Friday, August 24, 2012
Eduardo Najera's Legends now Mexico's team, too
By Jeff Caplan
DALLAS -- In his home country of Mexico, they call him by one name, Lalo, a common nickname for Eduardo.
Yes, Eduardo Najera is beloved in Mexico and it didn't take a turnout of about 200 at news conference there earlier this week to announce his retirement after 12 seasons in the NBA to know that.
"Everywhere we go, he's like Elvis," said Del Harris, the longtime Dallas Mavericks assistant and D-League Texas Legends general manager, who joined Najera and Donnie Nelson in Mexico City for the announcement. "He goes by one name there. He's like Pele in Brazil."
On Friday at the American Airlines Center, Harris and Nelson, the Mavs president of basketball operations and Legends co-owner, along with Mavs owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle, all praised Najera as a hard-nosed player and endorsed him as the next head coach of the Legends. Najera will also have an ownership stake in the franchise and he will join Nelson in the Mavs' front office.
Those who have known Najera and coached him said as long as he brings the same passion to coaching as he did playing that he will be a success. That will be seen as he begins his post-playing career by jumping straight into the head chair. What is instantly known is that the Najera-led Legends are now Mexico's team, too.
"I think that the country is going to be following me now. They’re going to be following the Legends," Najera said. "At the press conference (in Mexico City), obviously they knew who the Mavericks were, but once they heard about the Legends, now it became a Latino thing, a Mexican thing. Now we are going to have their support, I know, because that’s who we are. We are very loyal to athletes and I think that we are going to have that support and hopefully I won’t let them down."
Najera also shared, a bit reluctantly at first, his grand vision to one day deliver Mexico an NBA team. If anyone can do it, it is Najera, who became the first Mexican-born player drafted in the NBA in 2000 and is now the first Mexican-born coach in the NBA or D-League.
"It means a lot. I’m so proud of my heritage, proud of being a Mexican, born in Mexico, obviously I lived there til I was 17," said Najera, who came to the U.S. to attend Oklahoma. "It means a lot. This is a lot of responsibility, I know, I understand, but I think that if I focus on just coaching, if I work really hard, I think that I’m going to represent my country the right way. They’re expecting my work ethic, all the the same things that I had as a player, they expect it to come in as a coach, and I’m going to do that."
Nelson hired Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman to coach the Legends a couple of years ago, making her the first woman to coach an NBA-level D-League team. After Lieberman stepped down to join the club's front office, Nelson attempted to make a splash by offering fired Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl a compensatory package unheard of in minor league sports, although Pearl eventually turned it down to remain closer to his children in Tennessee.
The hiring of Najera accomplishes a massive marketing initiative, but also gives a former and loyal Mavs player with lofty aspirations the opportunity to immediately get started on his post-playing days.