Not too long ago, an employee of an uptown hangout texted me to let me know that Dirk Nowitzki was on the patio, dining with friends. This is standard operating procedure for restaurants and watering holes from coast-to-coast; a celebrity is in your joint, and you want the world to know it … so non-celebrities flock to the same spot.
Also part of this process, conventionally: The celebrity himself LIKES it. Endorses it. Wants it. (Do you know how TMZ finds all those B-list actors streaming in and out of clubs in LA, blocking their faces from the cameras? In many cases, it’s because the actors’ agents called TMZ to inform them of their clients’ whereabouts … and then instructed their clients to pretend they are bothered by the publicity.)
Dirk Nowitzki has no pretense, of course. He has his job to do. So did that restaurant. And so did it I … so when the restauranteur gave me an alert that the future Hall-of-Fame member of the Dallas Mavericks was at his place, I immediately took to my Twitter account to make the "newsy announcement.''
Twenty-four hours later, I was summoned to a private AAC corridor behind the Mavs locker room for a summit with Dirk.
“When you tweeted that, Mr. Fisher,’’ Nowitzki said politely, “people started streaming over to our table, so that wasn’t great.’'
Nowitzki is of course famously cooperative and generous with fans. But it seemed I’d turned his private gathering into a full-blown autograph session.
“Of course,’’ Dirk continued, gently putting his massive hand on my shoulder, "I know you have a job to do, though, so if that’s how it goes …’'
And then his voice trailed off and we shook hands and we came to an unspoken agreement: Quit being a slapdick, Fish.
This is Dirk. It is subtle and it is polite and it is gentlemanly but … the right thing gets done.
It is getting done now on the court for Nowitzki, the greatest Mav of all-time and yet at age 37 the greatest Mav of this time, too.
Dirk off the bench? Oh, maybe, had Dallas been able to snatch up summer-of-2015 free agent LaMarcus Aldridge (which by the way might’ve actually happened had the Mavs not involved themselves in an ill-fated engagement to DeAndre Jordan, leaving Aldridge to know the Spurs valued him as their No. 1 guy).
Dirk as the “fourth-best Mav’’? Oh, maybe, if at some point every single thing — including the elimination of minutes limits — comes together for Deron Williams, Wes Matthews and Chandler Parsons.
Dirk trudging off into the two-and-a-half-years-from-now sunset at a one-dimensional shooter on a bad team? As Dallas hits the one-quarter mark of this NBA season with a record of 11-8 springing from Tuesday’s OT win at Portland in which Nowitzki and his 28 points represented “best-guy-on-the-floor’’ stuff?
Nope. Not yet. Hell, maybe not ever. High-scoring games have been happening forever here ... and we don't want it to stop.
“I’m going to play hard, I want to compete still,” Nowitzki says. “My body feels good waking up in the morning and going to practice. … That’s all I’m really worried about, is just having fun. The guys have been great, and we have great chemistry.”
Yes, but … the central reason for that chemistry is Dirk. The central reason for that fun is Dirk. The central reason for it all is Dirk.
As GM Donnie Nelson tells me: “It really is all about the big guy. We’re all lucky to be associated with him. Extremely fortunate.''
That includes me, with Dirk’s paw on my shoulder.
That includes coach Rick Carlisle, who signs his five-year contract extension this fall and is careful to note, “Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, and Dirk Nowitzki are the reason an extension like this is possible. I have best owner and general manager in sports, and one of the greatest players in NBA history to thank for this opportunity.’’
And that includes MFFLs, who on Friday will see first-hand just how much “competing and fun and chemistry’’ matter when the Houston Rockets — so talented but so seemingly dysfunctional — visit the AAC. The Rockets are 8-11 and in 10th place in the West, five slots behind surprising Dallas. Already this year they’ve fired a head coach, they’ve seen James Harden give only flashes of effort, and they’ve seen Dwight Howard’s “goofy kid’’ act wearing thin. (Howard also has injury woes that reportedly will keep him benched on Friday.)
Like Aldridge and Jordan since, Howard was once a candidate to sign as a free agent with Dallas. And for those who believe any or all of those occurrences are “bullets dodged,’’ I wonder: If a DeAndre or a Dwight worked on a practice court, lived in a locker room and played on a team with Dirk Nowitzki, might they learn to be less clownish and more professional and more humble, as Nowitzki demonstrates when he self-effacingly cites his defensive helplessness for a moment in Portland?
Nowitzki can be “Deferential Dirk’’ as he was in his early-career “Dirty/Filthy/Nasty’’ chapter, and as he was to a great degree last year with the go-to-guy tag being given to Monta Ellis. Or he can be this Dirk, the team’s leading scorer with 17.5 points per game and second-leading rebounder at 7.1 per and one of the NBA leaders in shooting at 50 percent from the floor and 45 percent from the arc.
If Nowitzki leads his team in scoring, he’ll join Karl Malone (age 39 in Utah's 2002-03 season) as the oldest NBA players to do so. Maybe the only negative wrinkle to that, or to Dirk’s continued brilliance in general, is his minutes load: While Carlisle relies on trainer Casey Smith to help him manage the rehabbing Wes and Chandler along with keeping Deron from being “injury-prone,’’ Nowitzki’s minutes are actually up — 30.1 per now compared to 29.6 last season.
“We’ve got to try to notch it down a little bit,” Carlisle said of his usage of the NBA’s seventh-all-time leading scorer. “I have no concerns we won’t be able lighten the load a little bit in terms of the minutes.”
That sounds like a plan. But Dirk defies plans just as he defies conventional wisdom or even conventional behavior. He is a ruthless gift enveloped neatly inside of a lovely packaging … his one hand politely and overtly on the shoulder of his foe while the other hand forcefully but covertly slaps around that same foe. … poised to tear his heart out.