As the new NBA season tips off early on Wednesday morning, fans the world over will be focused on the defending champions, top teams in each conference, star players and, in some cases, the rookies who came to the league with promise.
However, the start of every season also heralds, for some players, the twilight of a career that has spanned years in the league. That first game we all look forward to, is for them the start of a farewell tour of the arenas where their stars have shone brightly. Some have won a title or titles, and will experience strong emotions when they step on those floors where the championship is won. Some have not managed to win a title, but every player—in the course of their careers—recorded one or more monster games and that will suffice, as the memories unfold.
Here is a list of some of these heroes, whose greatness on the hardwood we’re probably witnessing for one last season.
Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks). Nowitzki is by far the best thing that happened to the Mavericks. The German forward made the All-Star team 13 times, was named All-NBA 12 times, was the Most Valuable Player of the regular season in 2006-07 and named the Most Valuable Player of the Finals when he led the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA Championship. The formerly shaggy-haired big man with the signature fadeaway shot will be playing his 21st NBA season, and he has scored in double figures in all but one of those. The 1,471 games he’s featured in is the most by any active player, and fifth all time. And not surprisingly, he also leads all active players in points (31,187), defensive rebounds (9,868), free-throws (7,201) and field-goal attempts (18,353).
Many may have forgotten that Nowitzki was originally drafted by Milwaukee Bucks with the ninth pick in 1998 and traded, along with Pat Garrity, to Dallas for Robert Traylor. 20 years down the line, the Bucks would have wondered over and again at what could have been. Dallas can be assured one of their own is heading for the Hall of Fame, and a statue in honor of him in front of AmericanAirlines Arena, or anywhere the Mavericks may relocate to in future, will not be a surprise.
Vince Carter (Atlanta Hawks). Here is the man that opened the North up to the game, and inspired a new generation to take up basketball with the incredible things he did with the Raptors in Toronto. ‘Vinsanity’, or if you like ‘Air Canada’, was actually born in Daytona, Florida. The city is popular for hosting the iconic Daytona 500 NASCAR Race, and their most popular son single-handedly changed the sporting culture of another country. Canadians love ice hockey, and the coming of ‘half-man, half-amazing’ Carter added another popular sport to the grid.
The Raptors were a struggling franchise until Carter arrived; he led them to their first-ever playoffs appearance and engineered their first-ever playoffs series win. Carter is an eight-time All-Star, and was named All-NBA twice. The highlights of his antics at the 2000 Slam Dunk competition is still a delight: younger players study the dunks and try to replicate them. Atlanta is the eighth franchise he will represent, and the odds are that he will be celebrated in this his final season as much as he’s been celebrated everywhere he has played.
Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat). Flash took a short detour in Chicago and Cleveland, before returning ‘home’ to Miami for what may well be his final season after playing the last 15 years in the league, and landing three NBA Championships. The Chicago-born combo guard was named on All-NBA Teams eight times in his career, made the All-Star Team 12 times, and was the Most Valuable Player when the Heat landed their first championship in 2006.
The stories of D-Wade and that of the Heat are entwined, with the highs and lows of ‘Father Prime’ and that of the franchise following the same pattern. In the 2005-06 NBA Finals his box plus/minus of 8.9 was the highest by any player and the 23 games he played were the most. For two years—2008-09 and 2009-10—Wade had the highest usage percentage of any player in the league. And like Nowitzki, he may just have a likeness of himself adorning the front of the Heat arena.
Zack Randolph (Sacramento Kings). He was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 19th pick of the 2001 NBA Draft and played at the franchise for six years, starred for the Knicks and Clippers and became an icon at Memphis, before moving on to Sacramento. In 17 years, Z-Bo typified the blue-collar NBA big man. The Indiana native is averaging 16.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in the regular season and totals 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in the postseason. Those are excellent numbers. The measure of how hard he works can be seen in his playoff averages: as a 21-year-old with Portland, he averaged 13.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game over seven postseason outings. 14 years later as a 35-year-old, he averaged 13.2 points and 8.2 rebounds over six games for Memphis in the playoffs.
Randolph may not make the Hall of Fame, but he will be well pleased with his two-time All-Star and one-time All-NBA selections, along with then Most Improved Player award he won in the 2003-04 season.
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