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Dallas legend Dirk Nowitzki had his jersey retired by the Mavericks last night, but had he listened to Charles Barkley, he may have also had a jersey hanging in the rafters at Auburn.
“I called Nike. I said, ‘Find about this kid. Tell him I’ll give him anything he wants to go to Auburn,'” Barkley said in June, detailing the first time he met Dirk.
“Anything he wants, we’ll get it done,” added Barkley.
The Chuckster tells the story of how Dirk Nowitzki was headed to the Army when they first met. pic.twitter.com/BarfkAcl5J
— Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz (@LeBatardShow) January 6, 2022
The time which Barkley was referring to was 1997, when Nowitzki was a teenager in Germany playing a Nike exhibition game against NBA stars like Barkley, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. But Dirk didn’t just play, he dominated.
“Dirk finished with like 52 (points),” said Barkley.
That impressive showing turned Barkley from opponent to recruiter. However, Nowitzki elected instead to bypass college altogether and jump from a German pro team to the NBA.
Even though the combined resources of Barkley and Nike weren’t enough to convince Nowitzki to start shouting “War Eagle,” Sir Charles’ influence may have literally kept a rifle out of the sharpshooter’s hands.
“I said, ‘Where you gonna play (college basketball) at?'” Barkley recalls. “He says, ‘I have to go in the Army.’ I said, ‘Dude, you can’t go in the Army playing like that.'”
As Barkley tells it, he called Nike again later in the summer to make one last run at having Nowitzki sign with the Tigers.
“(Nike) said, ‘Well, he’s got to go in the Army.’ I said, ‘That dude is 7’ tall, he’s not going to the damn Army. What’s he gonna hide behind?'”
Not long after his initial meeting with Barkley, Nowitzki was in the NBA to start what would be a 21-year career.
“I was like, ‘Dude, you should’ve went to Auburn. We’d have a few banners up right now,'” Barkley recalled.
Ultimately, Nowitzki made the right decision. He has both his number and a championship banner in American Airlines Arena in Dallas, and Barkley gets to tell another story about himself and what might have been.
Follow along on Twitter: @OhioAF