FRISCO – Dirk Nowitzki strategically lined up his penalty kick, stared down the one person between him and the goal – FC Dallas mascot Tex Hooper – and then proceeded to successfully kick the ball to its intended destination.
That goal, attached with a huge roar from the Saturday afternoon crowd assembled at Toyota Stadium to watch FC Dallas battle the New York Red Bulls, put a smile on the face of the former Dallas Mavericks’ legend. Nowitzki was a wiz on the basketball court with the Mavs for 21 magnetic years, and Saturday, after being a part of FC Dallas’ ultra-popular pre-game “scarfing” tradition, he got busy showcasing his soccer skills.
“If you grew up in Germany you watch soccer automatically, and you kick on the streets a little bit,” Nowitzki told Mavs.com in an exclusive interview. “I know my penalty kick didn’t reflect that.
“Everybody growing up in Germany have to watch soccer. You have to watch it, you have to watch the Euro Cup, the World Cup. I still watch as much as I can. My wife’s brothers actually played soccer in England, so we watch it at the house all the time and we try to come out here at least once, sometimes twice, in the summer before we head back to Europe.”
Nowitzki was indeed the main attraction on Saturday. Like the Piped Piper, he drew a large following before the game when he placed a scarf around the statue of FC Dallas’ original owner, Lamar Hunt.
“We have these opportunities to ‘scarf’ before the game and we’re always looking for great people who are FC Dallas fans and who can come here and really enjoy the game, and we know Dirk is a fan,” said Gina Miller, the vice-president of media and communications for FC Dallas. “He was at a game last year against the LA Galaxy when Harrison Barnes scarfed.
“So I reached out to the Lesley Berry, who runs the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation, and I presented her with a couple of options and they got back to me right away. And she said that Dirk and (Nowitzki’s wife) Jessica and the family would love to come. . .and we mobilized to make it happen. We know that Dirk is an icon in this market. Everybody loves him, including me, including our co-owner, Dan Hunt, who has Dallas Mavericks season tickets. It was just so nice to see the crowd reaction and the fan reaction and the buzz with our players this week. They were very excited about Dirk coming as well.”
FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal was on the field giving Nowitzki some pointers before the No. 6 all-time leading scorer in NBA history booted the penalty kick.
“It was such a cool experience getting to meet and talk to someone I’ve always grown up watching and admiring,” Pomykal said. “He sets such a good example of how to be a high-level pro on and off the field.
“It was just so cool to actually meet him.”
That sentiment was shared by FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira.
“It’s just amazing to have a legend out here that played a different sport in Dallas,” Ferreira said. “Knowing him and seeing all that he’s done for Dallas and the Mavericks, it’s just amazing to see that he likes soccer.”
FC Dallas forward Zdenek Ondrasek also was appreciative that Nowitzki took time out of his busy schedule to perform the “scarfing” during, take part in the halftime penalty kick, and also stay until the end of the game.
“It’s nice that he comes up here and he supports us,” Ondrasek said. “I don’t know him personally, but I’ve heard only good things about him.”
FC Dallas co-owner and team president, Dan Hunt, explained that it was a windfall for his franchise to have someone of Nowitzki’s ilk be a part of Saturday’s game.
“I recently saw Dirk at a birthday party and I just think the world of him,” Hunt said. “For someone to have a 21-year career with the same team, I thanked him for it, because rarely in professional sports do you get athletes who stay with their franchise, who are great for our city, our community, so great for their team, and what a great winner he’s been.
“He’s been an NBA champion in 2011 and obviously Finals MVP, league MVP, and named to 14 All-Star games. He’s been a fabulous ambassador for the game of basketball and for the city of Dallas, so we’re thrilled to have him.”
So thrilled that FC Dallas had a special package waiting for Nowitzki and his foundation.
“What’s so great about this particular appearance for Dirk is we created a ticket package where if guests bought a ticket through a particular link, $5 from every ticket sold goes to the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation,” Miller said. “Our co-owner, Dan Hunt, is so thankful and so grateful for what Dirk has done in this community.
“We feel like it’s the least we can do to try and contribute something to him and his foundation that’s important to him and his family. This is a building full of MFFLs and fans of No. 41.”
After Nowitzki connected on the penalty kick, FC Dallas matched the donation to the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation from those aforementioned ticket sales.
“To Dirk’s credit, he owned his penalty kick,” Hunt said. “I don’t know what size foot he has – whether it’s a 17 or an 18-size tennis shoe.
“It’s a little bit hard sometimes to kick a soccer ball under wet conditions. But it went in, so we were able to double to his foundation what we can do.”
Nowitzki chimed in and said: “That’s sweet. They actually approached our foundation a while ago and they wanted to do that. I said, ‘For sure. That’s a great ideal.’
“They’ve been very supportive. I met the Hunt family. I have a great relationship with FC Dallas and with the foundation personally, so we had our work cut out today and we’ll see if it raises some money.”
Nowitzki’s appearance certainly raised the eyebrows of FC Dallas midfielder Edwin Cerrillo, who acted like a kid in a candy store when asked about one of the greatest NBA players of all-time making an appearance in his backyard.
“Just for all the fans, just to have someone special like Dirk being out here, it helps us get more fans as well,” Cerrillo said. “It creates a relationship between us and other sports here in Dallas.”
A relationship that has Nowitzki at its forefront.
“You know me — I watch local sports all the time,” Nowitzki said. “I went to the Stars’ game a couple of times and I watched them in the playoffs. I come out here and just give support to the local teams, and I’ll probably go to a Rangers game here soon.
“But ‘scarfing’ is a big tradition here. I’ve done it before four or five years ago. It’s a cool tradition, so when they asked me, I said, ‘Yeah, if it works out with the schedule I’d love to come out and support it.’ “
Thankfully for FC Dallas, Nowitzki’s schedule on Saturday was wide open.
Dan Hunt said: “When we were ‘scarfing,’ everybody was out with their smart phones taking shots and chanting, and then I heard our supporters chanting: ‘MVP,’ which I was one of those people during the heydays of those great Mavericks teams chanting: ‘MVP.’ For a basketball team, he’s a once in a lifetime player.
“You think about the (Chicago) Bulls and (Michael) Jordan and the Mavs and Dirk, you just don’t get players like that. We were so blessed with 21 great years and we all thank him for everything he did for fans of all sports. As great a player as he’s been, he’s a better person.”
It's a big day in Frisco! Dirk Nowitzki is here, and he was able to "scarf" the Lamar Hunt statue prior to the FC Dallas-New York Red Bulls game at Toyota Stadium. And the crowd went wild!!! @dallasmavs @NBA #Mavs @swish41 @MavsCare @nbacares pic.twitter.com/I0GWBEAka4
— Dwain Price (@DwainPrice) May 11, 2019
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) May 11, 2019