Denial is usually one of the first things aging pro athletes add to their resume as the years and miles add up, but that trait is something Dirk Nowitzki has refused to bow to.
He is 36, and unlike so many NBAers who age he is not going to lie about who he is, or what he can do.
Today after Mavs practice I asked him the loaded question if he felt like he could still do all of the things he did four or five years ago.
“No. I think that’s obvious I can’t,” he said, “but I’m going to try.”
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(As a side note - I will miss this man so much when he retires. He is so good, and such a good guy.)
The man never knows how to lie. To try a little bit more, his personal friend and coach - Mr. Holger Geschwindner - is in town to work with his protege of more than 20 years. They were practicing shots today after practice.
Aging is never fun for any of us, but it is especially difficult for professional athletes. For many of these guys, the end of a career is like preparing for death, only not as fun. Seldom do NBA players ever admit they can’t do what they once did, with the possible exception of dunking the same way.
Most players, especially stars, dig in and refuse to admit what the rest of us see - they are not the same. Most insist everything is the same, even if the body says otherwise.
Off the top of my head, one of the few to ever admit this was former Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller, who, like Dirk, was coached by Rick Carlisle in his final seasons. Aging superstars can become a major pain for an organization, see Bryant, Kobe. Often they are paid too much, produce not enough and hold the team hostage to their status as a player, and salary. It is why the end for some of these guys is so nasty.
Better to admit everything is not the same rather than lie and cause a problem in the locker room, or the coaching staff, or organization.
I asked him how he thought the season is going for him individually.
“I started off pretty well in December. Had a long drought and working on getting better again. It’s OK,” he said. “Hopefully finish strong here going into the All-Star break. Get away for a couple of days and re-charge and go strong to the playoffs.”
For the season, Dirk is averaging 18.3 points and 6.0 rebounds on 47 percent shooting. These are still solid numbers, but when you are Dirk the standard is different. If these figures hold, they would be near the bottom or last in his brilliant All-Star, Hall of Fame career.
Dirk addresses the media on Feb. 3, 2015 on preparing for the Golden State Warriors again.
The eyeball test says he can’t quite do it the same way. It’s just not “there” as often as it once was. During the Spurs/Mavs playoff series last year, they crowded him and made life hard for him off the dribble, and he wasn’t the same. Rebounding isn’t as easy, and defense - never his strong suit - is a major issue this year.
This is still a highly productive NBA player, and in the final minutes you are comfortable with the ball in his hands. But he is not the same guy, and he knows that, too.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7760