run a year (or two) earlier than anyone thought.

During the season, it seemed improbable that the Heat would start stomping teams en route to the Finals. Now, it’s inevitable.

And the only man left standing between a world where “The Decision” was immediately justified and LeBron is already sporting an NBA Championship on his resume is Dirk Nowitzki.

The world will be rooting for the Mavericks, and the obvious key to their success is Dirk, making him the only real force of basketball nature left standing between LeBron and a title.

And that salacious possibility of putting a halt to the Heat’s run is enough to vault Dirk’s popularity to Legend-ary status.

Will Brinson is the Senior NFL blogger for CBSSports.com, the Tech Editor at Guyism.com, and has been published on FanHouse.com, Yahoo! Sports, ESPN, NBA.com, The Sporting News and a number of other different online outlets.

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