James Donaldson came on the scene in 1985 and quickly shored up a huge weakness at center for the Mavs.
On Nov. 25, 1985, the Mavericks traded center Kurt Nimphius along with his mullet and wacky personality to the Los Angeles Clippers for James Donaldson. That was one of the greatest days of my ninth-grade year, not because I was some huge Donaldson fan but rather I knew that my favorite team had just made the leap from the lovable underdog who played really hard and was potentially dangerous to legitimate contender.
The previous season the Mavs were starting either Nimphius or Wallace Bryant at center -- two dudes who were back-up quality role players at best. In previous seasons, they rolled with undersized Pat Cummings at the 5. He made up for being physically overmatched by playing hard and spreading the floor with a nice touch out to 18 feet or so. But when he left for New York following the '84 season, the Mavericks had a real donut at center.
And then they traded for Donaldson. He wasn't an offensive threat, but he was a space eater who couldn't be backed down, shot a high percentage while setting great screens and was a decent shot-blocker. In other words, he was someone the Mavs had never had and wouldn't have again until Erick Dampier showed up on the scene about two decades later.
Because the Clippers were never on the tube, most Mav fans had no idea who they were getting. But I was a basketball nerd, so I knew exactly who they were getting and I was ecstatic. This is the dude who was so massive that Daryl Dawkins dubbed him the “American Tourister” because his head was as big as a suitcase and the Mavs were a team desperate for “quality” size. And he gave them what they needed -- he actually made the All-Star Game in '88, the same year the Mavs took the Lakers to seven games in the Western Conference finals.
He wasn't one of the best centers in the league, but his presence shored up a massive weakness and helped the Mavs become one of the league's best teams. At least until Mark Aguirre ruined it all and crushed our souls. But that's a different memory for a different day ... .