Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki admitted his long-awaited return left him “so tired” as he made NBA history in his 21st season.
Nowitzki missed the start of the season due to a series of fitness issues, initially having bone spurs removed from his ankle and most recently experiencing tendon soreness before the start of a September training camp that pushed back his return.
But the 40-year-old was back on the floor against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday and became the first NBA player to get minutes on the same team in 21 different seasons.
Nowitzki nudged ahead of Kobe Bryant, who had 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers, in a six-minute two-point stint that left him exhausted.
“Obviously the wind wasn’t great,” Nowitzki told reporters. “There was a stretch where I went back and forth a couple of times, then I fell over like a tree at some point because I was so tired.
“But it was good to be out there and I’m sure my wind is going to get better as we go.”
The Mavericks went down 99-89 to the struggling Suns, but coach Rick Carlisle reserved some positive words for Nowitzki.
“All things considered, he did fine, did well,” Carlisle said. “This is a challenging situation for Dirk.
“Coming back in and re-accumulate mid-stream, with no real live practice time to speak of, but he has been busting his butt big time. I respect the hell out of him for what he has done to get back on the floor.”
Nowitzki was selected as the ninth pick in the 1998 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks and immediately traded to Dallas. The 13-time All-Star is the seventh highest scorer in NBA history with 31,189 career points.