Dirk Nowitzki looked around the practice gym where he spent thousands of hours hoisting 3-pointers and one-legged fades.
“Super-weird,” he said as he thought back on the eight months it had been since he last set foot in American Airlines Center – a place that used to be his second home.
It’s been 18 months since Nowitzki unlaced his Nikes for the last time. In retirement, his legacy could not be more secure. He’s already got a street named after him. Soon, other tributes will come, including the hall of fame when he becomes eligible.
That doesn’t mean Nowitzki hasn’t gone through some withdrawal pains. He most certainly has. You don’t spend 21 years competing in the NBA without it becoming part of your existence.
That’s what made coming back to the AAC such a strange experience.
“I miss the place,” he said. “I miss, of course, the Mavs, I miss the competing, but that’s part of the cycle of life. At some point everything has to have an end. I’m enjoying my time with the family and friends, and I traveled a lot before the pandemic hit.”
Nowitzki took a look around the place where he spent more time than his own home during many stretches. He poked his head in the training room, in the locker room. He hadn’t been at the arena since February for a home game before the pandemic hit.
Before the world came to a halt in March, Nowitzki spent a lot of time traveling with his family. His wife, Jessica, was born in Sweden and is of Kenyan descent. So with a scattered family, traveling was important for Nowitzki.
That ended, of course, when the COVID-19 crisis hit.
But before that?
“I tried to see my family,” Nowitzki said. “They obviously had to sacrifice a lot the last 20, 21 years.
“You can’t really make up for all of (the lost time with family), but we’re such a multi-cultural family with family all across the world, we want to see everybody. My parents are getting older. My wife has family all over the world. It’s been so far, for me, a fun year-and-a-half — pre-pandemic — to travel and see places I’ve never been.”
In spite of the pandemic, it still was an eventful summer for Nowitzki. His old friend Steve Nash, who teamed with Michael Finley and Nowitzki to help put the Mavericks back on the NBA map in the early 2000s, got the head coaching job with the Brooklyn Nets, a plum assignment with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving returning this coming season.
Nash reached out to Nowitzki to gauge his interest about being an assistant coach.
“I think it’s only natural to work with the Mavs,” Nowitzki said. “This is where my heart is and where I’ve always been – even if coaching is in the future, which I don’t really see in my future.
“But you never know. I don’t think it was necessarily in Steve’s future. I don’t necessarily think that he ever wanted to coach. But given the right opportunity and the right time, and he said he wanted a new challenge. To me, I don’t see that in my future. But as you see with Steve, you never say never. So we’ll see. But to me, it would be very hard to do it anywhere but here. This is where I live, where my kids go to school and were born. So this is where my heart has always been. The place and the time was just not right for me.”
Not that it wasn’t a bit tempting because Nowitzki has great faith in Nash’s future as a coach.
“Honestly, I think he’s going to be a great coach,” he said. “He’s got the tools. He’s always been a great leader. And how he talks to guys, he’s always so positive – the opposite of me at times.”
Nowitzki has been in Dallas for more than two decades, but he has been working here on a green card.
As such, he cannot vote in the upcoming election, and he always tried to steer away from political conversations during his playing days. That hasn’t changed, although he has kept a close eye on the events of the last year and the issues involved in the election.
“You know me, I try to stay out of politics as much as I can, but it’s been such a polarizing subject and we’ve gone through tough times with the pandemic, with the social unrest,” he said. “There’s even more eyes now on everything that’s been happening.
“I just hope everything will be peaceful and whatever outcome may come next week that people stay calm and take the result and just move on and do what’s best for the country and for the communities.”