Culture / Sporting Life

Dirk Nowitzki Tennis Tournament Truths — Steve Nash Can Play and Luka Doncic is Quite the Wildcard

Behind the Scenes at Dirk's Rollickingly Fun Charity Show

BY // 09.16.19
photography Brandon Colston Photography

“It’s that time of year again to play some bad tennis,” Dirk Nowitzki jokes right before the start of his 4th Annual Pro Celebrity Tennis Classic on Sunday.

The round robin doubles tournament follows the evening fundraiser for The Dirk Nowitzki Foundation, which raises money for local North Texas projects. Nowitzki and former Dallas Mavericks teammate Steve Nash’s reunion was the most highly anticipated matchup of the event, but I mostly just wanted to know if Nash was any good at tennis. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Obviously current pros like John Isner and Mitchell Krueger, and former pros Tommy Haas and Mark Knowles were going to be the superstars of their respective courts, but I was very curious to know how current and former Mavericks stars and one of the Most Beautiful People in the World were going to compete.

Yes, this year’s competitors included Boris Kodjoe, one of People‘s 50 Most Beautiful People in 2002. An actor on TV series such as Station 19 and Code Black, Kodjoe is a decent tennis player. He actually played college tennis for Virginia Commonwealth University before suffering a back injury.

Besides Nowitzki, who’s always energetic and comical to watch on the tennis court with his commentary and trash talk, Luka Dončić is the Rookie of the Year on the basketball court, but a bit iffy on the tennis court.

“Luka is sort of an unknown factor,” Nowitzki says before play begins. “He might show up and play like Tommy Haas in the ’90s or Harrison Barnes a few years ago.” Apparently, Barnes played terribly in the inaugural tournament. 

“I commented on Dirk’s Instagram that I wasn’t invited and that’s how I got invited,” says Dončić. According to Nowitzki, he tried to set up a tryout for Dončić and the young star never showed up.

“There was miscommunication,” laughs Nowitzki. “But it’s a good thing that he’s a good gamer and entertainer.”

Dirk Tennis (Photo by Brandon Colston Photography)
The Luka Dončić serve. (Photo by Brandon Colston Photography)

As for Steve Nash, the former NBA All-Star definitely underestimated himself. Before match play, Nash commented on his tennis game: “I’m pretty damn interested. Not very good though.”

But, during an exhibition match that pitted Nash and Mavs guard J.J. Barea against Mitchell Krueger and his partner, Nash played beautifully. His form was good and he gracefully hit volleys, overheads, and a killer forehand down the line winner. Nash played so well that he and partner Chris Martin made it to the final. Tommy Haas and Kseniya Stone ended up winning, but it’s Tommy Haas. . .

Other impressive matchups included Nowitzki against Isner, with amateur players as their partners, as the “tallest match of the day.” Isner won, of course. He actually hit a serve so hard that the amateur player fell to the ground, uncertain if the ball hit him or he just got scared. Immediately after, Nowitzki gave his partner a hug as if to protect him, as Isner ran over to apologize.

As much as I want to analyze the tennis game as a player myself, it really doesn’t even matter that much about the quality of play at the tournament. This was my second year attending and the main thing that caught my attention is how much fun Dirk Nowitzki makes these events. He commentates from the sidelines and interacts with the audience (many who showed up in Mavs jerseys). John Isner even wore a “41.21.1” T-shirt to play in, commemorating the fact that No. 41 played 21 seasons for one NBA franchise, a rarity in today’s game of team jumping superstars (see LeBron James, Kevin Durant, etc…)

Nowitzki is truly a Dallas icon and it didn’t really hit me until I was standing right next to him on the court, looking up for miles at this guy absolutely drenched in sweat, who could not stop smiling about playing tennis with his friends in the middle of a 100 degree September afternoon.

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