In all the stories about just how far Dirk Nowitzki has come in his basketball career, his pre-NBA stateside journey that preceded the Dallas Mavericks drafting him in June 1998 often seems to be the most underreported. Luckily this cool revelation hit Tuesday -- Dirk Nowitzki could have been a Penn State Nittany Lion. We ain't lyin'.
(But we are genuinely sorry for that last sentence.)
The Patriot News' David Jones quotes former Michigan assistant coach (this column, though worth a studied read, is from 2006) and former Penn State recruiter Chuck Swenson, as he details what might have been:
Had the world spun a little differently for PSU, Nowitzki could have played on a 1997-98 team with Calvin Booth, Pete Lisicky, Joe Crispin and Jarrett Stephens that, as it was, finished 8-8 in the Big Ten and advanced to the NIT final in New York.
And that, friends, is a squad that could have changed the face and fortune of Penn State basketball.
"We could have definitely advanced to the Sweet 16 and beyond," Swenson said last Saturday.
Perhaps. We're not sure, but we do love a good round of "What If?"
It should also be pointed out that, though there were signs of eventual All-Star play in Nowitzki's NBA rookie year in 1999 (the author references Dirk "only playing 47 games," forgetting there were only 50 scheduled in that lockout-shortened season), he had his struggles adapting to a league that wasn't as ready for Dirk Nowitzki as Nowitzki was for the league. So to plop the Finals MVP-styled Dirk into Penn State, with cultural and social barriers mixing with legalized zone defenses and the 35-second shot clock, isn't the right take. Especially with the one-and-out style of postseason basketball the NCAA employs.
But it is fascinating to think about. What would have happened, had Nowitzki not been able to meet Steve Nash at a Dallas barbecue (before getting schooled in a pickup game by Gary Trent) right after the Mavericks drafted him? What if there would have been a barrier between his time in Germany and his time spent with Don Nelson? What if Nellie hadn't ever coached him? Would Steve Nash have eventually become Steve Nash? Would Mark Cuban, maverick nature not yet scaring off Bud Selig, have focused on baseball instead? What would have happened on Sunday? A butterfly flaps its wings, and all that stuff.
Forty-seven-game misstep aside, this is a fantastic read from Jones, and well worth your time.