CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki and Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade said goodbye to the All-Star Game stage in style as both future Hall of Famers were honored during Team LeBron's 178-164 victory over Team Giannis on Sunday night.
Nowitzki and Wade were added to the All-Star pool of players by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, and both appreciated the gesture and the emotional moments they experienced throughout the weekend -- the biggest one coming between the third and fourth quarters, when each player was presented a framed All-Star jersey by his team's captain and were both joined at center court by the rest of the game's All-Stars for a picture.
"This one was special," Wade said of his entire experience. "I'm just thankful for the NBA for making sure and accommodating one of the things that I didn't even think I needed or wanted. My team did an amazing job, my family. I couldn't ask for anything more of this weekend. It definitely was my most enjoyable. People like to ask, and this one will take the place now as my most memorable and most enjoyable All-Star."
Both Nowitzki, 40, and Wade, 37, gave a small speech to the crowd during the jersey presentation.
"The game is in good hands," Wade said. "So it's easy to walk away right now."
Both players had their share of memorable moments throughout the night. Nowitzki knocked down a pair of long 3-pointers at the end of the first quarter that got him smiling wide while running down the floor. Wade and former Heat teammate LeBron James connected for an alley-oop in the third quarter that brought back memories of their days playing together in Miami.
"That was obviously awesome," Nowitzki said. "I wanted just to play a few minutes and hoist up a 3 and that's exactly what happened. The first one I was a little deep, but I was like, 'Hey, last time on this stage, I'm going to go for it.' It went in. The second one I was like, 'Hey, let me step back a little more and see what happens,' and it went in too. It was just a fun all around weekend for me. It was a pleasure to compete with these guys one more time on this stage. I got honored in between the third and fourth quarter, that was emotional, so it was a great weekend for me and I'm ready to go home."
Nowitzki played just four minutes but finished 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, while Wade played 10 minutes and had seven points and four assists.
"I had some cool moments," Wade said. "I got the moments I wanted. I feel like the whole weekend has been that way. You visualize something and you hope it goes that way. It definitely has. It went way beyond the moments that I visualized, and that's all I needed."
Wade and Nowitzki's teammates seemed to be enjoying their success as much as each player did. The group spoke with reverence after the game about the impact both men have had on the NBA during their respective careers.
"It meant everything," said James, a close friend of Wade. "Like I've been saying the last couple of days, it's been a bittersweet moment for me with him. The bitter part is obviously this is the last time being on the same floor together and playing the game we love so much, and obviously all the memories we have, both as competitors, as teammates, so on and so on. Playing here in the States, playing abroad with Team USA and doing what we've been doing for so many years. And then the sweet part of it, seeing him be able to go off on his own terms, saying when he's done and nobody forced him out or did anything of that nature. He's able just to hang it up when he was ready to hang it up and be at peace with it all. So that's real sweet of it."
"It was surreal, man," Golden State Warriors All-Star swingman Klay Thompson said. "Those guys are such legends. Especially from my childhood. I've watched them battle it out in the Finals and the regular season, and those are two [players] that have had so much impact on the youth. You would practice the fadeaway, you practice the Eurostep Dwyane Wade set a precedent with. To be here and for the NBA to honor them like they did, they deserve it because they're true global superstars in this game and took our game to new heights."
Both players have been getting standing ovations in opposing arenas throughout the season, but only Wade has officially stated this is his last season. When asked about his own future after Sunday's game, Nowitzki was still not fully committed to retiring at the end of the year, but wore the look of a man who knew his time on the floor was coming to an end soon.
"Nothing that happened today changed my mind, if you're asking that," Nowitzki said. "But I want to see how the rest of the season obviously goes. Hopefully I can feel even better than the last few weeks and we'll see how it goes."
Nowitzki said new teammate Kristaps Porzingis has tried to talk to him about coming back for another year.
"We talked about that briefly," Nowitzki said. "I want to make that decision by myself. But I really want what's best for the franchise obviously. We'll see how my body is feeling, but if I just can't do it no more then it's time to go."
Knowing this was his last time on this stage, Wade was trying to soak in as much as he could with his family in attendance. Wade said the most meaningful aspect of his final season has been all the kind words from players throughout the league.
"I've had so many guys that play this game, guys that I maybe have a 'what's up' relationship with or guys that I don't even have a relationship with," Wade said. "But the things that they have expressed to me and the impact that I've made on their careers and what I've meant to them -- those right there are the things that when I walk away from this game, I am taking that with me. And I'm appreciative of all of them saying that to me. This league is competitive, but you say those things to each other. They got me on the way out, and I appreciate them all for it."