The running joke on Wednesday was that Dirk Nowitzki is the guy who was holding these Mavericks back the last couple of years.
Nothing could be further from the truth, of course.
But in his first season of retirement, the Mavericks’ franchise icon has been getting a vicarious thrill from watching the Mavericks’ early season success as they have gotten out to a 3-1 start, including Tuesday’s impressive win at Denver.
He talked at length about that on Wednesday as the city of Dallas renamed Olive Street in front of American Airlines Center, turning it into Nowitzki Way.
After winning 33, 24 and 33 games the last three seasons, this Mavericks’ team getting off to a hot start is a welcomed sight for everybody, Nowitzki included. The combo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis has, so far, been a nice follow-up to the decades of glory to which Nowitzki led the Mavericks.
“That’s why we were so excited last season, when we saw what Luka could bring,” Nowitzki said Wednesday. “When we did the deal for K.P., that’s exactly what us and the fan base were imagining, those two guys doing the heavy-lifting and playing well off each other.
“And then bringing in a support cast that’s sort of unpredictable. You know, any given night somebody else could step up and be a big contributor that night. Even (the Denver game) was a perfect example, when the bench came through and really won the game for them.
Yes, Nowitzki still considers the Mavericks an “us.” He’s still part of the team. Always will be. Sort of like Magic Johnson has always considered the Lakers to be his family.
It will always be that way with Nowitzki and the Mavericks. For that, Dallas fans can be thankful.
“I’m excited,” Nowitzki said of this year’s team. “They’re still young. There’s still room to grow and I just want to tell them: ‘Keep working. Keep grinding.’ Obviously, it’s early. You don’t want to be too happy. You don’t ever want to be satisfied. It’s going to be a long grind. I want them to keep working.”
Coach Rick Carlisle and several players have talked about how weird it is this season without Nowitzki around.
But as different as it seems for them, they should try it in Nowitzki’s shoes. He’s going through his first season without playing basketball since he was a teenager. It’s been more than 25 years.
He could be forgiven for going through a case of withdrawal. So is it tough?
“Yes, it is,” he said. “This summer was awesome, eating everything in sight and traveling. That was great.
“Now I’m here and watching some of the games on TV. It’s definitely hard. I miss it. I miss being with the guys, trash-talking in the locker room. All of that is hard, and not being there every day. It’s definitely different.
“I feel at times I’m a bit moody. But, you know, hopefully that time will pass. I’ve talked to a lot of guys who are retired now, just to get some advice and get their perspective. Of course, it’s a process. You don’t get over it with one day. You kind of stay busy and you enjoy the kids and the travel and eventually you find something that you love and you spend your time there. That’s how people eventually got over it.”
The good news for Nowitzki is that proprietor Mark Cuban has always said that there will be a job waiting for him whenever he wants it if he wants to stay connected with basketball.
For now, getting a street named after him and being entertained by a young team will suffice.