Comparing athletes from two different sports isn’t usually a thing, but there is something to be said about the paths that Clayton Kershaw and Dirk Nowitzki took to reach the proverbial mountaintop. They’re revered as champions today, yet both struggled through the early stages of their careers.
As an eight-time MLB All-Star and three-time NL Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw has established himself as one of baseball’s biggest stars. Opponents have long feared the left-handed pitcher in the regular season, and rightfully so. The 32-year-old Texas native holds a 2.43 ERA for his career in that department, which is the lowest such mark for any starter in the last century. In the playoffs, however, his ERA jumps all the way to 4.19.
Kershaw’s postseason struggles have been well-documented throughout his career. The narrative was usually the same, no matter who was writing it. “Clayton can’t cut it in the playoffs,” they’d say. To some extent, there was some truth to this claim. That storyline changed a bit this season, though, as he had two solid starts against the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2020 World Series.
In Game 1, Kershaw pitched 6.0 innings, allowing two hits and one run while racking up eight strike-outs as part of an 8-3 victory for the Dodgers. He threw nine balls in the first, stranding a pair of runners, then threw just nine more over the next three innings. What was his ERA, you ask? 1.50. With the Game 1 win, he improved to 2-2 in the World Series and 12-12 in postseason play, which doesn’t come close to his 175-76 regular season record.
Game 5 saw Clayton Kershaw pitching 5.2 innings. He allowed five hits and two runs, but he struck out six batters en route to a 2.31 ERA.
The Dodgers would go on to defeat the Rays in six games, claiming their first MLB title since 1988 and seventh in franchise history. After 13 seasons, Kershaw was finally a champion.
“It’s just a special thing to get to be a part of a team like this,” Clayton Kershaw said after winning his first World Series, via ESPN.
THE LOS ANGELES DODGERS ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS. pic.twitter.com/rlvVkSwXhp
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 28, 2020
Pretty cool to see Clayton Kershaw, after everything he’s gone through, get to have a moment like this. Reminds me of when Dirk Nowitzki broke through with Dallas in 2011 after his own series of postseason heartbreaks.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) October 28, 2020
Like Kershaw, Dirk Nowitzki had to wait a while before he was recognized as a champion. The Wurzburg, Germany native was projected to be a top pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, and he was. The Milwaukee Bucks selected the seven-foot big man with the ninth overall selection, then traded him to the Dallas Mavericks, where he would spend the rest of his NBA playing days.
Though he showed promise in his first few seasons with the Mavericks, the team struggled as a whole. In fact, Dallas didn’t make it to the playoffs with Dirk until his third season. In his rookie campaign, the Mavs won just 19 of their 50 games. His sophomore season was a bit better, but the Mavericks missed the playoffs after a mediocre 40–42 season.
With a 53-29 record for the 2000-01 regular season, the Mavericks claimed a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 1990. As a No. 5 seed, Dirk and his Mavs would defeat a Utah Jazz team that was led by John Stockton and Karl Malone in the first round, 3-2. In the second round, however, Dallas fell to their in-state rival, the San Antonio Spurs, 4-1.
Nowitzki and the Mavs would go on to reach the playoffs for several years that ensued, but they didn’t claim a title until the 2010-11 NBA Finals, where they were pitted against a LeBron James-led Miami Heat side. This championship was the first in franchise history for Dallas. And for his outstanding play in the series, Dirk was named Finals MVP.
Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki celebrates his first NBA Championship with a victory over the Miami Heat. pic.twitter.com/H6120Rn6Ld
— Jake (@NotJakeMoore) January 13, 2019
On this date in 2011, the Dallas Mavericks won their 1st NBA Championship with a 105-95 win over the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2011 Finals.
Jason Terry led the Mavs with 27 points, while Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki added 21 points and 11 rebounds. pic.twitter.com/2EgcWvURoD
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 12, 2020
“Going into the Finals against LeBron, (Dwyane) Wade and (Chris) Bosh, we were the underdogs there,” Nowitzki said when reflecting on his 2011 championship run with the Mavs, via Shot Science Basketball. “They assembled an unbelievable team.
“I’ll always remember winning in Miami, Game 6,” Nowitzki added. “I remember going off the court early. I already felt I was getting emotional. All the work goes through your head — all the coaches and people that have helped you. It’s a time I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”
So despite the fact that Clayton Kershaw and Dirk Nowitzki play different sports, there is a comparison to be made between the two. They’re viewed as stars in their respective league’s, but both had to wait a substantial amount of time to be fitted for a championship ring.