Dirk Nowitzki had little trouble luring his Dallas Mavericks teammates, J.J. Barea and Harrison Barnes, to his first Pro Celebrity Tennis Classic held at the SMU Tennis Center on Sunday morning.
Nowitzki also managed to snag 2003 US Open champion Andy Roddick and actor Ben Stiller, most recently seen in Zoolander 2.
So how did Nowitzki manage to lure Stiller, a comic actor who has anchored three different successful film franchises, to his event? Begging? Pleading? Months of negotiation?
Nope. Just a follow and a direct message on Twitter, apparently.
“I followed Dirk (on Twitter) and he followed me,” Stiller said. “I just happened to be taking lessons. I started playing tennis at 45, which I recommend to anyone. So Dirk invited me to come and I thought it would be fun.”
Stiller joked that he moved to North Texas “six weeks ago to acclimate to the humidity and the time zone.” Stiller even tweeted out a photo of his locker room accommodations at SMU.
Nowitzki admitted that tennis was his first love as a child, playing the sport at age four, long before basketball became such a pull. He’s attended Wimbledon three or four times and said his father, at age 70, continues to play doubles.
“I stayed close to the game and I’ve been able to meet such great people and players along the way,” Nowitzki said. “I’m so glad this came together.”
Barea needed little cajoling, truthfully. His mother, Marta, and his uncle are tennis coaches in his native Puerto Rico.
“I’ve played tennis all my life, since I was four or five,” Barea said. “I have my four-year old playing tennis. I let it go when I was 13 or 14 for basketball. During the offseason I go over to Dirk’s place and I whip his butt a little bit. In tennis.”
Barnes, meanwhile, copped to playing a little tennis at North Carolina and admitted he was “bamboozled” into playing by Nowitzki.
“Dirk said, ‘Hey we’re going to get together and play a little tennis, you want to join in?’” Barnes said. “He said, ‘Are you good?’ And I said, “No, I’m terrible.’ He said, ‘Perfect.’”
Nowitzki did his best to “correct” Barnes’ story.
“No, here’s what happened,” Nowitzki said. “I said, ‘Can you play tennis?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I played a little bit in college.’ So I figured he’s got a little skill. He didn’t say, ‘No, I’m terrible.’ And I said, ‘OK, I’m going to keep you in mind.’”
Roddick — who hasn’t played competitive tennis since his retirement in 2012 — has his own foundation that, like Nowitzki’s, works with children, so their desires to support children align. Nowitzki and Roddick met through mutual friends.
“I was wondering what the system was because I saw certain people are getting (handicap) points off other people so I’m wondering how many points I get off (John) Isner and the guys that still do this for a living,” Roddick said. “We’re all huge admirers of Dirk and what he’s done for Dallas and what he continues to do for Dallas.”
Nowitzki managed to lure several other pros to the event, including John Isner, the current No. 1 American on the ATP Tour; Benjamin Becker, a German ATP Tour player and former Baylor standout; Mark Knowles, a former No. 1 player in the world in doubles; Boris Kodjoe, a German actor best known for his role in Soul Food; and Fort Worth native Mitchell Krueger, a current player on the ATP World Tour.
Proceeds from Sunday’s event benefited the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation, which awards grants annually to organizations focusing on children’s well-being, health and education.