Society / Featured Parties

Scenes from the 2023 Educational First Steps Benefit With Dirk Nowitzki

Mark Cuban, Kimberly Schlegel Whitman, and More Gathered to Hear the Local Legend Discuss Mentorship

BY Dani Grande // 03.29.23
photography Kristina Bowman

Dirk Nowitzki — a name that instantly evokes a sense of pride in Dallasites and admiration in rivals— exemplifies how an athlete should coexist with his city. A basketball legend who carried the Mavericks to the 2011 finals – where they shocked the country by securing the championship ring against the Miami Heat Big Three – Dirk has been a loyal local since first moving to Texas from Würzburg, Germany, in 1998. He spent his entire 21-year NBA career with the Mavs (a longer tenure than any other baller in history) and became the sixth highest-scoring player of all time, changing the league’s perception of international talent.

A philanthropist with an undying allegiance to his community, he proved his continued dedication by partnering with Educational First Steps, a Texas nonprofit that transforms existing daycares into nationally accredited preschools, for their evening benefit at the Ritz-Carlton in Uptown. VIP guests arrived early, plucking glasses of Sauvignon Blanc off the passed-around silver trays as they waited in line for a photo op and quick tete-a-tete with the man of the hour. The main event saw more than 500 eclectic guests – some charitable donors, some educators from the EFS-partnered schools – dressed in “cocktail casual” attire.

Elizabeth Routman, Lael Brodsky, Regen Horchow, Marguerite Hoffman (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Elizabeth Routman, Lael Brodsky, Regen Horchow, Marguerite Hoffman (Photo by Kristina Bowman)

I was lucky enough to share a table with Gail Stoke, board chair for Educational First Steps, and Murriel Webb, the director at Braswell Child Development Center, one of the nearly 100 schools that have worked with EFS. In between mingling with other guests, Stoke told me about the organization’s “Four Steps to Excellence” method that transforms these daycares into high-quality early education centers in a period of 36 months. In 2022 alone, EFS served 5,200 children from birth to age 5, and trained 1,800 educators. Webb, thrilled with the event’s turnout, reiterated the importance of its mission, sharing the fact that 90% of a child’s brain develops by the age of 5.

At the table next to me was Dallas titan and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (the keynote guest at last year’s benefit) and his wife Tiffany, who both exchanged hugs and knowing conversation with Dirk. Among the evening’s speakers were Donovan Lewis of Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket, Susan Hoff of United Way, and Vickie Allen-Brown, President and CEO of Educational First Steps. After watching an endearing video of EFS students sharing their dreams of becoming a “baby doctor,” or a firefighter who “rescues cats out of trees,” Dirk took the stage to recount his journey as a foreigner with big dreams but little optimism, thanks to his German mother’s glass-half-empty attitude. He talked about the mentors that aided him, like coach Holger Geschwindner, who pushed him to get tutors, read books, and finish high school before becoming a professional player, and about his early years in the United States, learning English slang for the locker room from MTV and BET. He said he was pleased to find that Dallas wasn’t just horses and corn fields, but rather an actual city, “with skyscrapers and buildings,” and discovered that people here were sweet from the jump.

Educational First Steps speakers, Dirk Nowitzki, Donovan Lewis (Photo by Kristina Bowman)
Educational First Steps speakers, Dirk Nowitzki, Donovan Lewis (Photo by Kristina Bowman)

Although already retired for four years and now with a street named after him, Dirk is still committed to making greater impacts on this city and encouraged guests to do the same in the spirited auction for EFS that followed. Attendees raised their paddles, paying $5,500 for a summer stay in Colorado, $4,000 for a private dinner at Nick and Sam’s, and $6,000 for Mavericks courtside tickets and VIP lounge access (an item that Dirk couldn’t resist bidding on, and winning, at the last second).

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