SALT LAKE CITY -- Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t think Utah is a bad city.
Well, he knows now that it’s actually a state, not a city. But he enjoys Salt Lake City despite his classic “Utah is a bad city” line uttered 13 years ago during the first playoff series of his career.
“Actually, I like the city,” Nowitzki said with a big smile after the Mavericks’ shootaround Tuesday at Energy Solutions Arena. “I don’t mind it. It’s nice with the mountains. I don’t mind being here.”
However, Jazz fans don’t exactly give the big German the warmest welcomes. The passionate Utah fan base has never forgiven or forgotten the perceived disrespect from a young Dirk, and that fire has been fueled over the years by flagrant fouls Nowitzki committed against Jazz fan favorites Matt Harpring and Andrei Kirilenko.
Nowitzki might be hated more in Utah than any other NBA outpost, but he finds humor in the whole situation, laughing as he remembers the outrage his comment ignited.
“I came in with 90 minutes on the clock shooting and there was a sign up there: ‘Germany is a bad city,’” Nowitzki said, referring to his pregame routine before Game 2 of that 2001 first-round series. “They got me good. They booed me with 90 minutes on the clock. We got off on the wrong foot.”
The funny thing is Nowitzki, whose English was still pretty rough at the time, didn’t intend to insult this city or state.
With two or three days off between Games 1 and 2 of that series, Mavs coach Don Nelson decided to fly back to Dallas for practice. When the Mavs returned to Salt Lake City, one local camera man showed up to the airport and asked a not-yet-media-savvy Nowitzki why the team didn’t stay in town.
“I said, ‘Well, Utah is a bad city,’ meaning it’s the playoffs and we shouldn’t spend too much time there, it’s hostile,” said Nowitzki, who struggled in Game 2 as the Jazz took a 2-0 lead before he caught fire in Dallas and the Mavs rallied to win the series. “I meant going home sleeping in my own bed is never bad. I come back here and they blew the whole thing up. They were talking about it on the TV that night already. I mean, they were trying to call my hotel room. It was awesome.
“Then, like I said, I came out with 90 minutes on the clock and they were already booing. Every time I touched the ball to shoot during warmups, they were booing. So that was a good ol’ time.”