Dirk Nowitzki turned 41 years old on Wednesday. But Greg Buckner remembers when Nowitzki was just 20 years old, and the Dallas Mavericks made a draft-day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998 to acquire the seven-footer’s services.
And that’s not all Buckner remembers about Nowitzki’s initial steps into the NBA.
“He was green, not sure of himself, but very talented, bro’, very talented,” Buckner told Mavs.com. “I came back and I was telling people, I said, ‘This boy is going to be a Hall of Famer.’ And everybody was saying, ‘Yeah, for real?’
“And then he struggled that rookie year and they said, ‘Boy, you don’t know how to pick talent.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah. Right. Ok.’ “
Buckner, who also was drafted by the Mavs in the same draft as Nowitzki, steadfastly stood by his initial assessment of Nowitzki. While playing for Clemson, Buckner led the Tigers in scoring all four of his collegiate years while also leading them to three berths in the NCAA Tournament.
So, he knew a thing or two about talent.
“At the time, they drafted (Nowitzki) as a small forward, so he was a seven-footer playing (small forward),” said Buckner, who was a second-round pick by the Mavs in ‘98. “Where I come from and even in the (Atlantic Coast Conference) – which at the time was the highest level of college basketball — we didn’t have any 7-foot (small forwards).
“Still, he had a smooth jump shot, he was right-handed, but loved going left, so people couldn’t figure out that he was going left on them all the time. But I was like, ‘Yeah, he’s going to be a Hall of Famer.’ And (my friends) were like, ‘Yeah, right. Whatever.”
As it turned out, Buckner was on-point.
Nowitzki announced his retirement from the NBA about two months ago after playing 21 seasons. Along the way he was a 14-time All-Star, the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2007, the NBA Finals MVP after leading the Mavs to the 2011 championship, and he also finished his illustrious career as the league’s No. 6 all-time leading scorer.
More importantly from Buckner’s nearly two-decade old crystal ball, Nowitzki will undoubtedly become a first-ballot Hall of Famer.