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Rick Pitino's Version Of The Dirk Nowitzki - Paul Pierce Draft Story

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I had never really heard Rick Pitino's side of the story of the 1998 draft, when Donnie and Don Nelson added Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash in one fateful night. The Mavericks began the day with the sixth pick in the draft. They knew that they could draft Nowitzki there, but they also wanted to add Steve Nash, who Donnie had been with in Phoenix and had known since Nash was a high school player. Dallas dealt the rights to No. 6 for No. 9 and No. 19, had Milwaukee draft Dirk at nine, then spun 19, their 1999 first rounder (which turned out to be the No. 9 pick: Shawn Marion) and two fringe players (Martin Muursepp and Bubba Wells) for Nash. 

On draft day, we in Dallas knew that if the Mavs were in fact after Nowitzki, Pitino and the Celtics, who were picking No. 10, were reputed to be their primary competition. We also knew that the Mavs were looking to move around in the draft. By the time the Bucks selected Nowitzki at nine it was clear that there had been an unannounced trade (the NBA would not officially announce the deal yet).

Pitino's version - keep in mind that it's been 13 years and that he's been at Louisville since 2001 - seems to have some facts mixed up (for instance, he recalls that Dallas was at No. 11, which may well have been where they were trying to trade from in a potential scenario, but in actuality they did have a draft pick in front of Boston at all times), and he also seems to think that no one else should have known about Dirk even as late as draft day, despite the fact that Dirk's coming out party had been the Nike Hoop Summit in San Antonio and that the training camp for the game was in Dallas ... and that Dirk had played in a pretty high profile show game in 1997 against Charles Barkley during a Hoop Heroes Tour. Pitino also probably didn't know that Don Nelson dropped hints left and right during a radio interview with Norm Hitzges on draft morning, including uttering German phrases.

At any rate, while Pitino's memory of draft day itself may be a little hazy, his version is great and includes the day that he worked Dirk out in a tennis bubble in Europe. The fact that Dallas technically could have chosen either Dirk or Paul Pierce at nine and that the Celtics scooped up Pierce immediately at ten was one of the biggest topics of discussion in Dallas for several years until Dirk established himself as a hall-of-fame caliber player. I always suspected that Boston sat back and was fine with either player dropping, but Pitino says that they were completely honed in on Nowitzki and weren't actively thinking about Pierce falling until Dallas dashed their hopes.

Check out the video after the jump, and for a little trip down memory lane, check out that first round in 1998. There is a whole lot of Mavs history intertwined, particularly with several of the top ten picks.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.