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Friendly Fire (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday April 17, 2007 2:49PM; Updated: Tuesday April 17, 2007 3:03PM
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Nash's Suns are 12-11 (including playoffs) against Nowitzki's Mavericks over the last three seasons.
Nash's Suns are 12-11 (including playoffs) against Nowitzki's Mavericks over the last three seasons.
Tom Fox/AP

Perhaps, then, this is the year of the Regular Guy. In a season that was supposed to be defined by Dwyane, LeBron and Carmelo, the NBA playoffs instead begin with the focus on a pair of old friends who refer to each other as "the grumpy German" and "the little runt." To understand how this came to be, one must know how the duo evolved, not only as players, but as leaders and as friends.

Few people know Nash and Nowitzki better than Al Whitley, the equipment manager for the Mavericks. Whitley grew up five minutes away from Nash in Victoria, B.C., and the two played on the same high school basketball team. When Nash was a Maverick, Whitley frequently visited Dallas, where he hit it off with owner Mark Cuban. He was offered a job with the franchise in 2001 and now travels with the team and is close to Nowitzki.

In trying to properly render the personality of his childhood friend, Whitley tells the story of a Nash-led bar crawl in 2003. With training camp only a couple of weeks away, Nash went out to lunch in Dallas with Whitley and another buddy. It was still the off-season, so the guys began badgering Nash to have a beer. Nash was reluctant to alter his preseason training routine but agreed on two conditions: that they drink only one beer per bar and that they run between bars. "So we finish our beer and then take off jogging," Whitley recalls. "Only Steve immediately sprints way ahead of us. By the time we got to the next bar, he was finished with his beer and telling us the name of the next bar." And so it continued, through the McKinney area of Dallas, from Taco Diner to TABC to The Quarter, Nash leading and his friends straggling behind. All the while, startled passersby wondered if their team's star had an unconventional new workout regimen. After running close to six miles, Whitley and his buddy were gassed. They stumbled up to the final bar, which happened to have an outdoor pool, and walked in. Unable to spot their friend, they looked out back, where they found Nash doing the backstroke. "If Dirk had been there," says Whitley, "he would have thought it was the greatest thing in the world."

Nowitzki was there plenty. During Nash and Nowitzki's first couple of years together in Dallas (both players arrived in 1998, Nash in a trade with the Suns and first-round pick Nowitzki in a prearranged draft deal with the Milwaukee Bucks), their de facto home base was Nash's condo, which was conveniently located only 100 yards or so from a bar named The Loon. Back then it was the kind of joint that served beer only in cans ("How awesome is that?" says Nash), and the duo could settle in for a burger and some Miller Lites in anonymity. "It was almost like we were in college," says Nash.


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