DALLAS — Major props to the little kid who showed the necessary Mike Wallace-like skills to ask Dirk Nowitzki the one question everyone cares to ask: “Who would you rather play with,” the kid at the T. Boone Pickens YMCA asked Dirk, “Chris Paul or Dwight Howard?”Well done, young man.Dirk was visiting a group of kids for a Mavericks-sponsored basketball clinic Monday afternoon and fielded a mostly harmless series of questions such as “How tall are you?” to “How many 3-pointers did you make last season?” until one kid served up a question with a little teeth.“Wow, you’re going right at it,” Dirk said.This is why we love Dirk — he didn’t dodge the question with a lame, “I can’t wait to be reunited with Erick Dampier.”Dirk simply said: “I like both. Whatever one that wants to come here.”When your options are Darren Collison running the point or Chris Kaman in the post, you really would love either D-12 or CP3.Dirk needs help, and the Mavs are like every other team this off-season — they are selling Paul or Howard in free agency. The Atlanta Hawks got into trouble with the league when they sent season ticket holders those particular names as a good reason to be excited about Hawks basketball.Dirk said that, unlike last summer when there was no Plan B after trying to sign Deron Williams, there exists an alternative beyond D12 or CP3. He doesn’t want a bunch of guys on one-year deals.For Dirk’s sake, let us all hope the Mavs are able to add Howard or Paul, preferably the latter. Dirk will not be going anywhere in his final NBA years, and he deserves better than what his boss has surrounded him with as a supporting cast.Listening to Dirk speak on Monday and interact with a bunch of starry-eyed kids, it became sadly obvious we have taken this man’s decency and basketball brilliance for granted.We talk about how much these guys should be role models to the millions of young kids who place them on a pedestal, and Dirk actually does that without trying.Too often it’s always about what they aren’t rather than what they are. Dirk is everything; should you be in the market to buy a jersey of an NBA player for your kid, you could get a “Nowitzki 41” without the fear of being embarrassed.We are going to miss this man more than you think when he finally retires.For the longest time, I believed no person meant more to his franchise than Mike Modano did to the Dallas Stars. He was the face of his team and his sport to an entire region.Basketball existed before Dirk arrived to the Mavs, and he does not have Modano’s Hollywood looks or the same comfort level with a more visible life, but in this era, no player has meant more to the state of his franchise in this town than Dirk.With the Cowboys, there are too many players to name than just one or two.The same for the Rangers, although a case could be made for Nolan Ryan as a player/executive.For as much as Mark Cuban did to legitimize the Mavericks and make them a national brand with his fearless spending and giant mouth, Dirk made it possible. All Dirk ever did was be Dirk: steadily improve, carry this franchise — and the sometimes many mediocre players around him — and be a good guy.The last part is usually ignored because pro sports is such a cruel, bottom-line business. We like good guys, but we worship cold-blooded, drunk-driving, wife-beating, drug-using winners.Being a good dude has value and should be recognized and even celebrated.Few guys in this area have ever been as honest as Dirk about himself, his teammates or his owner.He has been the one guy his boss won’t even dare touch. Dirk is the one guy who can say of the Mavs’ 2011 NBA title that maybe “they got a little lucky,” as he did Monday, and get away with it.Dirk is obviously no saint, and he probably has his “stuff,” but he has represented his town and his team as well as a star player possibly could.And he has done so from the time he arrived here as a skinny kid from Germany who was clearly in over his head.“I saw myself more as a kid than a role model; I could have been sitting there with the kids at a camp. That’s how I felt,” Dirk said. “Now I enjoy it a little more. Back then I was really shy, and now I embrace the role.”Right now, we can’t see it because his career is still going, and he should have a couple of highly productive seasons remaining.We can’t see it because we’re more preoccupied with his production, the playoffs and the pursuit of Howard or Paul.For more than 10 years we have had one of the very best the NBA has ever seen, and it feels like we took him for granted. All of us. Fans. Media. The guy who signs his check.Dirk is more than just a once-in-a-generation player.He’s a great player and a good dude, and we’re going to miss him when he’s gone.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof