The next time you see Dirk Nowitzki, you need to apologize to him.
For thinking after his rookie season with the Dallas Mavericks that he was nothing more than another tall foreign player that then-coach/general manager Don Nelson managed to add to his roster.
Or for thinking, as Mark Cuban so eloquently put it: “Honestly, before I bought the team when I started watching (Nowitzki) and paying attention, I thought he was just another big white guy from Europe that (Don Nelson) brought in.”
By the time Nowitzki (7 feet) joined the Mavs in 1998, the roster included Shawn Bradley (7-6), Chris Anstey (7 feet) and Bruno Sundov (7-2). And then when Nowitzki laid that big fat egg of a rookie season when he averaged just 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds, the folks around town put on their “here we go again” sad face.
Even Nowitzki questioned whether he was going to join the trail of “big white” players who littered the Mavs’ roster and probably weren’t good enough to be the manager of a Dairy Queen.
Midway through Nowitzki’s rookie season, Nelson bluntly said: “I’ll never forget he came to me and said ‘I think I want to go home.’ So we just had to convince him to weather the storm.
“We loved him and said just don’t worry about making mistakes or whatever was bothering him. I guess he was homesick more than anything.”
Homesick or not, Nowitzki got over it, found some inner peace and started on an electrifying journey and transformed himself into one of the greatest players to ever pick up a basketball.
What we — myself included — failed to realize was Nowitzki’s undeniable drive to be one of the best of all time. We didn’t realize how determined he was to not only succeed as an NBA player, but to put his big ’ol stamp in a league dominated by African-Americans.
We didn’t know Nowitzki would work extra long hours after practice — while others had long ago gone home. We didn’t know Nowitzki would come back again at night and work some more — while others had gone to sleep, or while others had gone out on the town to party the night away.
We all sold Dirk Nowitzki short, and for that we all should apologize.
We didn’t know Nowitzki was the type who would eventually eat, sleep and drink basketball, and then get up the next morning and eat, sleep and drink basketball all over again and again and again. And we didn’t know if you cut Nowitzki open and take a peek at his insides, you would probably find a miniature version of himself dropping in one of his infamous one-legged fallaway jumpers affer another from somewhere on the perimeter.
In short, we all sold Nowitzki short. And for that, we all should apologize.
Way back in 1998, no one knew Nowitzki would pull up to the basketball table and walk away with 13 All-Star appearances. No one knew that.
Not even the man who passed up a seemingly sure thing in Kansas All-American Paul Pierce so he could secure Nowitzki.
“Nobody could imagine he would be this good,” Nelson said. “I thought we were going to have an All-Star and a guy we could build the franchise with.
“That’s what I thought. And he’s carried it way past that.”
My first year as the Mavs’ beat writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was Nowitzki’s rookie season. So I saw this kid grow from an impressionable teenager to the point where he blossomed and can now rightfully pull up a chair and sit at the same 30,000-point luxury table with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
There are only about two or three people who have been in the arena for more Nowitzki NBA games than me. I’ve watched him grow, come back after every offseason with a new addition to his game, and reaach a point to where he was a pure assassin’ on the court.
After the Mavs made that lopsided draft-day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks to obtain Nowitzki in 1998, there I was at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport when he hopped off the plane from Germany for the very first time eager to make Dallas his home for the last 19 years.
During that time, Nowitzki has been downright balling.
Back then, no one knew Nowitzki would grow to capture the NBA’s coveted Most Valuable Player award in 2007. And no one probably has even sat down and thought that the only world title to come to the DFW area this century has been compliments of Nowitzki, who guided the Mavs to the 2011 NBA title while he also took home the Finals’ MVP trophy.
Apologize, folks. Apologize.
Ever the humble type, Nowitzki is just as incredible off the basketball court as he is on it. A scandal-free dude, I can’t tell you how many times when players have a bad game they don’t want to talk about it with the media.
Heck, Monta Ellis used to hit game-winning shots for the Mavs — and he still didn’t want to do an interview. And sometimes he didn’t do the interview.
The next day after he joined the 30,000-point club, Dirk Nowitzki was at the Mavs’ headquarters thanking the front office staff for all they’ve meant to him.
But Nowitzki? Good game, bad game, beautiful win, crushing loss — he always patiently stood there and answered one (sometimes pathetic) question after another.
The man is class personified. He gets it.
On Wednesday, mere hours after he joined the prestigious members-only 30,000-point club with his awe-inspiring show-stopping performance against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, Nowitzki made his way to the Mavs’ headquarters so he could thank the front office staff for all they’ve meant to him.
Nowitzki received a standing ovation from the staff for that unexpected kind gesture.
Sometimes, I don’t think Nowitzki understands why so many people want to make a big fuss about him. But deep down, I think he gets that, too.
And for you trollers out there, check social media and see all the great ones who sent shout-outs to Nowitzki, congratulating him on 30K. From LeBron James to Kobe Bryant to David Robinson to. . .you do the trolling.
Game recognizes game.
“I always saw myself as the kid leaving Germany trying to chase his dream, and almost 20 years later I’m standing here now,” Nowitzki said. “It’s been a crazy ride, but it’s also an honor and I have been blessed with teammates, an organization and health — most of all — and just been fortunate to be in the situations I’ve been in.
“It’s an honor that guys looked to my game or enjoyed a part of the game or want to steal certain moves of my game. That’s always been an honor.”
No, honor should come from those who doubted Nowitzki’s passion for the game, who doubted his courage, who said he was “soft” and wouldn’t make it in the NBA.
“It doesn’t get any better than Dirk Nowitzki,” Nelson said. “He’s been an incredible addition to the NBA.
“It’s just all positive, and I’m just so happy to have him in the NBA and to be able to have seen what he’s done for the NBA. It’s worked out for him, too, so it’s all great.”
The only thing left is for us to apologize to Nowitzki. That’s the least we can do for a man who has given us so, so much.