(Reuters) - German-born Dirk Nowitzki’s journey to become the National Basketball Association’s highest scoring non-American player was anything but traditional but the Dallas Mavericks forward still calls it an “amazing ride.”
Nowitzki surpassed Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon and moved into ninth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list on Tuesday when he drained a mid-range jumper during the fourth quarter of a come-from-behind win over visiting Sacramento.
“It was a really special moment to do it at home in front of the fans who have been with me through my 16-17 years here and they gave me a great standing ovation,” Nowitzki, 36, said during a conference call on Wednesday.
”At the next timeout they showed a video with moments from my career - that was really special and definitely I had some goosebumps.
“I was just thinking what an amazing ride it has been and how lucky I have been to really come here with an open mind and have people be great to me.”
Nowitzki was selected with the ninth pick of the 1998 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks and then was promptly traded to Dallas later that day.
The shaggy-haired forward averaged 8.2 points during his rookie campaign and, even though he had 17.5 points per game in his second season, it was not immediately clear that Nowitzki would blossom into a surefire Hall of Famer.
Nowitzki entered Tuesday’s game needing 17 points to pass Olajuwon, who finished his Hall of Fame career with 26,946 points from a career spent with Houston and Toronto.
“If you had told me 17 years ago that one day I would pass Hakeem Olajuwon’s record, I would have said you are absolutely crazy,” said Nowitzki, who scored 23 points in the win.
“I was lucky that Mark Cuban bought the team in my second year to really turn the franchise around. It was more a losing franchise in the 1990’s and then he bought it ... everything changed and all of sudden the Mavericks were relevant again.”
Nowitzki said the video tribute featuring his milestone shots allowed him a brief moment during the game to reflect on a career that includes 11 All-Star nods, a league Most Valuable Player award, an NBA title and being named MVP of the Finals.
“What comes to mind is all the hard work you put in every (offseason) trying to get better, that you have been lucky to stay somewhat injury-free and be able to play at a high level,” said Nowitzki.
“It made me proud of what I have accomplished so far. Hopefully I can stay injury-free in the next three years and still play at a high level and then it will be time slowly to let the younger guys take over.”
Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue