Dirk Nowitzki’s knee injury in 2003 sparked rift between Mark Cuban, Don Nelson
Prior to Rick Carlisle coming in as the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, Don Nelson was the longtime coach of the team. According to a recent report on Dirk Nowitzki, however, it seems as if the relationship between Nelson and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban soured after an injury to Dirk in 2003.
The injury – which came when Nowitzki banged knees with San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobli in the 2003 playoffs – led to Don Nelson being cautious with the then-young Nowitzki.
“Before Game 4, I was down there working up a sweat, because Nellie wanted to see how I was moving” Nowitzki told Zac Crain of D Magazine. “And I was moving pretty well. Cubes was out there, too, and Cubes wanted to let me play. He’s, like, “Let him play.” Nellie was, like, “He’s too young. I wouldn’t risk it.” I think that’s where it started, where they went separate ways. After that, years later, obviously it got very ugly. But that’s the first time where they weren’t agreeing on some stuff.”
According to NBA insider and former Mavericks beat writer Marc Stein, the disagreement between Cuban and Nelson began dissolving their relationship, even if Dirk himself thought he likely couldn’t play. “I don’t think there’s any question that Cuban and the doctors thought he could play, and Nellie was just not going to play him no matter what,” Stein said. “Now I’ve asked Dirk about it 15 times, and Dirk to this day, says, “I don’t think I could have played; I think it would have been a mistake.” So, he hasn’t changed his position on it.”
Nowitzki went on to say that even doing something like standing up caused him to feel like his knee “wasn’t right,” so it was likely in the players best interest that he didn’t play. However, the Mavericks would go on to lose that Game 6, unable to force a seventh game that might have sent the team into the NBA Finals. Nelson would only last in Dallas until 2005, when he stepped down as head coach.