There are many folks rooting for Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki to score 20 points tonight so he can reach 30,000 points for his career.
Right up there among those rooting for the special occasion to occur tonight is Donnie Nelson, the Mavs’ president of basketball operations.
Nelson is one of the men who recruited Nowitzki back in 1998 and is partly responsible for the 7-footer joining the Mavericks. But if Nowitzki scores 19 points or less tonight when the Mavericks (26-36) host the Los Angeles Lakers (19-44) at 7:30 at American Airlines Center, that likely won’t sit well with Nelson.
“The irony of this is if it doesn’t happen (tonight), I’m going on the road because I’ve got to scout these conference tournaments,’’ Nelson said. “So if it doesn’t happen (tonight) I’m going to be out of luck.
“So I’m hoping my boy hits the scales and hits 20 so I can see it in person. But if not, I’ll be there in spirit.”
Nelson was an assistant coach with the Mavericks when they brokered a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks on draft day in 1998 to acquire Nowitzki. Almost 19 years later, Nelson often reflects back to the times when he first met Nowitzki and how their relationship has blossomed.
“You’re sitting there and first of all you can’t believe 19 years has flown by,’’ Nelson said. “Secondly, you reminisce about the early days when we first met each other in the Hyatt Regency over there in the space ball (in downtown Dallas), which is where it all happened and where I first met Dirk for the first time.
“You just sit there and you kind of reminisce and you don’t realize a lot of times when you’re just breaking bread with someone and developing relationships, that some of those will go on to kind of change your life. And that was certainly the case with bumping into a guy as talented as Dirk with the Hoop Summit.’’
At the Nike Hoop Summit in San Antonio during the Final 4 weekend is where Nelson first saw Nowitzki play in 1978. Nowitzki was on the international juniors team that played and upset a USA juniors team that was led by Rashard Lewis and Al Harrington.
Nowitzki was absolutely dominant in the game, scoring 33 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. The Mavericks were hooked.
But why weren’t the other NBA general managers, player personnel directors and president of basketball operations types sold on the kid from Germany? Did they think Nowitzki’s game against the top young player sin American was just an aberration?
“I think when (Nowitzki) went to San Antonio that he had a fairly quiet first half and then the second half he erupted and he ended up scoring 33 points (and getting 14 rebounds and three steals),’’ Nelson said. “But then he went back to Germany and didn’t play in a lot of games after that.
“So I think there were a lot of people that were intrigued by his ability, but they didn’t have the same luxury as a kid from the NCAA where they’d seen him play 25-30 times.”
And since those top NBA front office personnel did see a lot of Nowitzki’s games, he really wasn’t on their radar as a top prospect.
“There’s a saying in scouting that one look can be dangerous,’’ Nelson said “Anybody can look like an All-Star on any given night if they get real hot.
“So I think there were some folks that really liked (Nowitzki), and others that weren’t quite sure, and so I think maybe the uncertainty of was he really as good as the second half or was he the player in the first half. That Hoop Summit kind of made some teams doubt it, and it was enough to have him maybe slide from a sixth to a ninth position.’’
So why didn’t Nelson do like most of his cohorts and view Nowitzki as nothing more than a flash-in-the-pan player who had a hot hand for one game on a big stage? And what did the Nelson envision that others didn’t?
“You saw a long tall German drink of water that had the things that you look for, who had the ability to handle and shoot the ball,’’ Nelson said. “Certainly, all of 6-11 (tall) plus, and he wanted the ball in critical situations.’’
There also was something unique about Nowitzki in the eyes of Nelson.
“He clearly had a killer’s mentality in the body of a choir boy, in a lot of respects,’’ Nelson said. “You heard a lot of the same things when John Stockton came out (of Gonzaga in 1984).
“It’s kind of like, well, he doesn’t look like this, he doesn’t have this or that or the other. But the reality is, guys like that have tickers that are as big as all outdoors, and Dirk was one of those very rare guys.”
In the Mavericks’ pre-draft arrangement with Milwaukee in 1998, Dallas used the sixth pick to select Robert “Tractor’ Traylor for the Bucks, and Milwaukee used the ninth pick to draft Nowitzki for the Mavericks. It turned out to be one of the most lop-sided trades in sports history.
As for now, Nowitzki has scored 29,980 points and is on the verge of joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain while becoming the only players to score at least 30,000 points in their NBA career. Nelson, who will attend tonight’s game, just hopes his favorite pupil will be able to add his name to that 30,000-point club against the Lakers.
“I’m gone (out of town) the first thing Wednesday morning -- I’m scouting college tournaments,’’ Nelson said. “So (tonight) he’s got to score 20.
“But when it happens, it’ll happen and I’ll be like a big brother and as proud as anything just to be able to share space with a guy like that.”