January 30, 2002

All-Star Selection Marks Turnaround for Two Mavericks

Jan. 30, 2002

By Jodie Valade
Dallas Morning News

Steve Nash was a waste of a good contract. Dirk Nowitzki was a busted draft pick. Don Nelson was about to be fired.

Now, all three are headed to this year's All-Star Game.

Nash and Nowitzki earned invitations Tuesday to the annual NBA showcase of the league's top talent when both were selected by coaches to be reserves on the Western Conference All-Star team.

It is a first-time honor for both players, who will join Nelson when he coaches the team Feb. 10 in Philadelphia. Nash and Nowitzki become the first pair of Mavericks to make the team since 1988, when Mark Aguirre and James Donaldson made the squad. Two Mavericks have made the team only one other time, in 1987 when it was Aguirre and Rolando Blackman.

The honor for the three Mavericks comes just three years removed from when all were doubted individually and blamed collectively for the Mavericks' woes. The Mavericks were 19-31 the first year all three were together. They've improved to the second-best record in the league.

"We've seen this team at the bottom when we first got here," Nash said. "For us to be a part of that turnaround and see our friendship grow along with it is special."

Nash and Nowitzki have had career years. Nash is averaging a career-best 19.3 points on 49.5 percent shooting, and 8.0 assists. Nowitzki's 24.5 points and 9.4 rebounds are also career-bests and lead the Mavericks.

The two join Sacramento's Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic, Utah's Karl Malone, Minnesota's Wally Szczerbiak and Seattle's Gary Payton as Western Conference reserves.

"I'm the happiest guy in America," Nelson said of having two All-Stars accompany him. "You never know what's going to happen. Some good players were left off. You can't take anything for granted."

Nowitzki, who was fourth among West forwards in fan voting, admitted a sense of satisfaction - though not necessarily vindication - at his selection. Last year he was left off the squad in part because the NBA demanded that a true center be selected as a Western Conference reserve. This year, the league issued a memo reminding teams to be flexible with multi-position players like Nowitzki, who has played as many games at center as at forward. He was selected as a forward/center.

"I really wanted to make it once in my career," Nowitzki said. "To get it now when I'm only 23 years old, after just four years in the league, is a dream come true."

Nash, who is the first Canadian selected to be an All-Star, also ranked the honor among his greatest in basketball.

"I've had so many more dreams come true than a lot of people," Nash said. "This is my biggest individual accomplishment, no question. Winning in the playoffs, playing in the Olympics and this are all right up there."

And the fact that the two, who are inseparable off the court, will share the first-time experience together makes it more special, they admitted. And sharing it with Nelson makes it even more meaningful.

"It's really great to get to experience it together," Nash said.