There’s no debate on how much impact Mark Aguirre had when he played for the Dallas Mavericks. And perhaps no person can eloquently explain Aguirre’s dominance better than one of his former teammates – Rolando Blackman.
“The defense knew Mark was coming every night and they couldn’t do a damn thing about it,” Blackman told Mavs.com. “They were wasting all that damn chalk on the board.
“I don’t even know why they wrote those (strategies to contain Aguirre) on the chalk board. He was just wearing them out from the low block, outside, inside. It was just all over the place.”
Indeed, of the Top 10 individual single-season scoring averages in Mavs’ history, Dirk Nowitzki and Aguirre own four each. Luka Doncic and Jim Jackson each have one. In fact, with the 29.5 points he averaged during the 1983-84 season, Aguirre owns the highest individual single-season scoring average in Mavs’ history.
“He was a superior basketball player, period,” Blackman said. “He (could) post up down low and take anybody — all of y’all. The players who tried to guard Mark know who I’m talking about.”
During his seven-and-a-half years with the Mavs, being double-teamed became a way of NBA life for Aguirre. It was as common as him lacing up a pair of sneakers.
However, Aguirre managed to fight through all of those distractions while still owning the career scoring average for a Mavs player at 24.6 points per game. He also led the Mavs in scoring in all seven of the full seasons he played for Dallas, and still led them until he was traded to the Detroit Pistons in the 1988-89 season.
“I don’t take anything from the NBA players at all, but I trip sometimes because you don’t know what it’s like to be double-teamed your entire life,” Aguirre said. “Some people are good, but it’s a different feel when every game you go in you’ve got to figure out what two people I’ve got to beat and where they’re going to come from.
“Most of these guys don’t play a career and that’s a part of the factor. Like Shaq (O’Neal). You have to darn near triple-team his big butt. But that was cool for Ro to say that.”
Blackman isn’t the only one singing Aguirre’s praises. So too did Sam Perkins, who was a Mavs teammate of Aguirre’s for four-plus seasons.
“Mark did a lot for the Mavericks,” Perkins said. “He was the iconic person that was the main focus in Dallas. So, he had the city and the fans’ attention, because he was the one that was drafted by the Mavericks to be the one piece, and they built around him.”
The Mavs made Aguirre the No. 1 overall pick in the 1981 NBA Draft when they decided to hitch their wagon to the DePaul standout instead of Indiana point guard Isiah Thomas, who went second overall to the Pistons. To this day, Aguirre remains the only No. 1 overall draft pick the Mavs have had in their 40-year history.
Yet, Aguirre felt no pressure to turn the Mavs into winners after he joined Dallas following three seasons at DePaul, including two of them as a consensus first-team All-American and one when he was named the Naismith College Player of the Year.
“I didn’t care anything about that,” Aguirre said, referring to being drafted No. 1 overall. “I’m being totally honest with you. (Being drafted) one don’t mean anything.
“For this league, you could be (drafted) one and in there two or three years and gone. But it was an honor — an absolute honor — for them to say that you’re the best player in college.”
But for Aguirre it was only that. An absolute honor. That’s because – the money notwithstanding – he knew the monumental jump from the college ranks to the NBA was strapped with its share of disadvantages.
“It was overwhelming, really,” said Aguirre, who was inducted in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016. “In college you don’t play against that many good players.”
During the summers while he was in college, Aguirre, whose No. 24 jersey has been retired by DePaul, always engaged in some high-profile pickup games that were poised to improve his overall game.
“I’d go to LA and I was playing with all the (Los Angeles) Lakers in pickup games,” he said. “I ended up playing two-and-a-half years with Julius Erving, Magic Johnson. Daryl Dawkins, George Gervin and Johnny Moore.
“I was doing that while I was in college, so I got a taste of (the NBA).”
And once he got to the NBA, Aguirre played for the Mavs from 1981 until they traded him to the Pistons on Feb. 15. 1989. The 6-6, 232-pound small forward won NBA titles with the Pistons in 1989 and ‘90, and ended his career after playing the 1993-94 season with the Los Angeles Clippers.
One thing Aguirre, 60, is sure never would have happened in his era is that rivals Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson never would have considered trying to align things so they could play on the same team.
“Never! I’ll go down before I come play with you,” Aguirre said. “They’re not going to ask, ‘I want to come play with you — I’m a free agent.’
“I played with Isiah because (the Mavs) wanted to trade me. I didn’t know I was going there. I had no idea I was going there. The only way I would have gone there is because they did what was the best deal.”
Aguirre still holds the Mavs’ individual record for the most points in one quarter during a playoff game when he poured in 27 points in the third quarter during a May 5, 1988 contest against the Houston Rockets. That ties Philadelphia’s Charles Barkley for the second-most points ever scored by one person in one quarter in NBA playoff history. Houston’s Eric “Sleepy” Floyd holds the NBA playoff record for points scored in a quarter: 29 points in the fourth quarter in 1987 against the Lakers.
Norm Sonju, the Mavs’ co-founder and also the team’s general manager from 1980-96, recalls that eye-popping playoff performance turned in by Aguirre as if it happened yesterday.
“I had a radio show I had to do, so I came late to the game,” Sonju said. “When I came late to the game, (Mavs director of player personnel) Rick Sund, the first thing he did is say, ‘Mark’s in a groove.’
“When he was on, he was really on. He was really a phenomenal player. He was like a Barkley – kind of a wide body player. When he would set up down low and he got in his groove he was unstoppable.”
In addition to his scoring prowess, Aguirre also had close ties to all three owners the Mavs have ever had. Mavs original owner, Don Carter, was very fond of Aguirre, and the team’s second owner, Ross Perot Jr., also had a close relationship with Aguirre.
Meanwhile, Mark Cuban — the Mavs’ third and current owner — said of Aguirre: “He knew how to play in the post and he knew how to score, and he was powerful. And most importantly, he’s the one who introduced me to Ross Perot Jr. to help me buy the Mavs.”
Many Mavs observers believe Aguirre accomplished enough for this franchise to have his jersey hanging in the America Airlines Center rafters alongside Brad Davis, Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper.
“I think really, really good and great players that have some history, they should certainly be candidates that their jersey should be retired, but that’s not up to me,” Sund said. “I’m just saying I’m a fan of what Mark did the years that he was with us. He helped the franchise go.”
That sentiment was shared by Blackman.
“Mark has a high basketball IQ, he was the No. 1 option, and we all played around him,” Blackman said. “He was a fantastic anchor and he enabled us to ascend. It would be fantastic to see Mark’s number up there (in the AAC rafters). He was a great franchise piece.”
Aguirre, who made the All-Star team in 1984, ’87 and ’88, said his career with the Mavs won’t be defined by whether or not his jersey is retired.
“Come on, man,” Aguirre said. “I’m like Joe Biden now. Come on, man. You know me. I don’t be fussing about something like that. I’m so happy to have played in that era.”
Cuban said he’s heard the question on Aguirre’s possible jersey retirement before.
“That’s always a question, and I get it a lot,” Cuban said. “I haven’t made a decision one way or another, and I’m not in a rush to make it, because there’s a lot of guys who are super special to this organization and have done a lot.
“It’s not a no. But I’m just not ready yet.”
Blackman noted that no one can argue that Aguirre was the ringleader of an organization that was named the NBA’s model franchise in the mid-1980s.
“We’re not looking for perfection in anything, in any human or in any situation,” Blackman said. “What we’re looking for is the application of the game and what Mark was able to do and how he helped the franchise move forward.
“And how he enabled us to get to where we are, because without him we wouldn’t have had basketball in Dallas.”