It took about 12 seconds. And it was exactly what owner Mark Cuban, coach Rick Carlisle and the rest of the surprisingly large crowd at the Mavericks’ open practice wanted to see.
Kristaps Porzingis, the unopened gift that had been sitting there tantalizing Maverick fans since February, finally was on the court with Luka Doncic. And on the first possession Sunday afternoon, Porzingis set a pick, Doncic dribbled to the left, flipped a pass back to Porzingis and …
Bang. A perfect pick-and-pop jumper that dropped into the basket. It was the first time the 7-3 Porzingis was on a basketball court in front of fans in more than 19 months. And it was a thing of beauty for him.
“I always want to be aggressive and showcase what I’m capable, stretching the floor with my height and being dangerous in a lot of situations,” Porzingis said after the scrimmage. “I missed basketball. I miss competing so much. Hopefully, I can start the season the right way and showcase right away what I’m capable of.”
Porzingis would go on to score 10 points in the first five minutes. He finished with 12 points. The Mavericks were split into two teams, the Blue and the White. It didn’t really matter who won (the White team did, 57-39, which wasn’t surprising given that Doncic and Porzingis were playing together on that side).
What mattered most was seeing Porzingis on the court taking passes from Doncic. Porzingis uncorked his full arsenal of weapons, the pick-and-pop, the midrange game and he even rose up to reject a driving shot by rookie Isaiah Roby.
And he did it with authority.
But it was the silky shot and the ease with which Porzingis moved up and down the court that fans were most excited about.
“He’s a terrific offensive player,” Carlisle said. “And it’s obvious he’s worked extremely hard to get him back to this point. It’s got to be exciting to get out there for the first time in a long time in front of a crowd in an NBA arena. We’re early on in camp, but he continues to do extremely well.”
Another magical moment came after the 20-minute scrimmage was finished. Porzingis signed basketballs and threw them into the crowd, which was listed at 8,850, a record for the open practice by nearly 3,000. Then he started signing autographs along one side of American Airlines Center. After he disappeared briefly to the locker room, he returned and spent another 15 minutes or so taking selfies with fans and signing whatever was put in front of him.
“I just want to connect with the people here,” he said. “It’s a new place for me. People don’t really know me. Obviously, I want my playing to talk by itself. But I also want to connect with the fans. I love doing it. It puts a smile on my face when I see all these kids asking for pictures and autographs.”
And he may have broke the meter when it comes to making points with the local fans when he was asked by a young reporter what was the most unique thing about Dallas, especially compared to New York where he played his first three seasons with the Knicks.
“From the places I’ve lived, I think Dallas probably has the nicest people,” Porzingis said. “People are really kind here and polite. Everybody’s smiling and everybody’s open. And that’s a very good quality that the city and people have here.”
Texans nicer than New Yorkers? Who’d have thunk it?
Porzingis added that he got a lot of love from the fans in New York, too. But the bonding process with the Mavericks and the city has clearly begun.
“The energy we had today was incredible,” he said. “Now it’s time for us to go out there and play hard and give something for those fans to cheer for.”
And as for his chemistry with Doncic?
“We’re trying to develop that,” he said. “We’re working on that. We already have a connection off the court. We know each other. We speak Spanish. And so on. That will help us create good chemistry on the floor. And we’re both young, we both like to run and attack and be aggressive. We’re going to help each other so much on the court.”
Carlisle said he’s been nothing but encouraged by the way the Mavericks have gotten close both on and off the court. And linking that connection to the fans is important.
“This was phenomenal today,” Carlisle said. “A lot of folks that come to the fan jam are folks that don’t get an opportunity to come to games during the season, for whatever reason. We’ve had a sold-out building for as far back as I can remember. So, this is an opportunity for folks who don’t get in here much to see the team up close and personal. The interaction between the fans and the players was really special.
“It’s a group of guys that love to play. In their short time, they’ve grown to really like being with each other and competing against each other. They’re taking steps to bond. But this process takes time. The players are excited. It’s obvious the fans are excited. It’s 2 ½ weeks until the first game, but it’ll be here before you know it.”