On Pro Basketball: Dirk Nowitzki Knew LeBron Would Pass Him, but He’s Still Gunning for Wilt Express News
DALLAS — The Dirk Nowitzki Farewell Tour is not yet underway in Dallas — for at least three reasons.
For starters, Nowitzki is still recovering from an inflamed tendon in his left foot that flared up in the midst of his comeback from ankle surgery in April. There is also too much angst about the floundering Cowboys for the locals to fret too much (yet) about the Mavericks’ 3-7 start.
And then there’s the biggest reason: Nowitzki has not definitively stated that this season will be his last.
He has said repeatedly that he will make that determination after his record-setting 21st consecutive season with a single N.B.A. team. Yet after covering Nowitzki since his first N.B.A. dribble with the Dallas Mavericks, I’ve been pestering him — just in case this does prove to be his farewell campaign — to let me check in with him periodically to find out what he’s feeling and thinking as one of two active 40-year-olds in the league alongside Vince Carter of the Atlanta Hawks.
Here is the first of those chats.
Q: You’re still waiting to make your season debut. How are you coping with all the delays?
Nowitzki: It’s hard not being out there. It’s what I love. It’s what I’ve always done. Throughout my entire career, I always tried to play all 82, no matter if I’m sick or I rolled my ankle or whatever. I was only able to pull it off a couple of times in my career, but it was a pride thing. So for me, any time I had to sit out, it never feels right. And it’s the same now, especially because it’s been a rough start for us. You’re in a suit and you’re not as involved as you want to be. Hopefully once I’m over this tendon thing then I won’t look back again for the rest of the season.
Q: You opted to have ankle surgery before the end of last season to try to get a head start on the recovery process. How much does that add to your frustration?
Nowitzki: The one guy I actually talked to a lot about this was Vince. He warned me. He had this same procedure. He had some huge bone spurs taken out a few years ago and he always said it’s a long road back. First of all, we’re old. Second of all, your body is used to having those bone spurs. And now all of a sudden everything is new.
Recovery was going fine. I was already scrimmaging and running and doing all that stuff in September. And then the tendon just reacted. It is frustrating, but I understand. I don’t heal like a 20-year-old. I’ve played more than 50,000 minutes and that’s just the regular season. The good thing is that it’s only the start of November. If this was February or March, I’d be a lot more frustrated. But I’m hoping I can come back in a few weeks, and there’s still plenty of basketball left.
Q: No one is more qualified to evaluate Luka Doncic than you. What do you see so far?
Nowitzki: He’s like a savvy veteran to me already. The way he sees things. The way he reads pick-and-roll situations. The way he carries himself on and off the floor. He’s got the midrange game. He shot like four floaters against San Antonio that were money. He’s got the stepback 3. He’s got stuff in his repertoire that you just don’t have at 19.
The whole floor game that he has — he really has no holes. If you go under the screen and roll, he shoots the 3-ball way better than I thought he would. If you go over, he kind of keeps you on his back. He’s got the floater. He’s got the passes. Really, really impressive for a 19-year-old. The sky’s the limit.
Q: Even though you’re both from Europe and both came to the N.B.A. at a young age, Luka has the ball in his hands all the time and you have always been a finisher. So doesn’t that make it harder to mentor him when you play such different games?
Nowitzki: He’s a very confident player already. He was a full-on pro since he was, I don’t know, 14 years old. He lived in a different country before he even came here. His English is good. He feels like, in his head, he’s running the show already. He carries himself like a true vet. So we have a great time. He’s a good kid. But so far he doesn’t really ask me much. He just plays his game.
I didn’t have that confidence, that swag, when I got in the league. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it in this league. This guy comes here basically knowing he’s going to make it in the league. And that’s how he carries himself on the court. No fear. It’s just completely different.
Also the way the game is now is kind of perfect for him. When I got into the league 20 years ago, it was way more physical. The bigs were just shoving in there and holding. And now everything is a foul call. So I think the rules play right into his wheelhouse. It’s not even close to compare us.
Q: I’ve heard you’re as light as you’ve been since your rookie season — right in the 240-pound range. How and why did you do it?
Nowitzki: I just didn’t want to be too heavy before coming back. So for the summer I did a couple fasting rounds. And then while I’m not playing I’m doing this intermittent fasting thing where you basically eat for eight hours and then fast for 16. In the morning I work out without having breakfast — just black coffee. My first meal is not until 12 or 12:30. Obviously, you could never do that while you’re playing. You need nutrition in the morning, you need food, before practicing.
Q: How much grief are you taking from teammates about LeBron James passing you for No. 6 on the all-time scoring list before you had a chance to pass Wilt Chamberlain at No. 5?
Nowitzki: Everybody knew that was happening. Some of the guys were already calling me “Seven” last season because of the pace LeBron was on. He’s one of the all-time greats. If he doesn’t slow down, like I said before, he’s going to end up 1 or 2.
I’m probably going to tell him when I see him that I’m going to try to catch him, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. The good thing is, like our P.R. guy Scott Tomlin always tells me, when I finally get back to No. 6, we’ve got all the merchandise already made — all the T-shirts, all the bobbleheads, all the gear. So it’s a perfect situation.