One was born in West Germany during the Cold War to a pair of renowned athletes and destined to be a professional tennis player. The other is a Virgin Islands native who spent his youth dreaming of becoming an Olympic swimmer. Despite their upbringings on different sides of the globe, the careers of both Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan have become increasingly intertwined after 15-plus years of battling against each other in the Lone Star State.
As the big men are currently engaged in what will be one of the last playoff series for each star, it would be pertinent for NBA fans to relish the duo as the NBA landscape will inexplicably change when they move on towards retirement in the next year or two.
Both Nowitzki and Duncan will hit free agency this summer. Barring one of the two fading away with a 1998 Michael Jordan storybook ending, they will each likely re-sign with their respective lifelong teams for a year or two for their final contracts. After their time comes to pass, it is not hyperbolic to think that a seismic shift will occur in the power structure of the NBA hierarchy. Since the 1999 season, the two winningest franchises in the league are the San Antonio Spurs, who have won 70.8 percent of their games, and the Dallas Mavericks, sitting at 63.7 percent.
Those two clubs, along with the Phil Jackson-led Los Angeles Lakers, ushered in the era of Western Conference dominance in the post-MJ era that is still clearly running rampant throughout the league, given how much attention has been given to the atrocious play of the Eastern Conference this past year. Why have they been so successful? These two have been consistently phenomenal since the turn of they stepped onto an NBA court, courtesy of Basketball-Reference:
The two power forwards didn’t make a combined seven NBA Finals appearances, winning five of them, over that period without continuing their dominance into the postseason. Here are their numbers going into the 2014 Playoffs:
Not only have the two continued their MVP-caliber play into the postseason, they bettered it to an extent, with both Duncan and Nowitzki posting higher PER numbers once the season hit is most crucial moments.
It’s possible that their years spent in the frontcourt, rather than being highlight reel-grabbing wings handling the ball on perimeter, have hampered Duncan and Nowitzki’s ability to capture the casual fan’s imagination the way LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have. When’s the last time people got into a heat debate about who’s better between Duncan and Karl Malone or Nowitzki and Charles Barkley? It happens every few minutes on Twitter and Instagram when discussing James, Bryant or Jordan.
Maybe it’s due to fatigue that the two don’t get their recognition. The last time the playoffs commenced with neither Duncan nor Nowitzki taking part was 1997. As a frame of reference for how long ago that was, the Washington Bullets, not even the Wizards, made the playoffs that year. Bryant was coming off the bench for the Lakers in the playoffs, playing less than 15 minutes per game. Tony Parker was 15 years old. It was essentially a generation ago.
The barbershop-style discussions of the greatest big men in the league have shifted from these two as no-brainer answers as LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Love have all established themselves as All-Stars in the many years since Duncan and Nowitzki first came to prominence. That’s understandable to a degree, as Aldridge and Griffin alone have displayed their improved games during the first round of this year’s playoffs, but there’s an odd feeling that comes from leaving Timmy and Dirk out of these talks, as if they’re about to come out of hibernation to reclaim their respective thrones.