Past NBA greats tend to rate their eras as better than all others, but the Hall of Fame-type talents tend to treat each other with a significant deal of respect and praise. There are exceptions, to be sure, but the all-time greats know what it takes to reach such a high level. They typically don't nit-pick each other.
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It's notable, then, that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar opted to minimize Dirk Nowitzki's impact on the game in a recent public appearance. Interviewed by economist and writer Tyler Cowen as part of the "Conversations with Tyler" series at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in the nation's capital, the NBA's all-time leading scorer fielded an audience question regarding how Dirk's fadeaway jumper compares to his sky hook. You can watch the answer in this video at the 1:15:00 mark or read a transcription after the clip (both via Mavs Moneyball):
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Has there been an unstoppable move in the NBA since the skyhook? And I bring up Dirk's fadeaway.
ABDUL-JABBAR: You asked about Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk Nowitzki's shot is very hard to block, but I don't think that he was able to have a dominant career because he couldn't do other things. If he could have shot like that and rebounded and played defense and blocked shots, then he would have been all-around, and he would have gotten more credit. He was like a one-trick pony.
You want guys that can shoot like that on your team. I'm not saying that he lacked value, but he would have been considered at a higher level if he had done more on the court other than just shoot the ball.
It's worth noting that Kareem seems to realize he's being a little unfair to Dirk as he makes these comments — the second paragraph of this answer actually begins almost immediately after he says "one-trick pony," the most damning comment of the bunch. Yet even the hedging is condescending — Nowitzki has obviously been more than a guy you'd like to have on your team. We're talking about a 13-time All-Star, the best player on a championship team (and several contenders), and the most decorated international player in NBA history.
Tim Cato of Mavs Moneyball did fine work picking apart Abdul-Jabbar's answer, so we advise that you read that for a deeper account of everything that makes Dirk a legend. The shorter story is that Dirk is obviously not a glorified Steve Novak. He's a great shooter, yes, but arguably most effective because of the ways he creates space on the elbow — we're talking about an elite scorer. Plus, while Nowitzki has never been a top-level defender or rebounder, he's been good enough at various points in his career to be rated as a solid contributor.
However, it would probably be wrong to treat Kareem's take as an objective appraisal of general basketball value. He has previously compared Dirk unfavorably to Larry Bird, a totally normal opinion that tells us that we are comparing truly excellent players to each other and not future Hall of Famers to rotation guys. For that matter, Kareem may have reacted negatively to the Nowitzki talk in this case because the audience member compared Dirk's fadeaway to his own signature play, a point that carries the implication that the two deserve to be discussed as rough equals. Abdul-Jabbar's answer is in many ways a rejection of that suggestion, a particularly extreme way of saying that Nowitzki is not going to make any all-time starting fives.
I hope we can agree that this opinion is both correct and so narrowly focused as to be unnecessary. Dirk is historically great, even if he has some weaknesses. No one has ever turned down a free massage because it doesn't include a facial.
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