Remembering Dirk Nowitzki’s Frustrating Rookie Season
This story from Charles Barkley about meeting a young Dirk is probably my favorite story about him. Although Barkley was willing to pay him to go to Auburn (it was a joke) and a believer in Dirk’s skills, the same can’t be said about a lot of NBA fans in 1998.
Dirk’s rocky start to his NBA career started on draft night when Dallas fans booed the Mavs for trading #6 pick Robert “Tractor” Traylor (RIP) for the German import with the awful hair cut and Pat Garrity. Looking back that looks like one of the steals of the century and if you consider the Mavs were able to flip Garrity for Steve Nash, then you might have the best trade of all-time. But it would take some time until Dallas fans felt that way.
During his rookie season, the Big D fans nicknamed Dirk the same way they did Jason Kidd earlier in the decade, by omitting the first letter of their first names: Ason Kidd because he didn’t have a J and Irk Nowitzki because he couldn’t play any D. At eight points a game, Dirk didn’t much scoring in the shortened lockout season either but did show a lot of potential. After scoring just two points in his debut, he had a double-double of 16 and 12 in his second game. The 16 would be his highest scoring output until he put up a season-high 29 two months later and the double-double turned out to be the first of just two in 47 games.
Due to his frustrating rookie experience, Dirk even considered going back home to Germany. Then along came new owner Mark Cuban – fresh off his near 6 billion dollar sale of Broadcast.com. Cuban created the perfect comfortable environment for Dirk and Nowitzki responded with an 18 points per game average which was good enough to place 2nd in Most Improved Player of the Year Award votes. It was also good enough to land him in the 2000 NBA Rookie vs Sophomore game where he put up 17 points and 6 rebounds.
Over a decade later, Dirk is now known as a champion and a future hall of famer; A far cry from the rookie days when he dreaded game days.