FRISCO – Dirk Nowitzki barely made it onto the stage Friday night at the Omni hotel to receive the prestigious Roger Staubach Award when an overzealous Dallas Mavericks fan shouted: “One more year!”
A gracious Nowitzki laughed and said: “It’s too late for that, my friend. I’ve been eating everything in sight for the last three weeks. I’m done. Thank you, though.”
Nowitzki retired from the NBA over three weeks ago after spending his entire 21-year career with the Mavs. In his first public appearance since the season ended in San Antonio on Apr. 10, Nowitzki and his wife, Jessica, received the Roger Staubach Award at the 10th Annual Emmitt Smith Celebrity Gala.
The award is given to recipients who exemplify excellence professionally, personally and philanthropically. Established in 2001, the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation has awarded millions to help disadvantaged children over the past 17-plus years.
“We’re extremely honored to have this award with our foundation,” Nowitzki said. “I thank, obviously, Pat (Smith) and Emmitt for having us and for being really obvious role models for all DFW athletes and (showing) how you conduct yourself on and off the field, and strive for greatness.
“Of course, Roger you were a little bit before my time. I heard a lot about this man, so thank you very much.”
Nowitzki said former teammates Steve Nash and Michael Finley set great examples in showing him how to be a well-rounded athlete on and off the court.
“They really showed me how to be a true pro on the court and work hard, but also be a great leader in the community and have a foundation and be active and make a difference in the community, so I always thank those two guys,” Nowitzki said. “I came here (from Germany) as a kid really — when I was 20 years old — and I didn’t really know anybody, and I learned to love this place.
“I had some great role models on the team that I wanted to strive to be like them.”
Nowitzki, who finished his Hall of Fame career sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 31,560 points, said when he initially started his foundation, he basically gave away his own money.
“I want to say the last eight, nine, 10 years, I took it to another level,” Nowitzki said. “Obviously the wifey came in, who is running the show now.”
Jessica Nowitzki told the sellout crowd of approximately 800: “On behalf of our foundation we want to say a big thank you. We’re very honored and very grateful to be here tonight.
“We could not be here tonight without all of the non-profits that we work with, all of the volunteers, our team, our sponsors to trusting us and the promises that we do to do the work in the community. So that’s really why we’re here and we want to make sure that they’re being honored, and this is a shared award.”
Robin Roberts, a co-host on ABC’s Good Morning America, was the emcee of the event. Roberts talked about Dirk and Jessica’s foundation, which she said, “Is dedicated to putting children first and in assisting them into programs focusing on their well-being, health and education. They aim to help children who are affected by illness, who are affected by poverty, abuse and neglect. They strive to put kids on a path to success.
“Dirk and Jessica, bless you all. I’ve heard so much about you. You are true champions on and off the court. But the way you (do it) with such grace and kind of like under the radar. You don’t look for the attention, but it comes your way, because you’re very deserving.”
Staubach, who is of partial German descent, was even more eloquent in his assessment of Nowitzki.
“First of all, Dirk’s absolutely the very best on the court, but he’s just as good off the court,” Staubach said. “It’s a real honor to have a trophy given to Dirk in my name. I think the world of Dirk.
“I played basketball in college (at the U.S. Naval Academy) for two years. I’m a big basketball fan, and Dirk is absolutely unbelievable. He’s just a great athlete and he’s really a good guy.”
Staubach acknowledged that Nowitzki means more to the city of Dallas than he’ll ever know.
“I think his example means a whole lot,” Staubach said. “He’s just a good human being, and on the court he cares about winning, he cares about his team. He really gets it.
“He’s a great player, but he also is not in it for himself. He’s a team player. I think he sets a real good example for other sports, too, just by the way he conducts himself, and he wants the team to win. I think he’s special, actually. He’s a good man.”
The Nowitzki’s showed their generosity once again on Friday by giving a $22,000 donation to Smith’s foundation.
Before he retired in 2001 after winning five NBA titles, Ron Harper recalls the great battles he and his teammates had with Nowitzki.
“He’s a great scorer and he can put the basketball on the floor and they had a great basketball scheme here,” Harper told Mavs.com. “You just try to make him compete for his shot — get one hand up at his shot.
“He played in a great place, he gave them a championship, he had a great career and he’s one of the guys that you have to respect, because he gave it everything that he had. He didn’t ever want to take days off, he never wanted to take practices off. He tried to lead his team to be the best that they can be, and he did a great job at it.”
Nowitzki’s foundation hosts a celebrity baseball game on June 7 at Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco that always sells out, and he’ll host a celebrity tennis tournament in September at SMU. Also, his sister, Silke, runs a foundation that he set up in Germany, and he and his wife has a project coming up in Kenya, which is where his wife is from.
“It’s been fun to try to make a difference and help out wherever we can and try to raise as much money as we can,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “I know since we have our own fundraisers that only works with you guys coming out supporting, donating your time, your hard-earned money and trust and believe in us that we do the right thing and find the right projects and the right people to support.”