Dirk smiles now at hole in Oracle Arena wall

SAN FRANCISCO -- For at least a brief moment Tuesday night, Dirk Nowitzki will look up and admire his unintentional artwork at Oracle Arena.

The big hole up high in the wall outside of the visitors’ locker room is the result of Nowitzki’s frustration during one of the lowest points of his certain Hall of Fame career. It’s also a reminder of just how hard the big German’s journey to an NBA championship was.

After the “We Believe” Warriors completed their historic 8-over-1 seed upset over the 67-win Mavs in 2007, a devastated Dirk picked up a trash can and heaved it at the wall. The hole has never been repaired. In fact, it’s now covered by a piece of plexiglass that Nowitzki autographed a couple of years ago.

“It always makes me smile,” Nowitzki said after the Mavs’ Tuesday morning shootaround. “It’s part of my history. I guess all these playoff failures and disappointments are part of why we won in 2011. It made me into the player and the person that I am.

“Always, year after year disappointments, but keep working and keep getting better and ultimately being the closer I needed to be in 2011.”

It took a while -- and a title -- for Nowitzki to see the humor in the hole. As self-deprecating as he is, Nowitzki admits he wouldn’t have responded so warmly if the Warriors asked for his signature before he earned a championship ring.

“Until then, I was still mad about it,” Nowitzki said. “Oh, I’m still mad about it. We had a great shot that year, we won 67 games and to me, it was another lost opportunity. I think we played the Spurs really, really well that year. I think we beat them a couple of times and we figured that if we see them, we might have a chance of going all the way. The Spurs ended up sweeping the Cavs in the Finals that year.

“That’s another year I look back at as a lost opportunity, but it’s part of my past and it made me a better player.”

For years, critics who slapped the “soft Euro” stereotype on Nowitzki pointed to his poor performance in the series against Golden State and his clutch failures in the Finals the previous season as proof, conveniently ignoring all his impressive playoff numbers and postseason accomplishments. However, after he earned the Finals MVP in 2011, there was no doubt about the defining Dirk playoff series.

That title makes the 2007 first round an obstacle in a long path instead of a painful reminder of the blank line atop Nowitzki’s NBA legend résumé.

“That’s why I signed it with a smile in my face,” Nowitzki said. “If I hadn’t won [a title], I probably would have said, ‘Get the hell outta here with that.’”