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Explaining Dirk Nowitzki to a five-year-old

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The last game of the season opened up a world of conversation

Dallas Mavericks v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

It’s hard to fathom an NBA without Dirk Nowitzki, and I existed before there was a Dirk. But for 21 seasons, the German power forward has been the centerpiece and mainstay of his team.

I cannot describe why it was important to me for my daughter to attend his last game, but it was. Five years ago I took her to Becky Hammon’s last WNBA game. She was only thirteen months old, but I felt it was important and someday she’d be excited to know she was there.

But Dirk Nowitzki? Over these last years, she hasn’t been exposed to the Dallas Mavericks. The I-35 rivals haven’t been as strong in the Western Conference. And Nowitzki was past his prime.

So when I told my daughter we were going to the Spurs game and she didn’t seem to excited, I almost gave up. It’s not like her to reject the opportunity to go to see the Spurs, but it had been a long week. So we negotiated on going for one quarter. I figured I could parlay that into the first half, and that would be close enough to bedtime to call it a success.

Don’t get me wrong, my daughter has become quite the basketball fan. Ever since she discovered one of her classmates has a parent who works for Spurs Sports & Entertainment, she’s wanted to know who the players are, the opponents, and she has developed quite the game watching personality.

So as we were walking toward the stadium, she asked why I kept talking about Dirk.

“Because this is going to be his last game.”

“Isn’t it everybody’s last game?”

“Yes, but he won’t come back next year.”

“Oh, like Manu Ginobili.”

“Yes.”

“So he’s retiring.”

“Yes.”

And then she saw the sea of #41 jerseys. Something clicked.

As it was Fan Appreciation Night, so we got our stylish Spurs sunglasses and made our way to the seats. After sitting down, the Spurs announcer introduced the visiting Dallas Mavericks, but when it was time for Nowitzki, the Jumbotron came to life:

Before the Mavs took to the hardwood, Dirk had an emotional moment and wiped some tears away.

And then, I think, she really got it.

“Why’s he crying?”

“It’s an emotional moment for him.”

“What does ‘emotional’ mean?”

Right then and there, I tried my best to explain what emotions are. I started with examples — anger, happiness, sadness, joy — but pushed to the core of becoming emotional in the moment. What it means to get caught up. I instantly started to feel a loss knowing this was Nowitzki’s last game, and I must admit we both got a little emotional ourselves.

When Dirk missed his two initial shots, the crowd let him know they were behind him. She first asked why I clapped and cheered for the non-Spurs player, but soon thereafter, she joined in.

We rooted on our Spurs and talked throughout the first half about the importance of longevity, dedication, and loyalty. I compared Dirk to Manu in terms that I thought a five-year-old could appreciate.

There was a moment when the Coyote and the Baylor Lady Bear mascot came out and tossed out shirts. We caught one from the Hype Crew in our section. We shared a box of popcorn. We even got our Tweeted photo on the Jumbotron.

At halftime, we made our way down to the parking lot and my daughter, who has resisted the outing in the beginning, said “I’m sad that we can’t stay for the whole game.”

I know it wasn’t just about basketball. These are good times. And this is something we do together. The Spurs are relatable and an easy go to for conversations and examples of culture and ethics and sacrifice.

It’s about values and valuable time together. And I didn’t want it to end.

I knew we could stay, but it would make Thursday longer for all of us. This was just right. The traffic was nonexistent, the parking lot was silent, and the sun had gone down enough to cool. She bounced along and chatted about the booty in her hands and then stopped cold, pointed at the moon, and said “look what I’ve found. The moon is out for us.” Like we were the only two people on earth, and for a moment we were.

Not bad for a little Daddy/Daughter Date Night.


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