Dirk's greatest gift isn't that jumper but his commitment

Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki (41) of Germany passes the ball as Minnesota Timberwolves' Taj Gibson defends during an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Friday, March 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki (41) of Germany passes the ball as Minnesota Timberwolves' Taj Gibson defends during an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Friday, March 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Wearing a protective boot over his lower left leg, the Mavs' franchise player announced he is coming back for NBA season No. 21.

"Dirk" now officially means "loyal" in German. "Nowitzki" is now loosely translated in German to mean "Can play 'til the end of time."

In what is easily the worst year of the Mark Cuban era of the Dallas Mavs, Dirk Nowitzki's announcement that he is not done playing is the highpoint of the season that ended Tuesday evening against the Phoenix Suns.

"I plan on coming back," said Der Mann, who appeared in 77 games this season and could have played all 82 had he wanted to hit that mark; he opted for ankle surgery last week to repair an issue that has bothered him a large portion of the year.

The player the team calls "Grampa" won't rule out a 22nd season, either. Even if the Mavs smell like three-week old garbage, Dirk wants to see this one through, and to honor the two-year contract he signed last summer.

For so long we admired Dirk for his ability to hit impossible shots, and score in ways that few 7-footers ever have. To behave with candor, decency, humility and grace in a variety of circumstances. Now we can add awe for his commitment.

In today's sports world, Dirk's level of loyalty and commitment is dead. Actually, society in general gleefully accepted the death of this sort of commitment and loyalty years ago.

"I want to help push through the tough times. When I came into the league we had some tough times — we didn't make the playoffs," he said. "(Then) we were riding the high times. We won 50 games every year ... it seemed like it was easy. (We) took it for granted. Last couple of years have been tough. Hopefully I can push the team through those times. I am here to help push through."

Whatever his reasons, you have to respect and admire this type of commitment; because losing like the Mavs have this season, and will again next year, is not fun for a guy who for so long, like he said, took winning 50 games for granted.

He has done everything a basketball player can do. He has more cash than he can count. His team stinks and he knows it, but he pushes on. Why? Because he said he would.

Kids — do it like Dirk. While we're at it, we adults should try it, too.

Whether it's Cuban, the NBA itself, fans or us rotten members of the media, we need to stop and appreciate just how fortunate we have been to either watch or cover this guy for the last two decades. Dirk is not perfect, but he's a Hall of Fame basketball player. A Hall of Fame pro. A Hall of Fame guy.

Other than he's too nice, I've never heard anyone say a bad word about Dirk.

No, the franchise can't move forward until Dirk is done, but at this point he's the best they have to offer. Given the state of the team's roster, it's not as if he's in the way.

Because Mr. Cuban is the smartest guy in the room, he completely blew the last years of Dirk's prime with a rebuilding plan that now looks a pitch Cubes would laugh off during an episode of Shark Tank.

There is nothing anyone can do about Cuban's unintentional Path to the Top of the Lottery, so this is where we are — watching one of this region's most accomplished players in anything extend his middle finger toward Father Time as he hits six or seven jumpers per game.

Even if Dirk retires tomorrow, the Mavs are years away from being 50-win good again. They are stuck in that layer of NBA hell the franchise was all too familiar with before Dirk arrived in 1998.

I'm talking about those special teams that featured guys like Doug Smith, Randy White and Mike Iuzzolino. Who can forget the greatness of Loren Meyer and Cherokee Parks? Or Shawn Bradley?

This current Mavs' team needs much more than just Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes or Wesley Matthews. Until another top tier NBA player arrives, watching Dirk will never grow old, even if he reluctantly does.

"This is one of the toughest athletes I've ever seen," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "I played with (Larry) Bird and coached Reggie Miller and Ben Wallace, and a lot of guys who had reputations of being mentally tough. Dirk is right up there with any of them. He's played hurt a lot. Probably played injured, too."

Much like the San Antonio Spurs have done with the equally ageless Manu Ginobili in his later years, Dirk would not rule out coming off the bench next season. Carlisle will likely agree to whatever Dirk wants.

Dirk still yearns to play competitive basketball, and he's never not been a realist. He can sometimes sound like a pessimist.

He knows his team is one of the worst in the league, and headed back to the lottery for a second straight summer. For Dirk, that's not fun.

While he needs none of it, this is what he signed up for and he's not bailing just because it's not as fun. He's not bailing just because it's hard.

Dirk is coming back because he signed a contract. Because loyalty, and his word, are important.

We didn't need one, but Dirk just gave us another reason to respect and revere Der Mann.

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