Friendly Fire (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday April 17, 2007 2:49PM; Updated: Tuesday April 17, 2007 3:03PM
But Nash never sat still for long. "To him," says Whitley, "everything is a competition." So there were pool games at night and epic tennis matches during the day. (Nowitzki is very good at both tennis and Ping-Pong.) Then there were times when Nash organized an impromptu "footie match" -- at his place. So there they were, a couple of professional athletes and their friends, romping around an unfurnished Dallas flat, gleefully booting a soccer ball off walls and windows.
For Nowitzki, Nash's friendship was a safe haven of sorts. When he first came to the Mavericks, Nowitzki was painfully shy, a 20-year-old rookie with a bad bowl cut who spoke barely any English and knew little about American culture. He and Nash bonded instantly -- over their outsider status, their lukewarm receptions (both were booed during that first season) and their shared love of practice. At first Nowitzki was, as Whitley says, "like Steve's shadow, the guy sitting in the back of the bar watching all the wild Canadians." But the more time Nowitzki spent with the wild Canadians, the more their easygoing nature rubbed off on him. He handed out nicknames (Little S--- was a popular one), played his guitar and boasted of his athletic prowess. "He always says that if he stepped up against a major league pitcher, if he had 10 swings he could hit one out," says Whitley. He waits a beat and adds, "He's never picked up a bat." The rub with Nowitzki is that he's usually joking. "He's Mister Fake Negative," says Nash. "He complains about everything, but he's always putting you on." Adds Harris, "He is, in the best sense of the word, a total clown."
It's a side that the world rarely sees. Nash compares Nowitzki with the San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan, another star player who plays it straight with reporters and prefers not to make his private life public. "When the media's around, I try to be careful," Nowitzki says. "I don't want to make a mistake or use bad language, and I have to really concentrate because of the language barrier. Once the interview's over, I can have fun and just say whatever comes into my mind."
By the 2001-02 season Nowitzki was out of his shell, and he and Nash were prospering on the court. Each man made his first All-Star team that year, and the next spring they took Dallas to the brink of the Finals. When they headed out, they were no longer incognito. One night in particular was immortalized in photos that bounced around the Web. "I laughed; I thought it was funny," says Nash of the pictures, shot at a cowboy bar in Fort Worth and featuring a wild-eyed, stringy-haired Nash and a rubbery-legged Nowitzki making faces at the camera. "Yeah, it got ugly a couple times," says Nowitzki. "Did you see the one where Nashie is drunk and playing with his nipples?"
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