Dirk Nowitzki is the gift that keeps on giving.
As if it wasn’t enough that he had a Hall of Fame career, spent all 21 of his NBA seasons with the Mavericks and led them to the 2011 NBA Championship – that’s enough, right? – he’s still gaining fans as an active member of the Dallas community.
On Thursday, he led a small army of volunteers and helpers from his Dirk Nowitzki Foundation to hand out more than 1,000 Thanksgiving dinners, complete with turkey and all the trimmings.
The event at the Mark Cuban Heroes Basketball Center in south Dallas was a show of pride and determination as Nowitzki, his family and all the volunteers braved the cold, steady rain and kept smiling the whole way.
“This is the biggest food drive the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation has ever done,” said the greatest Maverick of them all. “We always partner with the Cuban Center here, which has done fantastic work for a long, long time in this community.”
Nowitzki usually hosts a charity tennis event every year, but was unable to do so in 2023, so this was a fitting replacement.
“We still wanted to give back to this community,” he said. “We have partnered with our tennis team at the Kiest Center, which we have supported for a long time. They came out here and volunteered to pack the bags and boxes. So we’re glad there’s a great turnout.
“We started getting involved in food drives during the pandemic. We saw an incredible need there for just basic needs. And things, unfortunately, have not improved for many families. So this is one way to get involved and help the community.”
Nowitzki loaded turkeys and boxes of essentials into vehicles as they made their way through the pickup line after waiting for hours. The first vehicle showed up at 3am for the event which started at 9am.
“It’s such a blessing,” said Nelson Martinez of Duncanville, who arrived at the Mark Cuban Heroes Basketball Center three hours before the turkey dinners were to be handed out. “They bring joy to many people like us.”
And smiles were what it was all about.
Nowitzki, who retired in 2019 after a career that ended with him as the No. 6 leading scorer in NBA history, said interactions with fans who aren’t as fortunate as those who can come cheer in the arena mean mostly for him.
“I got some really great reactions,” he said. “That’s always one of the funnest parts. A lady just said she gave me the biggest hug during the parade in 2011. Of course I don’t remember that. But she said she was there as a representative. It’s cool to see people smile and help them through what might be a difficult time.”
Nowitzki was surrounded by his wife, Jessica, and his three children, Maurice, Malaika and Max.
Nowitzki said it was important to him and Jessica to introduce children to these types of charitable events.
“We’ve always wanted to bring the kids, but we felt like they weren’t the (right) age,” Nowitzki said. “I think they’re old enough to understand. And we want to teach them to help out in the community and be good people, be good neighbors, be friendly to people and help people who are not as fortunate as you.
“And I think they understand. They asked questions, of course. what we do here And we explained that we give food to people who need it during the holiday season. It’s great to know early on that it’s about being a good neighbor and helping out.”
Jessica Nowitzki was a major part of the event’s preparation. On the Wednesday night before the food distribution, Shu asked the Keast Tennis Center, with which she and Dirk have a close relationship, for help.
“When we do things for the foundation, it’s always a community effort,” she said. “We try to get as many people involved as possible, particularly some of the programs we fund through the Dallas Tennis Association. We’ve created a team that’s called Team Nowitzki. They have been around for quite some time.
“But also, in their programs they have other kids who are excellent in tennis and academically and we gave them a chance to come out last night and pack the boxes with us. They were very passionate. They helped us and were here until late in the evening when the last box was packed.
The Nowitzki Foundation funded the food drive, and the response from the community was sensational.
It was a reminder to Nowitzki that there is always work to be done when it comes to helping out in their adopted hometown.
“There’s obviously a need,” Jessica said. “And we found that every time we tried to do some planning for the foundation for the year. We’re checking out all of our partners and seeing what’s really needed in the community and how we can best help, and this came up. Every year we do the drive, we have an overwhelming response, to the point where we sometimes have to turn cars away, which is heartbreaking.”
Dirk took the time to personally thank all the volunteers and then echoed his wife’s sentiments that these kinds of moments mean so much to him.
“This community is dear to me,” he said. “The way they took me in over 20 years ago and wanted me to succeed and supported me – I’ve been trying to give back ever since.
“And I felt the loyalty from the city and the community, and we’ve obviously been working on the foundation for 20 years now. And we’ve supported some great organizations. This is great for everyone involved. We can help and people who need it have smiles on their faces. So I’m glad it worked out.”