The first time Dirk Nowitzki met Charles Barkley, he stunned the 11-time All-Star and Hall of Famer.
In 1997, then-18-year-old Nowitzki played for a German team against a group of NBA All-Stars at the Nike Hoop Heroes exhibition game.
Nowitzki, who would get drafted in 1998, scored 52 points against the NBA team, blowing away a group that included legends like Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, and more.
On Thursday, at a Turner Sports media availability at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, Barkley recounted in hilarious detail how he met Nowitzki after the game and tried to recruit him to his alma mater, Auburn University.
“I went up to him after the game, I said, ‘Who are you?'” Barkley said on Thursday. “He said ‘Dirk Nowitzki.’
“I said, ‘How old are you?”” Barkley recounted. “He’s like, ‘I’m 18.’
“I said, ‘Where you going to college? I’ve got a good college for you.’ I said, ‘Let’s call the people, let me get some information, because I want you to go to my college.'”
Barkley said he was stunned when Nowitzki said he had to go to join the army.
“I said, ‘Dude, you’re 7 feet tall, you’re not going in the f—ing army. Stop it.'”
Barkley has told the story before, once from a charity softball game that Nowitzki was also participating in. Barkley said at the time that after the exhibition game, he called Nike to tell them about Nowitzki and told them that he would give Nowitzki anything he wanted to go to Auburn.
“He would have did good at Auburn … In the SEC, dude, we make sure you’re well taken care of,” Barkley joked at the game.
Nowitzki played professionally in Germany and went directly to the NBA instead of choosing an American college. He later told Dan Patrick that he was afraid an American school would try to make him a more traditional, back-to-the-basket big man.
Now 40 years old and in what many people believe will be his last season, Nowitzki is an NBA legend himself, revered by all.
“When he got 50 on us, a bunch of NBA players, at 18 years old, I knew he was the real deal,” Barkley said on Thursday. “He’s the greatest foreign basketball player ever. It’s been an honor and privilege to play against him, and he’s just a great person too. He’s just a great person. Nobody’s gonna say a bad word about Dirk Nowitzki.”