Dirk Nowitzki became the sixth player in NBA history to score 30,000 points Tuesday, netting 25 in a 122-111 win over the Lakers. Nowitzki joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain as members of the 30,000-point club.
And none of it would have been possible – at least in Dallas – if not for Don Nelson.
“Don Nelson had made, I think, a real effort into really understanding European basketball – really probably before most people in the NBA,” former Mavericks co-owner and general manager Frank Zaccanelli said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “So when Dirk came to the practice facility (in 1998), Big Nelly and Little Nelly (Donnie Nelson) were there – I was not there – and they watch the first practice. I’ll never forget. I’m sitting in my home and I get a call, and it’s Bg Nelly, and he says, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m here at the house.’ He said, ‘Get in your car, drive as fast as you can and get down here.’ From that moment, the Mavericks, we made a decision that Dirk Nowitzki was going to be a special player. We did everything we could do hide this guy (so no one else would draft him).”
Nowitzki has been a Maverick since 1998 and played with Steve Nash until 2004.
“This would really surprise a lot of people outside of Dallas, but Dirk and Steve Nash were both booed pretty regularly the first year-and-a-half,” Zaccanelli said. “I would say that the consensus in the league and the consensus with the sportswriters was we reached. Who is this guy? There’s a picture of Steve, Nelly and Dirk. Dirk looks about 14, Steve looks 15, they got these goofy haircuts, and to be honest, it was a tough year, year-and-a-half. But you could see that Nowitzki was going to be something special. He was a skilled player. He’s 7-foot tall, he could put the ball on the floor, he could shoot the hell out of it – and you could see that there were skills. It was just the adaptation of understanding the speed of the NBA game, the physicality of the NBA game, and it took him a while to adjust. But he was booed pretty regularly along with Steve the first year.”
Interestingly, the Mavericks drafted Robert Traylor with the sixth overall pick in 1998 and traded him to Milwaukee, which took Nowitzki ninth. It was all part of a previously agreed-upon arrangement that would also send Nash to Dallas.
Still, it made for a nerve-wracking 40 minutes or so on draft night.
“Nelly liked to smoke cigars, (but) I’ve never saw a guy inhale cigars the way he inhaled them during that period,” Zaccanelli said. “It was pretty amazing. But thank God the night worked out and really turned the franchise in a new direction after that draft.”
Zaccanelli was also asked about his reported beef with current Mavs owner Mark Cuban.
“It’s not necessarily a beef,” Zaccanelli said. “I tell people all the time that when a guy pays you X amount for a franchise, it’s his franchise, and whatever you’ve done is just in the annals of history and it moves on. The team is really owned by the fans, but obviously you have to have an owner, and Cuban paid us a reasonable price to own the team. There are some that have said that his whole identity was wrapped up in our ability to sell him the team. I did not want to sell because in 2000 I knew we were getting good. You got to remember I was the captain of the Titanic for three years, and I could see now with Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash, we were going to be a really good team. Before we bought the team, the Mavericks were really on a downslide. It was some really, really lean years. I’m a basketball guy. I love the game. And I just thought we had turned the corner, and I didn’t want to sell the team. But Ross Perot Jr. basically just made a decision that he thought the time was right, and we sold the team to Cuban. There have been some that said Cuban would just be another billionaire hanging out that no one knew if it wasn’t for our sale to him of the Mavericks.”
The former GM actually believes the franchise needs a change from Cuban.
“There has got to be a change in the direction of the franchise,” said Zaccanelli. “There are some statistics that are very telling as it relates to Cuban’s ownership of the team. These are amazing statistics if you really think about it. Since the time he bought the team from 2000 until now, one player, one year, made an All Star team that he drafted. One player, one year, and that’s Josh Howard in ’08 or ’09. The draft has been non-existent since Cuban bought the team in 2000. That’s a pretty amazing statistic.
“The second statistic is they haven’t been very fortunate in free agency. Chris Gatling is the only free agent in Mavericks history to ever make an All Star team. They have guys they have traded for make an All Star team. Those are amazing statistics for a franchise.”
Zaccanelli also thinks Cuban’s political side has hurt him with fans.
“It’s not going well. Their local television ratings are the worst in the NBA,” Zaccanelli said. “I think there is a lot of push back. Cuban is an American. He can say what he wants. He can do what he wants. I disagree with him. I think a lot of it is for self-publicity. My position is there should be a little more reverence for the office. You have to have some respect for the office of the presidency. I think he’s been incredibly derogatory to Donald Trump.”