After participating in his first full practice of the season, Dirk Nowitzki was feeling economical. The rest of his teammates and coaches walked in waves from the practice facility to the Mavericks’ business offices, literally next door, for a team function. Nowitzki pulls up in his SUV, having driven over instead. “No extra steps!” he shouts on his way in, having saved himself a walk of maybe 50 feet from door to door.
Challenge his methods if you will, but there’s only so much one can say to a man who has played in 92% of his team’s games over 20 years. You don’t make it to 50,573 career minutes–third-most in NBA history–without good fortune and proactivity. Time, however, comes for even the most mindful athletes. “Ankle surgery was something we all felt was necessary after last year, where I couldn't really move much,” Nowitzki says. “So it was either retiring or trying the surgery. We tried for the surgery.”
Nowitzki’s initial recovery was promising, and even allowed for him to play in pick-up games when the Mavs reconvened in September. Soon after, the tendons surrounding his surgically repaired ankle had inflamed to the point that Dallas all but shut Nowitzki down. “I guess this is normal,” he says. It’s a miracle that this process–of injury, surgery, and recovery–is still somewhat foreign to Nowitzki, two decades in. Dirk has seen everything there is to see in this sport, but until his last few seasons, he hadn’t seen all that much of it from the sidelines.
“I hate being out,” Nowitzki says. “I've gotta say. I don't love it. I'm not the coach guy that pulls guys over left and right and tells 'em something. It's not really my personality.” There are other roles for Nowitzki to play, even while out of the lineup. He’ll always be an ambassador for Dallas and the Mavericks, as was the case when he was presented with the key to the city on Wednesday night. During games, Dirk is often among the first to lumber off the bench in celebration of his teammates’ exploits, making him one of the NBA’s most highly accomplished cheerleaders. Nowitzki has become a prop, too, for teammate DeAndre Jordan, who has taken to bear hugging and lifting a suited Nowitzki as he’s announced for the starting lineup.
When Jazz center Rudy Gobert got the benefit of a questionable call against Jordan last week, Nowitzki turned into a full-on lobbyist. “Complaining to the referees ...” Nowitzki says, “I'll always be good at that, no matter how far the arthritis has gone in every joint.” It doesn't hurt to have a future Hall of Famer as a sideline advocate, but Nowitzki’s best in-game work may come from heckling teammates and old friends alike. After 20 years, much of the league is within a few degrees of separation, having either played with Dirk or played against him enough to get razzed. “Mostly,” he says, ”I’m focused on making fun of our guys.”
It helps when the Mavs are winning (as they have in five of their last six games), though Nowitzki is close enough to the end of the road to appreciate how fleeting all of this really is. Soon he’ll be back on the court, perhaps even before the end of November, according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. Then comes the chore of finding his wind, the attrition of the season, and the kind of maintenance that brought Nowitzki this far. It’s the labor of a life’s work. “The only thing I can do in this situation is stay positive, remind myself to work everyday, take it day by day, and sorta enjoy the grind, too. You never know. Next year might not be there. So just enjoy being around the fellas and the camaraderie. Enjoy my time.” — By Rob Mahoney
• Duke won't go undefeated, but they're well represented atop our first NBA mock draft. (By Jeremy Woo)
• The Markelle Fultz saga grows more complicated by the day.The latest twist could include legal ramifications. (By Michael McCann)
• The late Roy Halladayshould be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. (By Tom Verducci)
• No, Condoleezza Rice will not be the next NFL head coach.So who might really be in line as the carousel starts to spin? (By Jenny Vrentas)
• While Fall of a Titan: The Steve McNair Story takes a break this week, catch up on the first five episodes of our serialized SI True Crime podcast.
• How does a blind golfer attempt a 63-foot putt?Let Chad NeSmith and his coach Andy Church show you on SI TV.
Vault Photo of the Week: Caught in the Act
The only thing better than Thanksgiving dinner is ... Thanksgiving leftovers. Two days after Turkey Day 2004, this member of Virginia Tech's Corps of Cadets gnawed on a turkey leg as the Hokies took on in-state rival Virginia. SI's Bill Frakes captured this delicious, mid-bite moment on Nov. 24, 2004.
Virginia Tech won this edition of the Commonwealth Clash by two touchdowns (and a turkey leg).
Best of the Rest
Editor's note: Below are some of our favorite stories of the week not published by SI. This week's list is curated by Rob Mahoney.
• A public service announcement: The Memphis Grizzlies,defense-first holdouts to the NBA's offensive revolution, hold the best record in the Western Conference, notes Dan Devine of The Ringer.
• Howchess became a spectator sport in Norwayand, in the process, kind of cool. Andrew Keh of the New York Times has the story.
• From Michael Pina of Vice Sports:Meet Heat guard Rodney McGruder, who played in Hungary just to be different, found employment with the Heat, and has turned into one of this season's best stories.
• In a league defined by miserable job security, unreasonable expectations, and the amplified pressures of the modern media cycle, Damian Lillard is more than a star. He's a rock, says ESPN's Zach Lowe.
• A fun diversion into the life of Keith Dambrot, whoselife was forever changed when he coached LeBron James at a Jewish Community Center in Akron, Ohio. Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal has the story.
• Larry Nassar is a monster, a criminal, and only a part of the systemic problems at work within USA Gymnastics, writes Liz Clarke of the Washington Post.
Gift Guide Season
With the holiday season officially kicking off, your wallet's about to get a little thinner. Over the next handful of newsletters we'll highlight one of our gift guides to make that year-end shopping a little bit easier.
To celebrate the nationwide devouring of turkey, potatoes, pie and more this week, let's highlight our Best Gifts for Foodies, Cooks and Eaters.
Not everyone has the luxury of a backyard, a reasonable climate and an outdoor grill on the patio, but that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice the taste of grilled meats, fish and vegetables. Using infrared technology and reflectors, this indoor grill heats up to a consistent 446°F and cooks food without any smoke.
Editor's note: What kind of stories and content would you like to see in the Weekend Read? Let's chat at SIWeekendRead@gmail.com.