DALLAS -- Chandler Parsons distinctly remembers walking into the home locker room at the Toyota Center in late March 2012 and checking the Houston Rockets' defensive matchups to start that night's game against the Dallas Mavericks.
The rookie played it cool in front of coaches and teammates when he saw "PARSONS-NOWITZKI" on the board, but he couldn't help but share the moment with a couple of his childhood buddies, guys who played with Parsons when he wore a green No. 41 Mavs jersey while hooping at the park.
"I swear I think I snuck a picture of it and sent it to my friends and was like, 'Dude, I kid you not, I'm starting on Nowitzki!'" Parsons said.
A few years later, Parsons is long past the point of feeling in awe just to have his name next to Dirk Nowitzki's. Now, he has the neighboring locker at the American Airlines Center, the stall long occupied by Jason Terry, signed by the Mavs this past summer to be a co-star as the big German chases championships in his golden years.
Parsons has considered Nowitzki a friend for the past couple of years, ever since they hung out after running into each other at a pool in Las Vegas, followed by Parsons volunteering to come to Dallas a few weeks later to play in Nowitzki's annual charity baseball game. They'd kept in occasional touch since then, with Nowitzki typically reaching out to talk a little playful trash via text message after a tough loss by the Rockets or the football team at Florida, Parsons' alma mater.
Still, Parsons admits he has to "pinch myself every now and then." Heck, it wasn't that long ago that he'd wear that green jersey while watching from his family's seats in Section 108, Row G when the Mavs made their annual visit to his hometown, the rare occasion it wouldn't pain Parsons to see his beloved Orlando Magic lose.
"That's funny, that's neat," said the 36-year-old Nowitzki, who is entering his 17th NBA season as the 10th-leading scorer in NBA history. "It's also depressing that we play on the same team now and he's so young."
Parsons' age was actually a big part of the reason the Mavs made him their Plan B priority in free agency, focusing on him after it became apparent that their pipe-dream hopes to land LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony weren't possible. The Mavs identified Parsons, who turned 26 on Saturday, as a franchise cornerstone just entering his prime who has significant growth potential.
For Parsons, one of the major benefits of signing with the Mavs is having the opportunity to see Dirk work up close. Parsons plans to take full advantage by constantly picking the mind of one of the NBA's craftiest players, and challenging himself to match Nowitzki's legendary work ethic.
"I'm going to be a sponge just trying to learn every little detail from him," Parsons said.
In Parsons, the Mavs landed a player they believe can help them contend during the rest of the Dirk era and hopefully beyond. That made him worth the premium price -- a three-year, $46 million deal that Houston general manager Daryl Morey called "one of the most untradeable structures I've ever seen" -- the Mavs had to pay to pry the restricted free agent away from the Rockets.
The Mavs would have had no chance of even pursuing Parsons if not for Dirk's hometown discount deal, a three-year, $25 million contract that will pay the future Hall of Famer less than half of his market value. Nowitzki isn't above sarcastically reminding his buddy of that from time to time.
"I told him every dinner on the road this year is on him," Nowitzki said, "because it's my money anyway."
Parsons, who considers Nowitzki's hater humor to be hilarious, fully appreciates the sacrifice the face of the franchise made to make room for him under the Mavs' salary cap.
"He's the ultimate teammate," Parsons said. "I'm very humbled and glad that he did that, because I wanted to be here and I wanted to play here, and I wanted to play with him. That just shows you how much he wants to win. He'll take that big of a pay cut to try to bring a guy like me to try to help him win a championship."
Make no mistake, owner Mark Cuban wouldn't have wooed Parsons if Nowitzki didn't think he was a championship-caliber piece and a perfect fit for the Mavs.
Parsons looks forward to proving he's worth his near-max deal and eagerly anticipates the increased responsibilities he'll have with the Mavs after being a role player in Houston, where he averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists for a 54-win Rockets team last season.
Nowitzki can go on and on about how much he likes Parsons' all-around game -- how rare his ballhandling ability, passing and decision-making are for a 6-foot-9 forward, how he runs the floor and finishes like a lanky Manu Ginobili in transition, his intelligence and versatility on both ends of the floor.
Nowitzki's advice for Parsons: Be yourself and be consistent.
"Honestly, I don't want him to all of a sudden think that now he has to reinvent himself," Nowitzki said. "I think he's great with what he brings to the table. We want him to bring that every night.
"I think the challenge is -- or the responsibility is -- when you start getting paid like a max guy or close to it or a franchise guy, you've got to be there every night. You can't have a 20-point game one night and then no-show the next night. I think that's hard as a young player to bring some consistency, but other than that, we don't want him to all of a sudden think he's got to take the shots or dribble the ball up and dribble 10 times. ...
"Yeah, he wants to, I'm sure, show that he's worth the money. That will be in his head some, but we don't want him to put extra pressure on himself and do more than he was doing."
The Mavs don't need Parsons to carry the franchise. They brought him to Dallas to help ease the burden on Nowitzki along with dynamic shooting guard Monta Ellis, defensive-minded center Tyson Chandler and a deep rotation of proven veterans.
Perhaps Parsons can eventually take the torch from Nowitzki as the face of the franchise, but that's at least a few years down the road.
"One day, that would be great and that would be ideal, but this is Dirk's team," Parsons said. "Dirk made this team. He's done so much for this organization, so it's hard to even talk about filling those shoes because they're huge shoes to fill.
"He's got three years left. Hopefully I can make it longer than that. I'd love to play with him for a long time, but whatever he's got left, I'm going to try to absorb everything from him."
And maybe even get another No. 41 jersey or two.