Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks became the NBA’s sixth-leading scorer Monday night with another of his signature long-range jumpers.
Nowitzki took Luka Doncic’s handoff and backed down New Orleans’ Kenrich Williams before hitting a turnaround from the top of the free-throw circle with 8:35 left in the first quarter.
The basket brought Nowitzki to 31,420 points in his career, one more than Wilt Chamberlain. The 40-year-old German trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan. James passed Jordan for fourth place on March 6.
Coming into the game, Nowitzki needed just four points to pass Chamberlain, and he started for just the ninth time this season. His first basket was a 20-footer off an assist from rookie Jalen Brunson.
While Nowitzki stands only an inch shorter than Chamberlain’s listed height of 7-foot-1, the two reached their point totals with contrasting styles of play.
Chamberlain once averaged more than 50 points in a season, dominating inside to such a degree that the NBA widened the paint in an effort to neutralize him.
Nowitzki, meanwhile, has made nearly 2,000 3-pointers in his career, establishing the trend of big men with long-range shooting capabilities. He’s an 88-percent free-throw shooter, 37 points higher than Chamberlain’s mark.
“One of his real legacies is gonna be how he helped this game evolve to what it is today,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “In the ’90s and early 2000s, there was a real crisis. Scoring was down. The way Dirk approached the game helped … nudge the game along and open up space. Eventually the value of the 3-point shot to open up space became a reality. And so today, you don’t hear anybody talking about how there’s not enough scoring or the game’s not exciting.”
Nowitzki is 872 points behind Jordan but may retire at the end of the season, though he has said he will decide on his future when the season is over. He is the only player in NBA history to play 21 seasons with one team.
Nowitzki missed the first 26 games of the season recovering from left ankle surgery and has been reduced to a role player for much of the year, but he has started the past four games and nine out of the last 12 for the Mavs. His season high entering Monday was 15 points.