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'He is just like me 20 years ago' | Dirk Nowitzki opens up about growing relationship with Luka Doncic

While Nowitzki said he enjoyed spending his first years of retirement traveling and spending time with family, he plans to be around the Mavs more moving forward.

DALLAS — As Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki continues to figure out what comes next in his retirement, he's also getting more involved with the Mavericks organization and the city of Dallas.

On Sunday, Nowitzki is hosting the Dirk Nowitzki Pro Celebrity Tennis Classic, featuring celebrities such as Mavs superstar Luka Doncic, actor Ben Stiller and tennis legends Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and John Isner.

"I'm a big tennis fan," Nowitzki said. "Tennis was my first sport. With the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation, we wanted to put on our own event with something that we love."

The tournament will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with tickets going for $41 and children three and under getting in free. To purchase tickets, click here. 

Proceeds benefit The Dirk Nowitzki Foundation, which awards grants annually to organizations focusing on children’s wellbeing, health and education. The former Mavs forward established the foundation in 2001.

"I'm not a big golfer, so I wanted to put something on that I love doing," Nowitzki said. "We came up with this tennis celebrity classic and unfortunately, of course, we couldn't do it the last couple of years because of the pandemic. But we're back for the fifth year and we're really looking forward to it. It's going to be a fun weekend on Sunday at the SMU."

Nowitzki said he's glad to have Doncic back involved and playing in the tournament.

"We love having him," Nowitzki said. "Of course, he's the star here. People love him. I wouldn't say he's the best tennis player. He's a big tennis fan. His skills are just OK. I always tell him, 'You should just stick to basketball,' but we're so happy and grateful that he comes and supports. He was just in the EuroBasket in Europe. And for him to come in and support that weekend for us means a lot. We definitely appreciate him playing."

Nowitzki made his NBA debut on Feb. 5, 1999. Another professional who came on the scene around the same time period is Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer, who played in his first Grand Slam tournament at the French Open on May 25, 1999.

Federer recently announced he would be retiring from professional tennis after a tournament in London.

"I met Roger a few times," Nowitzki said. "One time in the Olympics in '08. And a couple of other handful of times in Wimbledon. Of course, I'm a huge, huge fan. Just talking to him, picking his brain. What he did off the court as well as on the court. To me, he is one of the goats of the sports, of course."

"To lose Serena and Roger within just a couple of weeks is very sad and emotional for me, as a tennis fan, who has followed the sport for the last 40 years. They'll definitely leave a huge hole to fill but both have tremendous personalities. They did so much good off the court."

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Nowitzki was recently honored at EuroBasket 2022 this September, where his international No. 14 jersey was retired. It marks the first time in the 73-year history of the German basketball federation (DBB) that they have retired a jersey number.

 "It was super cool," Nowitzki said. "It was emotional. I had friends from growing up there. I had my family. My kids were there. My parents were able to witness it again. There have been so many unforgettable moments, honestly these last three years starting with the street naming here and then the jersey retirement and all sorts of other awards. It's just been an incredible journey here for the last three years. I've just been soaking it in and trying to enjoy the moment. I'm just so proud that my family is there to witness all this."

Last season, the Mavs proved to their fans and themselves that they can contend with the league’s best. The whole league took notice of what they did in Game 7 against the Phoenix Suns — the NBA’s only 60-win team this year.

The season eventually ended in defeat as the Golden State Warriors eliminated the Mavs from the playoffs after a 120-110 loss in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. 

"You always think further," Nowitzki said. "You want to get better in the offseason. You want to take the next step. If you're this far and you're in the top 4, it's sometimes hard to take that next step. We'll just have to wait and see how this next season goes.

Nowitzki said he believes in the core the front office is building around Doncic and the potential for the team to build on last season's success.

"We have the coaches and everything in place," Nowitzki said. "They showed that last year. You know, we'll just have to wait and see how the season goes. I think losing Brunson is, of course, tough. He was a very big part of what we are doing the last few years. But hopefully, by adding Timmy Hardaway back in the mix and some other guys, we can make up for it."

In June of 2021, the Mavs announced that Nowitzki would be re-joining the team as a special advisor. The team said he would be talked with helping the front office with the hiring of both a general manager and head coach, according to a Mavs press release. He would also consult on other front-office decisions.

Nowitzki said after focusing on family, traveling and his kids during the first few years of retirement, he's ready to get more involved with the team moving forward.

"I bleed blue, of course," Nowitzki said. "I've been with the Mavs, since what, '98? They're close to my heart. And I always thought after I enjoy retirement a bit that I will want to be involved. I want to help. The playoff run was probably the most I've been around. I almost saw every game. It was such a blast to see these guys work so hard and break through in the top 4. That was an incredible journey. Hopefully, here in the near future, I'll be around a lot more and really try to help the organization out even more."

Nowitzki also said he's gotten close with Doncic through the years, seeing a lot in the Slovenian superstar that reminds him of himself during his younger years.

"He is just like me 20 years ago," Nowitzki said. "When you're not sure and English is not your first language, I think you're always a little shy with the cameras on. I didn't want to say anything wrong. I was just the same way. Once the camera's off, this kid is hilarious. He busts everybody. He's a jokester. He loves to have fun with his teammates and with people around him that he's comfortable. So, I think with me, he feels fairly comfortable. He says whatever and we usually enjoy each other's company."

"He knows that anything he ever needs, I'm more than happy to help him out. Whether it's on or off the court, he knows that I'm always in his corner. He's such a great kid. He's got a huge heart. He wants to do well, so if there's anything I can ever do for him, I'm happy to do so."

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