Jordan, 28, is the anchor of the Los Angeles Clippers’ defense, destroying pick-and-rolls and protecting the paint with a rare combination of size, speed and timing. He’s also leading the league in field goal percentage, making 70.1 percent of his shots -- essentially all alley-oops, putbacks and other finishes around the basket.
Nowitzki, meanwhile, will have a statue of his one-legged fadeaway in Dallas one day. The 38-year-old’s jump shot has been the fulcrum of the Mavericks’ offense since the turn of the millennium, but his lack of speed, especially now, means his team has to make up for his defensive deficiencies.
This is why it comes as a bit of a surprise that Jordan said he wanted to be “the black Dirk” when he was in high school. In an interview with The Players’ Tribune, Jordan, who went to high school in Houston, described his love for the future Hall of Famer who just.
“I wore 41 in high school because I wanted to be like Dirk,” Jordan said. “I was like, man, I’m gonna be the black Dirk, you know what I mean? My coach was like, ‘Nah, you’re going to play center.’ So we had a thing, like, I can shoot one 3 a game and, if I made it, I can shoot another one. But as soon as I missed, that was it. So I was praying that it went in, you know what I mean? Some games it went well, and then some games I was only taking one shot.
“I remember the first time I saw Dirk,” Jordan continued. “It was my rookie year, we were in the weight room getting ready for the game. And, you know, my rookie year, I wasn’t playing a lot, so I was working out hard before the games. So he walked in, our trainer, I’m tapping him like, ‘Yo, look, it’s Dirk, It’s Dirk!’ He was like, ‘I don’t care, do the push-ups!’ You know what I mean, I’m just looking like, ‘Oh, sh--, it’s Dirk!’ That’s the guy I used to want to be like. That was cool.”
This is not the first time that Jordan has talked about Nowitzki’s influence. He told Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver in 2015 that he was still a fan of Nowitzki’s and shot 3s in high school because Dirk did. While he became an All-Star without range on his jump shot, I can’t think about what kind of force he might be today if he had continued to obsess over that part of his game.
One other thought: How will Mavericks fans take this? Does this make Jordan even a tiny bit more likable? Surely, the vast majority of them still haven’t forgiven them for spurning Dallas in free agency in the summer of 2015. Perhaps one of the reasons he initially committed to signing there was that he couldn’t bear the idea of saying no to his idol -- Nowitzki famously left a family vacation to be there for the Mavs’ meeting with Jordan.