I am standing by the dessert table at the Mavs’ holiday event when I first meet Zalar and fellow Slovenian Inja Fric in early December (more on her later). They are here to start a new internship with the Mavericks after waiting two years for this moment.
It’s been a long and arduous journey for them, one that required lots of patience after the pandemic delayed their start date over and over. Days turned into months, then years, but finally the team’s newest Slovenians arrived at the end of 2021.
They tell me life has been a whirlwind and every moment with the Mavericks is special. I ask them a million questions at once because I want to know everything.
Zalar and Fric remind me of first meeting then-19-year-old Dončić as a rookie. They are poised and direct — but witty and endearing. I decide parents in central Europe must be doing something right.
“We tend to be more private at first,” Zalar later explains as we sit courtside and watch Dončić shoot before a game. “It takes us more time to open up and share. People in Dallas are very friendly and open right away.”
I nod my head and agree.
“I think we’re also fascinated with understanding everything we can about Luka and Slovenia,” I share. “We have a deep amount of respect for him and people from your country.”
This is also the reason I wanted to visit with Zalar and Fric and share more about their lives.
The NBA is a global game and there are opportunities for young people springing up around every corner. However, for every one or two jobs, there are thousands who seek to pursue them. It takes a unique person and special set of circumstances to rise above the rest.
Zalar and Fric are two highly talented individuals who, like Dončić, earned their spot in professional sports. They have worked hard and paved an extraordinary path to land a job with the Dallas Mavericks.
After arriving in Dallas last December, the pair immediately joined the marketing and digital content teams to serve in various roles at games and events during their first month here.
They also made many memories together and spent their first Christmas and New Year’s Eve away from home in a completely new, unfamiliar city. Still, the majority of their time surrounded the Mavs in an endless grind that never stops during the season.
“Everybody is doing their best for this organization in order to be the best they can,” Zalar said.
“Even though people only see what is happening on the court, there is so much more to this organization than just basketball. Everybody is willing to help, and they are all super nice. They are all trying to give back to the community, players are engaging in activities like that as well, so this is something we don’t see very often at the European clubs.”
In January, Fric hopped on a plane and returned to NC State to complete her junior season as an accomplished collegiate golfer.
Zalar stayed behind and continued his internship with the Dallas Mavericks.
Mavs leaders say he’s already making his mark during his first few months with the team. Zalar works with the digital content team at games and other special projects. He is especially useful when it comes to bridging the gap between Dallas and Slovenia.
Although many people in Slovenia can speak English, there are still many differences in lingo, cultures, dialect and the time zone. Therefore, the Mavericks put Zalar in charge of the new verified Dallas Mavericks’ Slovenian Twitter account to share news about Dončić and the Mavs.
Every day is different for him – and that’s the exact reason Zalar loves to work in the intense, energetic atmosphere of the NBA.
“There is no typical week because every week is different than the other in terms of games and events,” Zalar said. “Depending on the games, I have to regularly post content about the team, with the emphasis on Luka. On game days, we are posting game day info, warm-ups from the base line, highlights and scores during the games. Then on off days, I post interesting facts about the Mavs and Luka to keep people engaged with our account.”
It’s been a fun ride, he says, but still, there are other challenges along the way.
He’s 5,522 miles away from home and navigating a new region that is more populated than his entire country. North Texas is also vast and lacks mountain beauty, dense forests and flowing streams like in Slovenia.
Zalar says he’s thankful for it all, though, and he’s learned countless lessons along the way.
It’s been a memorable ride, too. He’s stood alongside Maverick’s legend Dirk Nowitzki, chats with Dončić in Slovene, and even met NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
Dallas Mavs CEO Cynt Marshall and Senior VP Tarsha LaCour have also walked the entire journey with Zalar and Fric to make their internship the best possible.
The NBA All-Star break this week comes at an important time for Zalar.
He can refresh and replenish after a rapid first half of the season that was full speed ahead. He said people have no idea what takes place behind the scenes in a business like the NBA and Dallas Mavericks.
“I would really wish that everybody would have the opportunity to work for a franchise like the Mavs,” Zalar said. “The amount of work and energy that goes into every single game night, every single event is beyond my mind.” (He’ll explain more on that later).
But for now, Zalar is especially eager for March 5 to arrive because the Mavericks will host “I Feel Slovenia Night” at the game against the Sacramento Kings (tip is set for 4pm CT, +7 in Slovenia).
Right before the pandemic hit, the Mavericks solidified a partnership with the Republic of Slovenia to promote the national tourism brand “I feel Slovenia.” Americans are the third most frequent tourists in Slovenia and leaders in the country said partnering with the Mavs made sense because “sport has a domino effect that connects people, brings out their pride and a sense of belonging.”
Zalar sees it, too, and he’s excited for the upcoming celebration at the game.
Fans are coming from Slovenia and the entire night will capture the spirit of the people back from Zalar’s homeland. He’s anticipating a little familiarity intercepting with his new life here in Dallas.
Mavs.com caught up with him earlier this week to discuss life, lessons, and learning to say “y’all” during his first three months with the Dallas Mavericks.
Mavs.com This is the first time that many of our fans get to learn about you! Before we talk about your background and life, can you share more about what you do for the Mavericks and what a typical week is like?
Zalar: I am a marketing intern with the Dallas Mavericks. I am mostly working with the digital content team. I am currently in charge of the official Slovenian Mavs Twitter account, besides other stuff, such as participating in the All-Star campaigns, organizing the “I feel Slovenia” night on March 5th.
There is no typical week because every week is different than the other in terms of games and events. Depending on the games, I have to regularly post content about the team, with the emphasis on Luka. On game days, we are posting game day info, warmups from the base line, highlights and scores during the games. On off days, I post interesting facts about the Mavs/Luka to keep people engaged with our account.
Mavs.com: What was Luka’s reaction the first time he met you in Dallas? Do you have a funny story there?
Zalar: The first time we have met here in Dallas was after the Charlotte Hornets game in December. They have introduced me to him, told him that I am here from Slovenia, doing my internship with the Mavs. At first, I don’t think that Luka realized that I actually speak Slovenian, so his first words were in English. After he realized that, we had a short conversation and then he went home. He was in shock that we talked in Slovenian language. Fun experience!
Mavs.com: You recently got to start the Mavs’ Slovenian Twitter account. What has been the reaction to it and why is it so important to have an account to reach fans back at home?
Zalar: At first, people didn’t really believe that is an actual official Mavs account. There is a lot of unofficial fan accounts out there, so I get them. After we got verified and when Luka said a few words in Slovenian about the account people started to realize that we are official. The feedback so far was positive, we are getting new followers every day. I believe that Mavs having an official Slovenian account is positive, since their main superstar is Slovenian. People back at home love Luka, they love the Mavs, so I think that just adds to Mavs and Luka’s popularity in Slovenia. The Twitter account name is @dallasmavsSLO.
Mavs.com: On the flip side, now that you’ve worked on the business side of the Mavericks, what do you wish fans knew about everything that goes into a sports team? What are some things you’ve learned since working here that were eye-opening or surprising to you?
Zalar: I would really wish that everybody would have the opportunity to work for a franchise like the Mavs. The amount of work and energy that goes into every single game night, every single event is beyond my mind. Everybody is doing their best for this organization in order to be the best as they can. Even though, people only see what is happening on the court, there is so much more to this organization than just basketball. Everybody is willing to help, and they are all super nice. They are all trying to give back to the community, players are engaging in activities like that as well, so this is something we don’t see very often at the European clubs.
Mavs.com: What do you wish more MFFLs understood about Luka or even Slovenia? Is there anything we are missing the mark on, and we need better understanding with?
Zalar: About Luka I wish that more fans would understand that he is still super young. What he has achieved so far in his career is something we might not see again for a very long time. At the end, he is a normal human just as anybody else and if he sometimes “underperforms”, if we can even say that for him, fans need to understand that he is doing his best every day to put up those crazy stats that we kind of got used to already. In terms of Slovenia, I have realized that not a lot of people know where Slovenia actually is. Majority of them thinks that we are next to Russia, which is wrong. Slovenia borders to Italy, Croatia, Austria and Hungary and it is the most beautiful country you’ll ever see!
Mavs.com: Let’s pretend it’s NBA Draft Night. What would be the storyline that commentors would say about you if you’re getting introduced to the audience for the first time?
Zalar: I was born in April 1998 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I grew up in a small town called Trzin, which is a 10-minute drive from Ljubljana. I went to school in Ljubljana, and I graduated at the Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana in September 2020. Currently I am finishing my master’s degree in international business. Just before Covid, I have spent one semester studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. Other than that, I have played basketball for around 10 years, so basketball has always had a huge impact in my life. Besides that, I love all other sports, I am a licensed skiing instructor, I play tennis, golf, …
The storyline would be: And now, born in April 1998, all the way from Slovenia, MFFLs, please welcooomeee Andraaaaaz Zaaaalaaaaaar!!!
Mavs.com: Did you always have a dream to work in sports or what was your goal?
Zalar: Yes, ever since I knew I won’t be a professional basketball player I had a desire and a goal to work in a sports industry. It was never important whether it’s basketball, soccer, tennis, a sports apparel company, … I just knew I want to work in sports. So, to be able to do my internship with the NBA team it’s just incredible.
I was always attracted to the front office jobs, not just in the NBA but in sports team in general. I am really interested in how the trades are happening, all the negotiations between the clubs, salary structure within the teams, … So, I’d say working at one of those positions for a sports organization could be my dream position. But for now, I am happy where I am, I am learning a lot every day and I am really grateful for that opportunity!
Can you share more about your journey to Dallas and how you got this position? What’s the back story?
Zalar: It all started when Covid happened. My girlfriend Inja, who is currently studying at the NC State, was supposed to do her internship just before the pandemic. Once Covid started she had to come back home and postpone the internship. That was the time we got to meet each other and had some more time to hang out.
Eventually we became a couple and when she went back to the U.S., she asked people at the Mavs if the internship is possible for me as well. They replied that I should send them my CV and once they’ve reviewed it, they said that I can come as well. I honestly couldn’t believe it that was happening! After that, the whole visa procedure started, which was really long and hard. But we made it. Big thanks to my girlfriend and the Mavs organization!
Mavs.com: What are some of the challenges of being away from home? How much do you miss your family and friends?
Zalar: Honestly, this is my first time in the U.S., so just coming here all the way from Slovenia was a unique experience. I have to say that I have got used to Dallas and the American way of living pretty quickly, so no extreme challenges here. Of course, I do miss my family and friends back in Slovenia. My family is coming here to Dallas to visit me soon, so we will be able to spend some time together! We are Facetiming a lot so this makes things easier. I believe all my family and friends are happy for me and my experience here and you know, time flies, so we will be back together soon!
Mavs.com: Did you experience any culture shock arriving in Dallas? Besides the obvious of not having beautiful mountains and nature everywhere, what are some of the things you love about here and what’s the major differences to you?
Zalar: The biggest shock for me was how far away everything is here. Like they say, “everything is bigger in Texas” and that is true. I like the city of Dallas in general, especially the Downtown area is very modern. I like the people here; they are all super friendly and know how to have fun. I also loved Fort Worth when I went to visit it. The food, especially the Texas BBQ is also great! One funny thing that I like it is how you guys are saying “y’all” all the time. At first it was a bit strange but now I can’t stop saying it myself!
Mavs.com: What’s your advice for someone who wants to follow your footsteps?
Zalar: My biggest advice: Do not be afraid to ask for the things you wish for! You have to shoot your shot. The worst that can happen is that the answer will be “no”, at least you know where you at. If you don’t ask, there is another person in line waiting for the exact same thing as you wish for. That’s it.
Mavs.com: What do you like to do for fun? And what’s your predictions for the Mavs and Luka the rest of the season?
Zalar: Like I said, I really love sports so that is something I like to do. I love to hang out with my family, friends and my girlfriend. Besides that, I love to travel, love to go out partying, just having a good time. The Mavs and Luka are playing better and better, so I believe that they have a shot this year to improve the results from the past seasons. I really enjoy them watching as a team and I do wish them all the best. Hopefully, with another Larry O’Brien trophy at the AAC soon! Go Mavs!
Thanks so much for spending time with us, Andraž! To follow the Mavs’ official Slovenia Twitter account, click here. If you would like to email Andraž, you can reach out at Andraz.Zalar@DallasMavs.com