Don’t compare him to Michael. Just as soon as Doris Burke revealed that Dirk Nowitzki was playing Game 4 of the Finals through a fever, and as soon as the first wiseass made the mental leap to mention Dirk’s performance in the same breath as that of Michael Jordan’s Game 5 against Utah in the 1997 Finals, the rejoinders came fast and furious: Don’t you dare even consider comparing him to Michael.
After all, Michael ended up posting a 38-7-5 in that game, willing the Bulls to victory in a pivotal away game that more or less ensured Chicago the series victory. Good as Dirk could be, he’s not gonna top that. What’s more, Michael is Michael. You don’t compare other guys not named Michael to Michael, and you don’t even compare most people named Michael to him either.
All right, fine. So who are we gonna compare him to?
As inspiring as Willis Reed’s return for the 1970 Knicks in Game 7 was, limping around for a few minutes and scoring a couple buckets to send your teammates on their way hardly stacks up against Dirk playing the full game, posting a 20-10 and scoring the game-winning bucket in the final minute. No, we must go deeper than basketball for this, and measure Dirk against some of our greatest pop culture heroes — fictional men and women who suffered physical maladies of their own, but did not let their not being 100 percent dissuade them from getting done what needed to get done.
Where does Dirk stand among their ranks? Let’s investigate.
Cameron Frye, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:
Malady: Unspecified illness, enough to take the day off from high school.
Symptoms: Feeling shredded, like a slave in Egypt Land.
Task at Hand: Getting best friend Ferris Bueller off his back, ameliorating relationship with similarly tight-ass parents, possibly enjoying life for first time.
Accomplishments: Fails to get Ferris off his back, but does manage to fit in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, trips to the Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago Stock Exchange, a joyride in his father’s 1961 Ferrari 250GT California, and a character-building thrashing of said vehicle all before sundown. Plus, he gets to see Sloan Peterson naked while pretending to be catatonic, which in itself is easily a day’s worth of achievement.
Better Than Dirk?: An impressive day, no doubt, but less so when viewed under the likely perspective that Cameron’s illness was entirely psychosomatic to begin with. Besides, what the fuck is a dude from Chicago doing wearing a Red Wings Gordie Howe jersey?
Tony Soprano, “Funhouse” episode of The Sopranos:
Malady: Food poisoning, due either to unsanitary Indian food or bad shellfish from Nuovo Vesuvio’s, both ingested the night before.
Symptoms: Violent vomiting, chills, fever, a tendency to have symbolic fever dreams involving fish heads.
Task at Hand: Determining whether or not Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bompensiero is serving as an informant for the FBI, dealing with the situation if so.
Accomplishments: Finds the incriminating tape recorder in Big Pussy’s bedroom, lures him on board the Stugots with Paulie and Silvio, shoots him below deck and disposes of the body, gets home in time for dinner.
Better Than Dirk?: Tony’s quality display of TCB under debilitating illness — he even passes out in the backseat on the way to murder his best friend — should put him up there. But his ending isn’t strong. After he gets home, the cops come by and arrest him for stolen airline tickets, and under the weight of his various emotional and physical stresses, he loses his balance and nearly falls over. As Dirk proved on Tuesday, you can go 6-19 in the first 47 minutes as long as you make the big play down the stretch, and here, Tony comes up just short.
The Bride/Beatrix Kiddo, Kill Bill, Vol. 1:
Malady: Entropy due to being in a coma for four years.
Symptoms: Temporary paralysis below the waist.
Task at Hand: Escaping from the hospital where she was bed-ridden, exacting revenge on the man who pimped out her body while she was comatose, finding out information about her confusing situation, securing a ride to transport her to the locations of her various death-deserving enemies.
Accomplishments: 4-for-4 for The Bride. She manages to get evil hospital worker on the ground by slicing his tendon, tortures him for information and eventually kills him by slamming his head in a doorway crevice, and then steals his Pussy Wagon on the way to wreaking further vengeance on her former co-Vipers.
Better Than Dirk?: Pretty inarguably so. The Bride wasn’t missing too many open jumpers from the wing on her way to slaughtering Vernita Green and O-Ren Ishii, and she didn’t even have use of her legs. Dirk only needs one a lot of the time, but he really does need the one.
Leonard Shelby, Memento:
Malady: Anterogade amnesia, as a result of a brutal beating from the same men who raped and killed his wife.
Symptoms: Inability to retain new memories, compulsive desire to get lots of cool and mysterious tattoos.
Task at Hand: Figuring out who killed his wife and punishing them, making sure that a couple characters played by “The Matrix” alums don’t try to fuck with him too much.
Accomplishments: Kills a couple guys who probably did something wrong once upon a time.
Better Than Dirk?: Not exactly. Leonard’s impairment is more debilitating than Dirk’s, no doubt, but he doesn’t really hit any big shots over the course of “Memento.” All he does is let his friend Teddy guide him into acting out meaningless revenge fantasies, and then punishes Teddy for doing so by setting him up to be at the receiving end of one of said enactments. Supposedly he did actually get to kill the guy who fucked him and his wife up long before the movie started, but putting up a one-fer isn’t exactly going to put you in the Finals MVP discussion.
Dr. Gregory House, “No Reason” episode of House:
Malady: Neurological impairment as a side effect of ketamine treatment while comatose due to getting shot twice, plus having recently gotten shot twice.
Symptoms: Hallucinations, inability to separate reality from fiction, being bed-ridden right next to the guy that shot him and really hates him.
Task at Hand: Solving the case of a guy who has a swollen eye and a burst testicle for no apparent reason, figuring out how to do so while mentally incapacitated, not letting the guy who shot him’s attempts to convince him that his life is worthless get him down.
Accomplishments: Solves the case and the mental issues by arriving at the correct conclusion that in fact the whole thing is a dream, and that he himself is still in a coma after being shot. Wakes up and survives, but does let some of the shooter’s criticisms get to him a little bit.
Better Than Dirk?: Inconclusive. House would like you to believe that it was only him solving the complex mystery of him still being asleep that allowed himself to wake up, but who knows, really? Maybe he would have woken up anyway, and House just always gets the answers right in his dreams. Besides, his ailments helped him arrive at the truth anyway, if anything.
John McClane, Die Hard With a Vengeance:
Malady: Bad hangover.
Symptoms: Splitting headache, looking like shit, reminding everyone around him what a loser he’s become.
Task at Hand: Playing a pawn in some terrorist’s grand scheme to steal a shitload of gold from the US Reserve for long enough to figure out how to stop and catch him, dealing with a highly irritable and racially insensitive sidekick.
Accomplishments: Survives the bad guy’s machinations to put him in all sorts of potentially fatal situations, tracks him down in Canada and kills him, befriends his irritable and racially insensitive sidekick, makes tentative plans to call his ex-wife Holly back.
Better Than Dirk?: Yes, but mainly because while in the bad guy’s clutches, McClane even persuades his captor to hook him up with some aspirin before leaving him to be blown to pieces on his bomb-armed boat. That’s like Wade fanning Dirk off while LeBron massages his lower calves before the start of the fourth quarter.