Dirk Nowitzki has been around a while. He joined the Dallas Mavericks in June 1998.
In other words, the Nowitzki era started at the same time newest draft pick Dennis Smith Jr. was 7 months old.
“Not good. Not good,” Nowitzki said, smiling. “But, you know, I’ve just been around for a long, long time. It’s been fun, obviously, representing this franchise for such a long time and having great runs in the playoffs. But, yeah, I’m obviously one of the oldest guys now in the league. It’s crazy how the time has flown by, you know?
“When I came in I was the youngest and the German wunderkind and all sorts of things. Next thing you know you’re almost 40. When you stay busy and you’re having fun, time flies.
“Now I’m there to help. Obviously, to get the younger guys better, help them with spacing on the court, help them with experience off and on.”
Reports surfaced recently that the Mavericks will decline their $25 million team option for next season in Nowitzki’s contract and are working on a new deal, likely for two years. With free agency beginning Saturday, a new deal could be coming in the next few days.
“Now it’s time to look forward already to July 1. I don’t know if Mark (Cuban) has already emailed (Dirk’s longtime mentor/ coach) Holger (Geschwindner),” Nowitzki said before the reports surfaced. “I’m not sure how they communicate since Holger is a little ancient. I’m sure there’s some decent communication before July 1 to see what we can do to help our franchise.”
Nowitzki, who turned 39 on June 19, is set to go into his 20th season with the Mavericks. He has helped the organization reach the highest of highs with an NBA Championship (2011) and playoff berths in 15 of the past 17 years.
I’m pretty sure none of my teammates voted for me.
Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, joking in his acceptance speech Monday night after receiving the Teammate of the Year Award.
Along the way, Nowitzki has established himself as one of the all-time greats. He became only the sixth player in league history to score 30,000 points last season.
And it’s not just about scoring. It’s about leadership and sharing.
Nowitzki was in New York on Monday night for the NBA Awards Show, at which he accepted the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year honors. The award recognizes the league’s “ideal teammate” who exemplifies “selfless play and commitment and dedication to his team.”
“Yes, great honor to be here for the first Awards Show. I never thought I would get a Teammate of the Year award, but it means a lot to me. It means that I lead my teammates the right way, on and off the floor,” Nowitzki said Monday night. “I was fortunate when I got in the league, I had some great teammates to show me the way and that was Steve Nash and Michael Finley, two great, unbelievable pros that basically raised me right in this league and I basically followed in their footsteps ever since.
Before going to New York, Nowitzki hosted his annual charity baseball game benefiting his foundation and the Heroes Foundation over the weekend at Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco. He talked about a variety of subjects, including Smith, who was selected by the Mavericks with the ninth overall pick in the NBA Draft.
On being part of this latest Mavericks transition:
“I always said I didn’t want to rebuild. But then when it got to the spot, in my head I knew it was a possibility. And when I signed on basically to finish my career here, I also signed on for the possibility that we might have a rough year, we might play with a bunch of young guys. And it’s been fun. Playing with younger guys at times is challenging. Keep your patience and be positive.
“It’s also been fun when you see those guys succeed and how fired up they are. That also brings me joy. Just to see what Yogi [Ferrell] did last year, come on a 10-day and averaging whatever 30 points in that stretch and make a game-winner in Portland. You can’t make these things up. That’s obviously also for me, that’s a kick, that’s a rush that I still play for. So hopefully there’s plenty more of that to come.
“At the end of the day, I just saw myself being with this franchise for so long, whatever this franchise is going through, I want to be right there to push through.”
On challenges of working with a rookie point guard such as Dennis Smith Jr.:
“We’ve played with some the last couple of years, played with some younger guards early in my career. I had [Steve] Nash and then [Jason] J Kidd who are two of the best to ever play the game. At times, it’s challenging. At times, it’s rewarding. At times, it’s fun.
“Then sometimes stuff needs to be addressed that you wouldn’t think needs to be addressed, but it’s just whatever. We’re here. We’re all here to help him succeed and be a great player hopefully in this league and for this franchise for a long, long time. Obviously a rookie year is never all smooth unless they’re LeBron James or somebody, but their rookie year is a challenge.
“The game is different. The amount of games is crazy compared to college. The amount of traveling and all of that stuff, so it takes some getting used to, but I’m sure he’s eager to get it started. He’s eager to learn and get better and bring his talents here and show the fans what he can do. We’re excited to have him and hopefully get this thing started.”
On the organization possibly locking up center Nerlens Noel contractually:
“We’d love to keep him. We traded for him hoping and thinking that he would be a long-term piece for us. He brings all the stuff that we love to have in a guy — a role presence, a defensive presence. He’s got good hands. He’s athletic. He can run with the best of them. Athletes are so important now in today’s game. You’ve got to go up and down and now we have one of the best athletes at the point guard and we have one at the five spot.
“So we’re set up pretty good, so we’re hopeful. We’ll see how it goes. But we’ve all been a part of free agency for a long, long time. Anything is possible, but we’re hoping to get him back and get the best team out there next season.”
On “Super Teams” taking over the NBA:
“I mentioned a few weeks ago that the Finals was amazing. The Finals were as good as I’ve seen, the playmaking, the athleticism was incredible. And the fans enjoyed it too. I think the ratings were the highest since (Michael) Jordan retired in ’98 I think. For the Finals, it was amazing.
“But I do think sometimes the regular season and the first couple of rounds in the playoffs were lacking a little bit. When a team basically sweeps their way through to the Finals on one end and the other team lost, what one game, on the way to the Finals, that doesn’t have the rush it used to when teams are battling it out, there’s seven-game series in round one, there’s another seven-game series in round two. That’s fun times. Those are fun games to watch when teams are battling it out and not basically both teams sweeping their way to the Finals. That was not as exciting. But I think the Finals made up for it. I watched every game. I thought there was incredible games. I think everybody was sad that it only went, what, five games. I think everybody else would have loved to see a couple more games.”
On the Mavericks’ front office positioning for life after Dirk:
“I thought Harrison (Barnes) was a great find. We didn’t really quite know how good he would be. We were hoping that he would turn into a franchise player. But he’s been incredible for us last year, not only on the court where he’s gotten better and better, where he basically was a 20-point scorer for us the entire year. But also off the floor, how he’s got his stuff together, how he does stuff in the community, gives away scholarships. He does tours through south Dallas with police chief (David) Brown. He’s all over the place. So he’s great to have. He’s a smart kid.
“We got lucky there, I gotta say. He puts us in position obviously to be fine for the next couple of years. Just surround him with talent and now we’ve got the draft pick obviously who we love. And we expect and hope a lot out of the next two years. I think we’re heading in the right direction.
“We talked about the Warriors. If you think about it, they drafted Steph (Curry), they drafted Klay (Thompson), they drafted Draymond (Green). Sometimes you’ve got to have a little luck and all these pieces they brought in fit together and that’s how you get good and make a run at it.”
On hosting his charity baseball game whenever he retires:
“Our goal was to do this game as long as I’m still playing. So we’ll see what happens once I’m done if we can still pull this off. But part of being part of this game is also fun because I’m still playing, I’ve still got connections and how guys can come out. Once I retire, it may be time for Dennis Smith to take it over, I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes.”
The numbers game
Dirk Nowitzki turned 39 on June 19. Here’s a look at a few other athletes performing at a high level in his age group:
NBA Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs, 39
NBA Jason Terry, Milwaukee Bucks, 39
NFL Tom Brady, New England Patriots, 39
NFL Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, 38
MLB Carlos Beltran, Houston Astros, 40
MLB Joaquin Benoit, Philadelphia Phillies, 39
NHL Jarome Iginla, Los Angeles Kings, 40
NHL Matt Cullen, Pittsburgh Penguins, 40