It is very likely this off-season will be a new beginning in multiple ways for the Memphis Grizzlies. In what surely will be a very important off-season in the history of the franchise, the coming days and months will contain many decisions that will impact the Grizzlies for years to come.
However, there seems to already be a few certainties that will make next year quite different from years past.
The 2019-2020 season seems almost guaranteed to be the first year the Grizzlies will be without a Gasol on the roster. Beginning with Pau and continuing with Marc, a Gasol brother has played for the Grizzlies for 18 straight seasons. With the trade of Marc Gasol in February, and the Grizzlies’ facing an inevitable rebuild, a 19th straight season seems unlikely. However, the end of the significant European influence the Grizzlies have enjoyed for two decades extends beyond the greatness of the Gasols.
Dirk Nowitzki called it a career at the end of the 2018-2019 season. After 21 seasons, the 14-time All-Star concluded one of the greatest, arguably the best foreign-born, careers in NBA history. With a shooting stroke and scoring arsenal rarely seen for a man his size when he entered the league, Nowitzki truly was a transcendent talent. His style truly helped the front-court game evolve around the league. His humble character and personality also allowed him to be a trailblazer that helped the NBA grow into the global phenomenon it is today.
While Dirk obviously impacted the NBA as a whole in several positive ways, there are many teams in the West who likely are happy they no longer will have to face him. This is especially true for the Memphis Grizzlies. In their 24 years as an NBA franchise, Nowitzki has been one of the most successful opponents against the Grizzlies head to head.
Overall, Nowitzki has played the third highest amount of games against the Grizzlies of any NBA player. In 80 career games against Memphis, Dirk averaged 20.1 points, 7.5 rebounds. 2.3 assists, 1.1 threes, and just under 1 block per game. Some of his best work against the Grizzlies came in the one playoff series he played against them in 2006, when he averaged 31 points per game in a four game sweep by the Mavericks.
Nowitzki ranks third in points, third in made field goals, third in free throws, second in rebounds, and seventh in made three pointers for individual players against the Grizzlies since they became a franchise. His 45 games of 20 or more points against Memphis is second only to Kevin Durant, and he has the seventh highest amount of double-doubles. Nowitzki essentially trails only Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan in terms of individual statistical success against Memphis in NBA History.
Nowitzki’s best game against the Grizzlies came back on 02/07/2007. Dirk scored 38 points, his personal best against Memphis. He tied a career high with four blocks, and had nine rebounds and six assists. It arguably was one of the best games of Nowitzki’s career. He produced the 4th highest Game Score metric of his career that night at 42.6. It is one of only 13 times an opponent has produced a 40+ Game Score against the Grizzlies in franchise history, and the highest for any player who also registered a double-double.
Back on April 5th, in his second to last game against Memphis, Nowitzki found an appropriate way to say goodbye to the Grizzlies.
Despite his on the court success, Grizzlies’ fans have long held much more appreciation than angst for Dirk. For one, few markets follow the NBA as a whole more closely than Memphis. For another, for a franchise that owes so much to two of Europe’s best basketball sons, witnessing the match-up of both Gasol brothers against Dirk was always a treasure throughout the years.
With Nowitzki retiring and the Gasol brothers moving on, it seems like a few windows to the best era in Grizzlies’ franchise history have closed. Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Nowitzki were some of the most successful and beloved opponents of Grizzlies fans. With each of them now retired, it truly feels like extra validation that a new era of Grizzlies basketball is about to begin.
However, though their careers are over, their impact remains stronger than ever. Garnett has been one of the biggest influences thus far in the career of Jaren Jackson Jr. It is likely that you will still see multiple Kobe jerseys in a Memphis crowd on a nightly basis. And whether good or bad, the countless triumphs and failures of the Grizzlies versus Tim Duncan and the Spurs are some of the most memorable moments among long time Grizzlies fans.
As Grizzlies fans appreciated each of those legends in their final seasons, Memphis made sure it bestowed the same honor to Nowitzki. As expected, Nowitzki took it all in stride and handled each interaction with class and dignity.
While greatness truly defined his game, Nowitzki will be just as remembered for the level of grace with which he handled his fame.
As a fan of the Grizzlies and the NBA, I feel it was a true blessing to witness Nowitzki’s career over the past two decades. I feel any fan of the game should truly cherish and appreciate one of the best players and most humble personalities in the history of the league.
Danke, Dirk! It has been an honor to witness your legendary career!