Dirk Nowitzki knocked down the game-tying jumper in the waning seconds of regulation, helping the Mavericks to an overtime win over the Jazz. The 19-year veteran talked about the emergence of Harrison Barnes and the impact of Justin Anderson. kcasas@star-telegram.com
Dirk Nowitzki knocked down the game-tying jumper in the waning seconds of regulation, helping the Mavericks to an overtime win over the Jazz. The 19-year veteran talked about the emergence of Harrison Barnes and the impact of Justin Anderson. kcasas@star-telegram.com

Dallas Mavericks

‘Soft’ label as Mavericks rookie helped drive Nowitzki, Cuban says

March 05, 2017 10:02 PM

UPDATED March 05, 2017 11:02 PM

DALLAS

In the early years during his employer-employee relationship with Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Cuban used to hear whispers from folks who doubted his power forward’s superiority.

And that, Cuban believes, is what fueled Nowitzki’s fire to become the superstar that he is today.

I think part of the thing that Dirk benefited from is that people always second-guessed him and called him soft, and didn’t understand him. And that motivated him a lot.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on Dirk Nowitzki

Nowitzki went from an impressionable rookie who sometimes doubted his skills because of a problematic first NBA season to a 13-time All-Star. And the transformation was startling.

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“I think part of the thing that Dirk benefited from is that people always second-guessed him and called him soft, and didn’t understand him,” Cuban said. “And that motivated him a lot.”

That motivation has Nowitzki on the cusp of becoming just the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 30,000 points in his career. Yet, the 19-year veteran hasn’t forgotten the early years of his career.

“My first year was rough, I’m not going to lie,” Nowitzki said. “Plus, it was the lockout year where we had 50 games in 40 days, it felt like.

“It was insane. We had back-to-back-to-backs. There were games where [coach Don Nelson] didn’t play me at all.”

My first year was rough, I’m not going to lie.

Dirk Nowitzki

And that was difficult for Nowitzki to swallow. Especially because Nelson had proclaimed — before Nowitzki’s 1998-99 rookie season — that the product from Germany would win the Rookie of the Year award.

But Nowitzki struggled mightily as a rookie, and wound up averaging only 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds. He even questioned his own abilities to make it in the NBA.

“There’s some doubt creeping in obviously in every competitor,” Nowitzki said. “I’m glad I stuck with it and tried to get better.”

So, too, are the Mavs.

In a career that has spanned three decades, Nowitzki has become an iconic figure in Dallas sports. Perched right up there with Roger Staubach, Nolan Ryan, Mike Modano, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman.

How can you not love the guy. Scoring 30,000 is obviously monumental, but ... just what he’s done to get here is what makes it special.

Mark Cuban

Cuban said Nowitzki’s “talent, effort, mindset and humility off the court” is what makes him iconic.

“How can you not love the guy,” Cuban asked. “Scoring 30,000 is obviously monumental, but ... just what he’s done to get here is what makes it special.”

And getting there is why one day Cuban plans on having a statue of Nowitzki perched outside of American Airlines Center. A statue that includes Nowitzki’s No. 41 jersey, and depicting the 7-footer shooting his famed one-legged fallaway jump shot.

“It’s got to be 41 feet tall,” Cuban said. “So I would hope it would be a one-legged 41-foot tall [statue].”

Dwain Price: 817-390-7760, @dwainprice