DALLAS – As Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle looked into the audience last month at American Airlines Center, he noticed some very familiar faces.
It was the Mavs’ annual Tipoff Luncheon and the folks in attendance were some of the team’s most loyal supporters. Also on hand were the Mavs players, proprietor Mark Cuban, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, Carlisle and his coaching staff, and a host of the team’s front office personnel.
The co-emcees of the event were Chuck Cooperstein and Mark Followill. Cooperstein is the radio play-by-play announcer for the Mavs, and Followeill is the television play-by-play announcer for the Mavs.
All were there to get an up-close and personal glimpse of the 2017-2018 version of the Mavs in a relaxed atmosphere.
“The Tipoff Luncheon for the season ticket holders is an event I look forward to every year,” Carlisle said. “We essentially introduce the team and everybody at the event gets to hear a conversation with each player.”
“It’s the ultimate time to get to know those guys.”
Six players who weren’t with the Mavs last season were introduced to the crowd. That included guards Dennis Smith Jr. and Gian Clavell, forwards Josh McRoberts, Maximilian Kleber and Johnathan Motley, and center Jeff Withey.
Of course, the big buzz and the one player everyone wanted to especially see was Smith, the ninth overall pick in this past June’s NBA Draft who is expected to help turn around the Mavs’ fortunes. Smith talked about coming from humble beginnings in Fayetteville, N.C., and about his desire to hit the ground running this season.
Smith, who turns 20 on November 25, discussed the monumental task of having the basketball put in his hands and steer the offense as the Mavs try to improve on last year’s 33-49 record.
“I’ve been playing point guard since I was like six years old,” Smith said. “I just go in and do what I do. I’ll find guys, I’ll be aggressive. It’s just about going in and having a feel for it.”
That “feel’’ is something forward Dirk Nowitzki can totally relate to, particularly since he had to carry the Mavs for the majority of the last 19 seasons. Nowitzki knows the Mavs are in good hands with Smith.
“He’s definitely a special athlete,” Nowitzki said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun watching him hopefully for a long, long time.”
Of course, it was duly noted that Nowitzki is in his 20th season – all with the Mavs. And that the Mavs have a lot in store for him this season as they walk down memory lane and commemorate what could be Nowitzki’s final season in the NBA.
The crowd also got to hear Puerto Rico natives J.J. Barea and Clavell tell heartfelt stories concerning the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. The moment was obviously very emotional for both Barea and Clavell.
“We’ve been through it before, but nothing like this,” Barea said. “Electricity, like we all know, is not that good in Puerto Rico. You get a rain storm and you get electricity out for a couple of hours. So now it’s really going to be bad – for six months, maybe a year. So we’ve just got to figure that out.”
Barea was thankful to Cuban, who has let him borrow his plane at least five times to send supplies – and pick up family members and others – from Puerto Rico.
“That’s why I’m here,” Clavell said. “That’s why I picked Dallas because of the kind of people that they are.”
“From top to bottom they’re the best people, and I couldn’t have made a better decision. That tells you what kind of guy Mark Cuban is, and (the) Dallas organization. That lets you know that they care about you and your family.”
All in all, the attendees got an inside look at the Mavs on a personal level.
“It’s special for them,” Carlisle said, referring to the supporters at the Luncheon. “Our guys are accessible to them, even before and after the luncheon.”
“The fans get a chance to mingle and get pictures, which is really important to them. Look, these events are the life blood of our franchise.”
An undrafted free agent out of Florida in 2016, Finney-Smith recalled how emotional last year’s Tipoff Luncheon was for him. It occurred shortly after he officially made the Mavs’ final roster.
“It felt good to even have the opportunity to be in that position, especially being undrafted,” Finney-Smith said. “So I’m just trying to treasure every moment I’ve got.”
“I got to meet a couple of season ticket holders, and I just wanted to say thank you for coming. Hopefully we can get some more wins for them.”
Smith’s big takeaway from his first Tipoff Luncheon?
“I got to interact with a couple of fans, and that was the main thing,” he said. “It was cool, I had a good time and I enjoyed it.”
And that was the whole point. For the players and MFFLs to thoroughly enjoy themselves, and for the attendees to learn something about the players that they otherwise didn’t know.
“There are always a few new guys each year, and then Mark’s there,” Carlisle said. “He’s always heavily engaged in it and has a lot to say, and Donnie and myself. It’s fun and it’s well put together.”
“We need to stay completely connected to the season ticket holders, corporate sponsors, suite holders and everyone like that. They’re the support system that we do not take for granted.”