In 1997, an 18-year-old Dirk Nowitzki participated in the Nike “Hoop Heroes Tour” in Germany, taking on a team of future NBA Hall of Famers in Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley.
The then unknown kid from Wurzburg lit up the NBA stars, and caught the attention of Barkley in particular.
On Saturday, Barkley participated in Nowitzki’s charity baseball game in Frisco, Texas. In the locker room, Barkley dished on that night in 1997 and what followed.
“Dirk is kicking our ass,” Barkley said. “He’s got like twenty-five at halftime, and me and Michael (Jordan) were like ‘Scottie, you gotta pick it up a little bit.’ He’s mad. ‘C’mon, lock him down in the second half, lock him down in the second half.’
“Dirk finished with like 52.”
The performance opened Barkley’s eyes and he had to find out a little more about Nowitzki.
“I was like ‘Dude, who the hell are you?'” Barkley said.
Of course, the proud Auburn alum had to ask Nowitzki where he planned to play next.
“He says, ‘I have to go in the army,'” Barkley recalled. “I said, ‘Dude, you can’t go in the army playing like that.'”
Barkley quickly put on the recruiting push, making a phone call to Nike to help get the job done.
“I call Nike, I say find out about this kid, tell him I’ll give him anything he wants to go to Auburn,” Barkley said. “Just tell him, anything he wants, we’ll get it done.”
Luckily for Auburn…and the recruiting violations that would have followed…Nowitzki stayed in Germany and served his military obligations.
The candid conversation was caught on camera and posted to Nowitzki’s personal website, Swish41.com.
A person off camera mentioned that if Nowitzki would have gone to Auburn, it would have been like the SMU scandal, in which the football team was given the death penalty by the NCAA in the ’80’s for major recruiting violations.
Barkley played that off in true Chuck fashion.
“He would have done good at Auburn, we would have taken care of him, we in the SEC,” Barkley said. “SMU would have fit in fine in the SEC. Texas and Oklahoma just hated them. In the SEC, we make sure you are well taken care of.
“Everyone wants to give us a hard time about giving Cam Newton $200,000…that’s called a damn good investment.”