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Rick Pitino wanted the Celtics to draft Dirk Nowitzki -- “Dude, you’d be running pick-and-pops with Stephon Marbury in China if you’d played here”

Mike Procopio, former Mavericks' player development coach, explained how going to Boston would've destroyed Dirk's NBA career
Dirk Nowitzki nearly wound up with the Boston Celtics in the 1998 NBA Draft

The Boston Celtics nearly drafted Dirk Nowitzki in 1998

Situations condition greatness. Take Draymond Green, for example

The 32-year-old power forward admitted that he probably wouldn't have had the same success anywhere outside the Warriors. He still would've been good, but not a Hall of Famer he will inevitably become. 

The same goes for other guys whose impact isn't solely measured through box score -- almost every out-of-the-blue elite role player that has played for the Spurs over the last two decades fits this description. 

NBA superstars are excluded from this. Even if their careers are evaluated through the hypotheticals, the potential downfall is never as significant. What if Kobe Bryant hadn't played alongside Shaquille O'Neal for his first three championships -- well, he still would've been great. What if LeBron James hadn't joined the Heat for an easier path to a ring? He still would've gotten one eventually and become an all-time great.

Like I said, the downfall is never as significant. Unless your name is Dirk Nowitzki, and the hypothetical involves playing for Rick Pitino with the Boston Celtics.

The Rick Pitino curse

In an excerpt from The Soul of Basketball, Ian Thomsen remembered a dialogue between Dirk and then-Mavericks player development coach Mike Procopio. 

Proco, who took Holger Geschwindner's place as Dirk’s mentor, knew that Pitino, the Celtics' head coach at the time, wanted to use their first-round pick on the 20-year-old German in the 1998 NBA Draft. According to Mike, that's a hypothetical that would've resulted in the biggest superstar downfall in NBA history.

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“Dirty, you would have been back in Germany after eighteen months if you’d fuc*ing played for Pitino,” Procopio says. “You would have been in the fetal position leaving here.”

The Celtics hired Pitino in 1997, hoping that the legendary coach would save the organization -- they were coming off a 15-win regular season. However, his four year-tenure in Boston was nothing short of catastrophic. 

Pitino went 102-146, serving in a triple role as the coach, GM, and team president -- the Celtics never made the postseason with him in charge. Rick was criticized for being a 'me' person -- many described his coaching style as Pitino-centric -- one who over-micromanaged things to the point that it sucked the life out of his players. 

According to Procopio, the same would've happened to Dirk.

"Dude, you’d be running pick-and-pops with Stephon Marbury in China"

The Mavericks snatched Nowitzki with the 9th pick, and the Celtics, who were next on the board, had to "settle" for Paul Pierce. Had it been the other way around, and Pitino was able to acquire Nowitzki, one of the greatest of all time would've had to settle for mediocrity.

Proco made sure to remind Dirk about it months before Nowitzki became the sixth NBA player to reach 30,000 career points.

“You think I get to 30,000 by luck?” Dirk asked Proco.

“Yeah, because here you’d be at 1,800. Dude, you’d be running pick-and-pops with Stephon Marbury in China if you’d played here.”

Mike Procopio, The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk That Saved the NBA

Would the downfall have been so significant? Despite what Proco said, probably not -- this isn't a Draymond Green example, and superstar talent would've inevitably blossomed into a superstar performer. But the road to getting there might've been a lot tougher if Dirk had to put on the Celtics hat on Draft night.

Instead, he wound up in Dallas. The rest is history.    

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