The first time Charles Barkley watched Dirk Nowitzki play, the 18-year-old future Dallas Mavericks star scorched a team of NBA stars during the Nike "Hoop Heroes Tour" in Germany in 1997.
As a result, Barkley made a recruiting push to sell the young German star on coming to Auburn.
Barkley shared that story over the weekend before Nowitzki's charity baseball game in Frisco, Texas. Some of Barkley's best lines will no doubt have Auburn compliance officers cringing, but they'll get a chuckle out of everyone else.
"Dirk is kicking our ass," Barkley said. "He's got like 25 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.
"So I call Nike and I said, 'Find out about this kid. Tell him I'll give him anything he wants to go to Auburn. Just tell him, anything he wants, we'll get it done.' ... In the SEC we make sure you're well taken care of. Everyone wants to give us a hard time about giving Cam Newton $200,000. That's called a good damn investment."
It's possible some of what Barkley said may be an exaggeration since storytellers like him can be prone to exaggeration. Still, there's probably enough truth to the story to provide a window into what the recruitment of most elite prospects is like.
Barkley's efforts to encourage Nowitzki to attend Auburn were unsuccessful because the 7-foot forward caught the attention of NBA scouts with a 33-point, 14-rebound effort at the Nike Hoop Summit in 1998. As a result, he went straight to the NBA, bypassing offers from more than 30 U.S. colleges.
Had Nowitzki gone to college, the three he liked enough to visit were Kentucky, Cal and Stanford. He told Dan Patrick last year that he opted to go straight to the NBA because he feared a U.S. high school or college coach would attempt to transform him into a traditional big man.
"I figured once I go to high school they were going to make me a back-to-the-basket-type player, and that's really not what I wanted or where I saw my future," Nowitzki said. "I decided against it. Looking back now it was a smart decision, but back then it was pretty hard."