This year marks the tenth anniversary of winning the Dallas Mavericks, the first and only title win in franchise history. It’s a good time to let your nostalgia run free, and luckily for Mavericks fans, there’s a new book out there to let you relive Dirk Nowitzki’s career.
Zac Crain’s recent I See You, Big German by Deep Vellum Publishing traces Nowitzki’s career as he grew up to be a Dallas sports legend. It’s an ode to basketball, fatherhood, and the city of Dallas. Crain, a senior editor at D Magazine, was kind enough to answer some of my questions about his book, Dirk, and even another sports story.
In your book, you interweave part of your personal story with the story of Dirk’s time here in Dallas and align certain milestones in your life with those in his career. I think all Mavericks fans of a certain age do the same thing, almost like we grew up with Dirk. What is it about him that seems so likable, especially in Dallas?
Well, for one, there’s the fact that he’s been on so many of those milestones, you know? You can’t do that with a lot of other players because there is simply no one who has spent 21 seasons with the same team in the same city. But of course the other part is Dirk. He never really held himself above anyone. And he was remarkably frank about his fears and frustrations, just as you or I were about our work or our lives. It’s easy to see yourself in someone who has this kind of vulnerability. I don’t really know what it’s like to hit a winning shot, but I know what it’s like to screw it up and get mad about it.
You write in the book about watching basketball with your son. Why do you think playing and watching sports fosters such a deep bond between parents and their children?
You are instantly part of something greater than yourself – there is a past and a future. My dad wasn’t a huge sports fan, but I can see Isaac (Crain’s son) watching games with his kid one day and that kid will ask Isaac the questions Isaac asked me: How were the Mavs growing up? What was the best game you have ever seen? How did that or that feel? All of these things. I mean, I think it’s just a really accessible common ground where nothing matters except your team or the game that night. You don’t have to think about what happened outside of it or what is happening. It’s like a little bubble. There have been many times where he has grumpily disgusted me about something, or maybe I was irritated by him, and then it’s 7:30 and the game is on and we start talking again and all is well.
Kobe Bryant and Dirk couldn’t be more different, but there seemed to be a connection between them, respect and admiration flowing in both directions. The title of your book comes from a story about an interaction between the two. What do you think Kobe saw in Dirk that made him appreciate a player who was pretty much his exact opposite?
Devotion to the craft. They were primarily basketball players – not a lot of outside interests, supports, you know, using their brands. Both worked every summer to expand their respective games. They did whatever it took to be the best on the court, whether that added a drag, changed their diet, or whatever. I keep thinking of the story of Kobe who stayed up all night after twisting an ankle, just bent it and worked on it so he wouldn’t stiffen up and he could keep playing. I think they weren’t that different, not in terms of how they approached the game.
You say you superstitiously locked your friend Joe out of the house during Game 7 of the 2006 Western Conference semifinals against the Spurs. In fact, superstition is something you come back to a few times in the book. Do you still have superstitions or rituals while playing the Mavericks?
Not so much now. We still switch channels and back again when the game goes bad. I still believe in him. And if the Mavs get to the Western Conference finals next season and a big run coincides with someone who smokes, I would absolutely lock that person out.
Do you think Dirk will eventually play a role in the Mavericks organization?
Yes I think so. I don’t think of it as a coach or maybe even something really formal. But to work with a few guys in training, to be some kind of special assistant to Donnie or Cuban or some kind of advisor at most of the games, for sure. They will obviously do what he wants, as they should.
If you could go to a concert with Dirk, which one would you choose?
Hardest question. I dont know. Can I get the Stone Roses to reunite? If so, I’ll choose that because I’ve never seen them and if I went with Dirk I would have great seats.
Let’s do an alternate story. Imagine the Mavericks winning consecutive championships in 2006 and 2007, but that means they don’t win in 2011 NBA finals. It’s probably better for Dirk’s legacy, but the 2011 championship means so much to Dallas, Mavericks fans, and NBA fans overall. Would you give up the 2011 ring for two earlier in Dirk’s career?
For me personally, it’s not that I believe Isaac won’t love me any less, or that we wouldn’t have been connected through basketball this season without a championship. But the way that worked out for us was perfect and I wouldn’t change it. And anyway, winning those two instead is a bit better for Dirk’s legacy, but not as much as it may seem. The 2011 title only makes the failures of 2006 and 2007 part of the journey. What he did in 2011 was more impressive than winning any of those years. I think I’ll leave the story alone.