The Dallas Mavericks are the last team to have ousted the Miami Heat from the NBA playoffs. As we all know, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs bested LeBron James and the Heat in six games in the 2011 NBA Finals, clinching their first championship on Miami’s home floor. Although that series was Nowitzki’s finest moment, it also inspired James to drastically transform his game. He’s never been the same since.
Friday night, Nowitzki was in town again, and although the Mavs are a diminished team these days, the game still holds symbolic importance. Nowitzki had one of his best games of the season and sparked the trailing Mavs to a furious late rally. With just over two minutes left, Nowitzki flashed some classic Dirk moves, fooled Chris Bosh, and drained a long jumper, suddenly trimming the Heat lead to one.
On the ensuing possession, perhaps the most important in the entire game, LeBron James decided to remind everyone, including Nowitzki, that it was no longer 2011. He debuted a new, pitch-perfect imitation in a very symbolic way. James used Dirk’s signature step-back move to score a huge basket against Dirk’s very own team. Maybe it was a tribute, or maybe it was just a fadeaway, but James launched backward off of his left leg and raised up the bent knee of his right, casting a silhouette that is iconic from Fort Worth to Berlin. The result was one of the highlights of the night; it was vintage Nowitzki, except that it was James.
After the game, reporters asked both Erik Spoelstra and James about the shot. Both were quick to suggest that it was a tribute, and that James had learned — the hard way, of course — just how unstoppable that play could be.