LOS ANGELES – Dirk Nowitzki thought he was just coming to see the Dallas Mavericks play the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday as a gift to a couple who won one of the special auction packages he offered at his celebrity tennis tournament in September.
But the next thing Nowitzki knew, the Lakers surprised him by showing a two-minute video tribute in his honor on the STAPLES Center jumbotron. And the sellout crowd of 18,997 responded by giving the former Mavs’ superstar a thunderous standing ovation.
“I didn’t know this was coming,” Nowitzki said. “I’m sort of speechless — sort of surreal.
“All the outpour of love I’ve been getting after April after I announced (I was retiring), I’ve been getting honored everywhere. It’s been an amazing six, seven, eight months. I’m really enjoying it.”
Nowitzki played his entire 21-year career with the Mavs and has now moved on to the next chapter in his life. But is the No. 6 all-time leading scorer missing the game that brought him so much joy and happiness?
“Of course now that the season’s started I miss it more,” Nowitzki said. “I miss being there, I miss being with the guys.
“It’s been an intense seven month.”
Since retiring from the NBA, Nowitzki has spent a lot of time traveling with his family to Europe, and also has been part of several events in Dallas. He said he plans on spending Christmas in Europe.
In the meantime, Nowitzki is getting a thrill out of watching the Mavs rack up a 13-6 record – they stunned the Lakers on Sunday, 114-100 — while also being one of the surprise teams in the NBA so far. He’s especially ecstatic watching point guard Luka Doncic average nearly a triple-double for this season, after averaging 32.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 10.4 assists during the month of November.
“It’s been a fun year,” Nowitzki said. “Luka is playing out of this world. Everybody else is defending, shooting, rebounding, and I still think they have room to improve.
“Obviously, (Kristaps Porzingis) is slowly finding his rhythm, so I’m really liking what I‘m seeing. They’re quick, they’re long, they’re good defensively when they want to be, and they’ve got playmakers and shot-makers, and I feel like it’s a very deep team.”
Deep enough to get the Mavs into the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-’16 season?
Nowitzki said: “Hopefully the playoffs are in the Mavs’ future this year.”
Coach Rick Carlisle was delighted to see Nowitzki sitting courtside with his wife, Jessica.
“That was fantastic,” Carlisle said. “He was certainly a good luck charm for us sitting over there. Our guys really get a kick out of seeing him around and having him around when he’s around the practice facilities and at games. It’s great to see him here.”
For Nowitzki, it’s been great seeing Doncic back up the Rookie of the Year honors he received last season with a year that already has him mentioned in the conversation for the Most Valuable Player award this season.
“I’ve got to be honest,” Nowitzki said. “I thought he was going to have a little tougher transition in Year Two, just because he was so phenomenal last year with all the triple-doubles. I thought people were just going to really hone in on him, but he’s even gotten better.
“His shot looks better, his free throws are better, his decision-making off the pick-and-rolls when they trap him – he makes the right play almost every time. He seems to get to the basket at-will at times, so I was wrong there. Even the experts can be wrong. He’s looking fantastic.
“To average a triple-double over a whole month is unbelievable. And that at (age) 20, so the sky’s the limit on this kid.”
When asked if he has any designs on coming back and playing for the Mavs again, Nowitzki said: “I wish. My foot is not great, so my health is just not there any more where it needs to be to compete and go up and down (the floor) every day. So from that standpoint last year was already tough.
“It took some of the fun away that I was having. It was just kind of not being able to do the moves I want to take, so last year was tough. Even some of the good games I mentioned it right after the season I wasn’t having that much fun. My best game of the year was probably in Golden State, and even that game I shot a fadeaway in the second half and was kind of limping back, so I knew that was going to be the end of the road.”
The end, Mavs fans may want to add, to one of the most dominating performances in NBA history by any player.
“For 21 years I was super fortunate,” Nowitzki said. “I only had a few minor surgeries, so I can’t complain.
“But hopefully the foot will be better as the years go on and I can still be able to play tennis and chase my kids and enjoy life.”