ESPN Dallas recently held court with Dirk Nowitzki. In this series, Nowitzki shares thoughts about his past, present and future.
Dirk Nowitzki’s negotiations for a new contract will be the first free-agency domino for the Dallas Mavericks this summer. Potential spoiler alert: He’ll re-sign with Dallas.
“We’ve still got a few weeks left,” Nowitzki said of coming to an agreement. “I’m sure there will be some conversations [with owner Mark Cuban]. We’ll just go from there. We’ll find a way where both parties are satisfied and respected and give us a lot of cap room to make this franchise better.”
Nowitzki’s deal with the Mavs could be the final one he signs, signifying the potential for him to stay in Dallas his entire career. With the 2013-14 season complete, Nowitzki joins five players who have spent an entire career of at least 16 seasons with one franchise: John Havlicek (Boston, 16), Tim Duncan (San Antonio, 17 and counting), Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers, 18 and counting), Reggie Miller (Indiana, 18) and John Stockton (Utah, 19).
Duncan has one more year left on his deal with the Spurs, though it is a player option. Bryant is locked in with the Lakers for at least two more seasons, meaning he could pass Stockton on the list. Nowitzki, too, could climb. With players moving frequently, Nowitzki has been a constant figure in Dallas. Why?
“I don’t know. I think from the get-go, Dallas was ready and almost waiting for me,” said Nowitzki, who turns 36 this week. “I’m not sure why. Obviously we know that the '90s were tough. Maybe they had a lot of hope in me, I’m not sure. The fans were great to me. Maybe they liked what I brought. I don’t know if they liked my kind of shy personality at the beginning.”
It’s safe to go out on a limb and say they weren’t intrigued by the bowl-cut hairstyle or the wardrobe, but they saw something in the unique forward. He was something the city desperately needed.
After the rise to contender status in the early to mid-1980s, the Mavericks plummeted, becoming one of the worst franchises in sports in the '90s. As the free fall continued, the Mavs hired Don Nelson in 1997. Fast-forward to the 1998 draft and the Mavs acquired both Nowitzki and Steve Nash via trades on draft night. Ross Perot sold the team to Cuban in early 2000 and the franchise forged ahead in a new direction.
While the likes of Nelson, Cuban, Nash and Michael Finley were role players in the turnaround of the franchise, it still revolved around Nowitzki. He was the sign of hope. Hype, too: Nelson suggested that the young forward could win the rookie of the year award. That might have been too much, too soon for Nowitzki, as that season was one filled with trials and tribulations. Through everything, though, Nowitzki said he knew he had the support of the city and fans.
“My first year was everything but good. I had some good games, but I fell into a deep hole,” Nowitzki said. “Maybe they saw the potential I could have eventually. There were even games when Nellie didn’t put me in at all. I didn’t play any minutes and then the next game I’d come in and get a standing ovation or large cheer when I came in.
“It kind of showed me from day one that they were ready for me to succeed and happy for me from day one. It kind of rolled together from there.”
It all rolled as Nowitzki improved with Nash and Finley every season, bringing the Mavericks back into the playoffs, getting the city behind them. It all happened so fast. Then came 2011, the year when the Mavs washed away all the pain that had come along the way during Nowitzki’s time with the franchise and won their first championship.
Through all of the ups and downs, the Mavericks had Nowitzki, he had support from the team, and the city stood by him. That’s what made the championship that much more gratifying for everyone and the idea of playing somewhere else nearly unthinkable for Nowitzki. While there were heartbreaking losses along the way, a series of circumstances went right for the franchise. Different breaks here or there could have led to another unthinkable.
“Who knows what would have happened if we didn’t make the playoffs or Cuban didn’t buy the team?” Nowitzki said. “Who knows, it probably could have gone the other way.”
Luckily for everyone involved, things didn’t go the other way. As he said at the end of the 2012-13 season, Nowitzki “belongs” to the city of Dallas. It’s 16 years and counting -- a love affair that’s been through it all. It also appears that it could be a relationship that’s one for the ages.