DALLAS — Wish you could go back and relive the one 2018-19 season that Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic shared the Mavericks’ court together?
This weekend might present the closest opportunity.
The Mavericks’ two-decade legend will host the fifth Dirk Nowitzki Pro Celebrity Tennis Classic on Sunday (from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) at the SMU Tennis Complex.
In the event’s return from a couple-year COVID-induced hiatus, Nowitzki will host a slew of celebrities-turned-tennis participants to help raise money and attention for The Dirk Nowitzki Foundation to benefit charities that support Dallas-area children’s health, education and well-being.
On the list of players this year: Doncic, actor Ben Stiller, former Mavericks Steve Nash and J.J. Barea, current tennis pro John Isner, former American stars Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, and Nowitzki himself.
Tickets are available for $41 and free to children 3 and under..
In a recent conversation with The Dallas Morning News, Nowitzki discussed his expectations for his foundation’s biggest event of the year, his scouting report on Doncic’s tennis game and his thoughts about the Mavericks’ highly anticipated upcoming season.
Below are Nowitzki’s answers lightly edited for length and clarity.
— First off, how are you doing? Are you back in Dallas after that incredible jersey retirement ceremony and a busy EuroBasket promotion schedule?
— I didn’t expect this outcome [at EuroBasket]. I mean, a full gym every night, 18,000 people. It was fantastic. I had a blast. I literally just got back. I was there the whole two, two and a half weeks [to finish] in Berlin, and I just got back on Monday night. Yeah, great turnout. Of course, the ceremony was so sweet, and my family was there, so I was super emotional.
— That must have been amazing to have so much of the tournament in your home country and then for the national team to medal for the first time since you led them to silver in 2005.
—Yes, I watched that game on Sunday. When we won bronze, I was there, so yeah, proud and happy that we put on a great event for over two and a half weeks. Yeah, it was a fun time. But I was also ready [to come back]. I’d been in Europe for months now. I left in June, so I was looking forward to coming home and having the tennis event this weekend, and then Mavs season around the corner, so looking forward to getting back here in the routine.
— Speaking of events, I know many are looking forward to this tennis tournament. Take me through what you’re most excited about to get this event rolling again?
— We had to take a few years off for the pandemic. We’re finally back. This is our fifth year doing it. It started with me being a huge tennis fan, and we wanted to do our own event, and so tennis was something that I’m passionate about, so we started this event a bunch of years ago, and it’s been fun to see how we grew. Even last year we did it, 2019 before the pandemic, to see the support — it was sold out and Luka played. It was such a wonderful event for us that we definitely wanted to bring it back.
Just looking forward to seeing everybody and getting some great celebrity support again with Luka and Ben Stiller’s coming back. We have some great tennis players coming back with Isner and Roddick and Nash. So I think we’re going to have a great tournament again and just looking forward to, of course, the main thing — we want to raise funds for the foundation.
As you know, the foundation we’ve had for 20 years now, in 2021 we had the 20-year anniversary, and we give out grants to some great organizations here in North Texas children’s and women’s charities. They do great work and have great projects, and we’re able to fund them and support them, which means a lot. So I think we’ve been able to impact a lot of lives, and we’re of course very grateful.
— What should fans and people coming to the event know about the purpose and reason behind getting all of this together for community service?
— We’ve had that baseball event for years, and since the pandemic we haven’t been able to pull it off, but this event, the tennis event, is our single, sole fundraiser now for the foundation for the year, and a lot of celebrities are coming in. But we’ve had some great support from our supporters and our sponsors, so we’re able to do this event and raise a lot of funds for these local charities here that change lives for these kids and women. Of course, this is a super nice, big event, but we are raising money that weekend for our foundation, and we want to support and impact as many organizations as we can.
— I know a lot of Mavericks fans are excited for this season to start because Luka had some big games at EuroBasket and looks to be in better shape. What’s your perspective on how that will carry over to his tennis game? What’s your scouting report on him this weekend?
— I’m looking forward to just seeing him. I didn’t get to see him much in Germany. I didn’t want to really bother him during a big tournament, and then they lost and left the next day, so I didn’t even get to see him in Germany, but we’re, of course, super grateful for him to come early and support our event.
His tennis game is, I would say, so-so. There’s definitely room to improve. I always tell him to stick to basketball. No, for him to support me and support the foundation and the event means a lot, so we’re excited to bring him back. You know, he’s the man around here, so he’s going to obviously attract a lot of attention, and it means a lot that he gives his time and supports the event.
— I think the feeling there is mutual between you two. Besides Luka, who’s your money on for the most exciting player to watch?
— We have some great tennis players. We have some guys who are so-so. If you’re there as a tennis fan, you might want to stick to watching John Isner. By the way, I think he broke his wrist in his last US Open match, and he’s supporting the event with a broken wrist. You’ll want to watch Mardy Fish, Andy Roddick, some of the best has to offer in the sport. If you want to have fun, you might want to follow Ben Stiller a little bit more for me. I think there will be some more trash talking going on.
I think the fun part about the SMU venue is you’re kind of sitting there. You’re kind of close. You can oversee all the courts, and that’s what’s fun. You can walk a little bit and watch one court. You can walk a little further and you can watch another court, so I think that’s the fun about the event — that it’s a family event where it’s interactive. You get to know people, meet people and it’s going to be fun.
— One more question with a Mavs focus — this time last year there were so many questions about how the season would go with Jason Kidd as the new head coach, and I know you had a role in that. What about Jason’s leadership was so effective last year, and what do you envision for this coming season?
— Unfortunately I haven’t been around as much as I should since I travel a lot with the kids, but when I am here, what I see is he can relate. He can relate to his players. They work hard for him. I think he’s got a good staff around him, and it just works.
I think the respect has to be there both ways, and he treats his players with respect, and they respect him for it. I think it was a great year, but now it’s ‘Can you go forward? Can you build from here?’ There’s always pressure when you make the top four in the NBA, so we’ll see.
As we all know, it takes time. It’s a process. It takes time to grow something. You can’t think all of the sudden the next step would be winning a championship. I didn’t win until what year, 2011? You have to build. You have to be good for a long time to break through.
You have to have the right pieces in place at the right time, but the exciting thing is we have JKidd, we have Luka, and they’re hopefully here for a long time that you can build around them, and hopefully break through one of these years. But we were so close last year, and it was such a fun year, so hopefully we can have some more of that.