The signs were everywhere, even in Rick Carlisle's shirt under his jacket: 41. 21. 1.
The fans of the Mavericks knew that this represented the number 41 playing 21 years for a team. We did not know that 31 could be added to the mix on a special night at the American Airlines Center.
In what he would soon announce was his last home game as Maverick, Dirk Nowitzki fired 31 shots in almost 33 minutes, becoming the oldest player in the NBA to score 30 points when Dallas beat Phoenix 120-109, a result that practically No one cared for in anticipation of the post-game celebration for the best Maverick of all time.
Basketball legends Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf, all favorites of Dirk who grew up in Germany, took the field along with Carlisle and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Tributes and messages flowed, as did tears on Tuesday night. Even Nowitzki could be seen crying in the second room after the story of "Uncle Dirk" of his visits to the hospital, narrated by the News& # 39; Brad Townsend, was shown on the big screen.
That was the most moving story, but there were also other fun ones. Barkley, naturally hit both ends of the spectrum.
"Let me say this about Dirk Nowitzki, he's the greatest man of all time," Barkley said, but he also spoke of advising Nowitzki to go to college. "You could have done something of yourself if you had gone to Auburn."
As Bird spoke, the crowd chanted: "One more year", which caused the player, Nowitzki, to be so often compared to the beginning of his career to respond: "You are too easy, how about two?"
But Nowitzki made it official when he took the microphone.
"As you might expect, this is my last game at home," he said. I put them on a walk with many ups and downs in my career and they always supported me and I appreciate it. & # 39; & # 39;
Before Cuban could speak, the shouts of "Thank you, Dirk" sounded through the crowd. But Cuban gave a roar when he announced: "I promise we will place the biggest and toughest statue in history."
It was quickly evident on Tuesday that this was not an ordinary Suns-Mavericks game. Most of the American Airlines Center crowd represented the Mavs preparation exercise 15 minutes before the start of the game. The energy in the building felt more like the second round of the playoffs than a game between teams with 110 losses.
Nowitzki scored the first points of the Mavericks. And the following. And the following.
And then the next.
At less than four minutes, Dallas had a 10-8 lead and 10 were Dirk's on 4 of the 7 shots, including two from the three-point range. It was not until Dwight Powell made a pair of free throws (out of what would have been an Nowitzki badist without the foul) that another Dallas player reached the scoring column.
Upon entering the arena, the fans were shown "The Perfect Shot", the 2014 German documentary that traced Dirk's career up to that point. In a memorable scene from the film, Nowitzki is chatting with Helmut Schmidt, the former Chancellor of Germany. When they tell him that Nowitzki is about to turn 35, Schmidt asks if he can play another 10 years.
"No, three or four, I suppose," Dirk says. "It's hard to play at 40".
Nowitzki is finishing his sixth season since that moment. He was barely 41 years old. Not every night of this season was a gem, but still throws the occasional perfect jumper, although his favorite shot on Tuesday was the rare pin to hang on the edge.
Before the game, Carlisle said he considers Dirk one of the 12 best players of all time.
"What can not be quantified with Dirk is that he has been such a consistent player in the modern era with limited help from the Hall of Fame," Carlisle said.
Vince Carter, Robert Parish, Kevin Garnett and Kevin Willis matched Nowitzki in 21 seasons of the NBA. None stayed in the same city all the time. Dallas has been rewarded with its share of superstars and Hall of Famers, but one of them for more than two decades is unthinkable.
That's why the fans who filled the AAC were probably divided on whether they expected this to be a true goodbye or that they would like to give it another season. When Nowitzki opened the second quarter with his third triple of the game, the roar was as strong as when he scored the first points of the night or when he overtook Wilt Chamberlain for the No. 6 spot on the all-time list. weeks ago.
The Mavs fans were doing the best they could to match the staying power of their best player. His magical journey ends on Wednesday in the city where it all began with a performance at the 1998 Hoop Summit that convinced Don and Donnie Nelson that they should have it.
They have it. And he never left.
As Nowitzki said on Tuesday, concluding his comments: "I left Germany 20 years ago and became a Texan."
This topic is losing its voice.