Luka Doncic looked into the audience of about 500 Mavericks fans, partners and sponsors at the annual Tipoff Luncheon Monday, found fellow second-year guard Jalen Brunson, then delivered a very direct, succinct message.
“500-dollars, bro,” Doncic said.
This is what happens when a team is going into a season full of boundless hope and camaraderie. They are a band of brothers and if the new transplant north Texan from Europe, Doncic, can put a sharp stick into the side of a diehard Philadelphia Eagles’ fan, Brunson, it’s a sure sign that they are close.
Cowboys 37, Eagles 10.
Clearly the friendly wager (by NBA standards) had yet to be paid off. But Brunson knew he would have to pony up. And the entire room shared a collective giggle.
That tight-knit connection was evident from head coach to 15th man as the Mavericks gathered at the Statler where players were introduced to the audience and the countdown to Wednesday’s regular season opener against Washington got a little more serious.
The Tipoff Luncheon, presented by Morgan Stanley, is a primary fundraiser complete with auction items, with all proceeds going to the Mavs Foundation. It also served as a platform for players and coaches to interact with the attendees.
“I’m very optimistic about the character of the guys on the team,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We have great people. I like the skill sets that they all bring. I feel like we’re going to play an exciting brand of basketball.”
As much of training camp has been, the Tipoff Luncheon was a commemorative moment in some respects. Carlisle, who is not prone to making reactionary statements or proclaiming big-picture themes, couldn’t dissuade fans from declaring this a new era – one built around Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but not without other assets, too.
It’s going to look, feel and be different than when Dirk Nowitzki carried the franchise so well for so long when he was on the court for 21 seasons.
“Those two guys as the new faces of the franchise, are very exciting to everybody,” Carlisle told the gathering. “And I’ve talked to them about this in front of the rest of the guys on the team.
“There’s a real passing of the torch here. It really was Dirk and if you think about what this franchise has stood for, it’s really taking the reins from Dirk and Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. And now it goes to these two guys, but we got a lot of guys.
“Tim Hardaway Jr. is going to have a great year for us. He’s had an amazing training camp. He’s come into this thing and said, whatever’s needed. And he’s going to be a really important guy.
“It’s going to start with Luka and KP and we’ve got terrific people around thoe guys.”
During the Tipoff Luncheon, all the players rotated up to the stage in groups of three or four. Hosts Chuck Cooperstein and Dana Larson did a terrific job as interviewers of each player as the fans got a nice glimpse into some of their personal lives.
They congratulated Ryan Broekhoff on being a new father, Maxi Kleber and Boban Marjanovic on their appearances at the FIBA World Cup this summer and J.J. Barea on his recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon in January.
And, of course, Brunson had to take the grief from Doncic – and Barea, too, who also claimed that Brunson owed him “five-hundo,” even though Barea is more of a New England Patriots fan than a Cowboys’ fan.
Meanwhile, Mavs CEO Cynt Marshall got things started by talking about the Mavs Foundation, which also has its annual Mavs Ball on March 7, stressing that the Mavericks are about more than just basketball.
But at this time of year, with the regular-season opener just hours away, that’s what most people want to hear about.
Plus, the whole dynamic of bidding adieu to Nowitzki and hola (since they both speak Spanish) to Doncic and Porzingis is the primary focus.
“Dirk’s career meant so much to so many of us,” Carlisle said. “He shared emotionally and put himself out there all the time. His successes and struggles and all of that. It was a very personal thing for all of us when he stepped away last year.
“But the exciting thing is to have a guy like Luka who has a year under his belt and who’s going to be the guy who has the ball an awful lot. And to have a guy like Kristaps who we were able to come up with a deal to bring that caliber of player aboard. It was a matter of him finishing out his rehab. And he’s done an amazing job with that.”
And with all that offseason work and preliminary effort in place, all that’s left is to start the season.
It all begins Wednesday.