Dirk Nowitzki keeps racking up the accolades. On Wednesday night in Brooklyn, the 37-year old German passed Shaquille O’Neal for sixth place on the NBA’s all-time leading scorer list. Nowitzki entered the night needing 10 points to pass O’Neal, who finished his career with 28,596 points. Nowitzki passed O’Neal by hitting a jumper over Andrea Bargnani early in the second quarter.
Incidentally, Nowitzki had passed Moses Malone for 7th place on the list last January in Brooklyn.
“That was a moment I’ll never forget the rest of my life,” said Nowitzki, after scoring 22 points including, fittingly, the game-winning shot in Dallas’ 119-118 overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets, giving him 28,609 for his career. “It’s surreal passing Shaq, all-time great, legend. I was able to compete against him for a long, long time. I was a fan of his in the ’90s. Arguably the most dominant big man ever seen in this game. It’s sort of weird that I’m up there now with all these legends, but like I always say, I’m really going to enjoy this once my career is over.”
Despite the milestone, the most important thing for Nowitzki was getting the win on the night after having lost in Toronto the night before.
“That’s what I play for, is to compete at the highest level for this franchise, for this team,” Nowitzki said. “Obviously No. 6 in the bigger picture is a lot bigger than this win in Brooklyn in December, but when you’re out there, you don’t think about that. You want to get this win bad and fight out there against a talented team.”
Nowitzki now has 28,609 points for his career, but still has a way to go before reaching Wilt Chamberlain who sits fifth all-time on the list. If Nowitzki were to continue averaging 17 points per game, he would need three more seasons to pass Chamberlain (31,419 points). The other four players who have scored more career points than Nowitzki above Chamberlain are: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Nowitzki admitted that he never dreamed of being mentioned amongst such greats when he first entered the league.
“That sounds pretty good, huh?” Nowitzki said. “That sounds really good. Like I’ve said, it’s a dream come true. I always say when I was 20 years old, I never expected this. I would have said you’re absolutely out of your mind if you would have told me this 18 years ago, coming here with a bad haircut and a bad earring.”
Once Nowitzki retires, whenever that may be, he’ll be a lock to be a first ballot Hall-of-Fame entrant. Mavs’ head coach Rick Carlisle called Nowitzki “the most special individual I’ve ever come across” following the game.
“You can live a full life of NBA basketball and only see a feat like this once in your life,” Carlisle said. “You’re talking about a guy who is a generational great player, he totally redefined the game, redefined a position, second night of a back-to-back. You run out of accolades. It’s just such a tremendous feat and such a tremendous individual.”
Nowitzki’s current contract expires following the 2016-17 season, and given how well he’s been playing it wouldn’t be inconceivable to see him play another season after that to try chase Chamberlain.
“I’ve obviously been blessed in this organization for a long, long time. There have been a lot of great players who didn’t score as many points because they were cut short by injuries. I’ve been lucky.”