In his typically understated fashion, Dirk Nowitzki — the centerpiece of Dallas’ 106-98 home win over the Kings on Tuesday — described his abilities at age 36, abilities that allowed him to score 23 points in this game on the way to surpassing Hakeem Olajuwon as the No. 9 all-time scorer in NBA history.
"I’m humbled to keep climbing the ladder, blessed to stay healthy and play at a semi-high level, I guess," Nowitzki said.
Semi-high? Nowitzki shot 7-of-12, with seven rebounds and three assists, and was important in overcoming an early 24-point hole for one of the three largest comebacks in Dallas franchise history.
But what will be remembered most is Nowitzki’s 26,948th point, which surpasses Olajuwon and also makes the German the all-time leading scorer among international players.
The accomplishment came with 8:55 left in the third quarter on a 19-foot jumper from the left elbow over Carl Landry. The game kept going, but the American Airlines Center crowd was smart enough to understand that history had just been made. There was a standing ovation as the Kings tried — unsuccessfully — to initiate an offense. Seconds later Nowitzki was fouled. He went to the free-throw line while being serenaded with an "M-V-P" chant.
"Yeah, it was special to do it in front of the home crowd,” Nowitzki said with his customary "aw-shucks” humility. "They knew exactly how many points I needed … and they gave me a standing ovation, so it was a special moment.”
Nowitzki grew up idolizing Michael Jordan and his generation of stars, including Rockets legend Olajuwon.
"To pass ‘The Dream’ is unbelievable,” he said. "I was watching the NBA in the ’90s. I was a huge fan, and obviously when MJ retired those two years, they (Houston) won back-to-back championships. He was un-guardable on the block. His footwork, his skill level, his hands, his touch was second to none. So I’m pretty proud."