PHOENIX – The same day Dirk Nowitzki joined the Dallas Mavericks during a draft day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998 was the same day Steve Nash joined the Mavs via a draft day trade with the Phoenix Suns.
The two quickly became fast friends, and honed their games while often practicing on Friday and Saturday nights while their teammates were off doing other things. But with Nash being saddled with one injury after another, it was no surprise to Nowitzki that the 19-year veteran point guard announced his retirement this past Saturday.
"I knew at the beginning of the season where this was headed,’’ Nowitzki said. "This wasn’t news for me.
"He wanted to retire, really, in October.’’
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Nash retired after playing 10 seasons for the Phoenix Suns, six for the Mavs and the past three for the Los Angeles. And the lists of awards he received are enough to get him into the Hall of Fame likely on the first-time ballot.
Nash was an eight-time All-Star, three-time first team all-NBA selection, and won the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2005 and ’06.
"Honestly for a whatever, 5-10, guy from a little town in Canada he had an amazing run,’’ Nowitzki said. "He was one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever been around in my 17 years in the league.
"He always worked on his game, always worked on his health and his body, on his core strength and legs. He was just constantly working at it – he was an animal.’’
In other words, being outmatched didn’t bother Nash, because he knew he was going to find a way to out-think or out-work his opponent.
"He had that drive and he also had that mental toughness,’’ Nowitzki said. "Most nights he was outmatched physically and speed-wise at the point guard, and then he took that matchup every night and competed.
"There were some years where I felt like he was our toughest guy out there, getting in fights, getting in scraps. That’s the kind of guy he was – one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever seen.’’
Nowitzki also said Nash sort of showed him the ropes in the NBA, taking him around and introducing him to other people. That was special to Nowitzki, who, at the time, was a rookie when he first met Nash and was trying to find a comfort zone after coming to the NBA as a teenager from Germany.
"He helped me make it in this league,’’ Nowitzki said. "My first year was extremely tough, I didn’t know anybody and my family was far away, and he’d been in the league two years in Phoenix, so he kind of knew his way around, he knew people, he went to college in the states.
"So every time when we were on the road, instead of me just sitting in the hotel road and thinking about my hometown, he got me out, he got me going and he said, ‘Hey, meet this guy, let’s go to dinner, let’s go to a movie.’ ‘’
Because Nash – and also Michael Finley -- went out of their way to make sure Nowitzki would find a comfort zone in the states and in the NBA, Nowitzki will always have a special place in his heart for them.
"He was big for me on and off the floor my first couple of years,’’ Nowitzki said of Nash. "And so was Finley.
"Those two guys supported me and wanted me to get better and pushed me, and once I did get better they shared the limelight with me. So those two guys are my friends for life and I’ll never forget that.’’
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760