The Dallas Mavericks joined the NBA as an expansion club for the 1980-81 season and their early success in the draft led to quick improvements on the court. Donald Carter and Norm Sonju got the ball rolling for the NBA’s first foray into Dallas (the city had housed an ABA team from 1967-73) in 1979 and during the expansion draft, the team bypassed aging stars in favor of younger players.
Instead of taking Earl Monroe, Rick Barry, Doug Collins, Pete Maravich or Spencer Haywood—all of whom were unprotected in the May 28, 1980, draft—the Mavericks, who still didn’t have a coach at this point, selected players such as Winford Boynes from the New Jersey Nets and Jim Spanarkel of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The franchise’s first draft choice, Kiki Vandeweghe of UCLA, never suited up for the team. Instead, Vandeweghe held out and was eventually traded to the Denver Nuggets. But the 1981 draft would bring two franchise cornerstones to Big D in Mark Aguirre (No. 1 overall) and Rolando Blackman (No. 9 overall) and the team would make the playoffs for the first time in just its fourth season, 1983-84.
The Mavericks have made the postseason in 18 of their 33 seasons in the NBA and just this year had a streak of 12 straight playoff berths snapped. Dallas won its only title in 2011 and made the Finals one other time in 2006. Coincidentally, the team played the Miami Heat in each of its trips to the NBA Finals.
So who are the best players by position in the history of the Dallas Mavericks?
NOTE: Only players with at least 250 games with the franchise are considered for this list.
Small Forward: Michael Finley (1996-2005)
Michael Finley came to the Mavericks from the Phoenix Suns along with Sam Cassell, A.C. Green and a second-round pick in 1998 in exchange for Jason Kidd, Tony Dumas and Loren Meyer the day after Christmas in 1996.
It turned out to be a pretty good deal for the Mavs.
Finley went on to play almost nine seasons in Dallas, earning a pair of All-Star nods in 2000 and 2001. He is fifth on the franchise’s scoring list with 12,389 points and no player in Mavericks’ history averaged more than the 39.7 minutes per game Finley logged for the club. He is also fourth in team history with 748 steals, fifth with 3,245 rebounds and 626 games played and eighth with 2,393 assists.
His 19.8 points per game scoring average as a Maverick ranks fourth in club annals and his 17.7 player efficiency rating (PER) is sixth-best in team history.
Finley left the Mavericks in after the 2004-05 season when he signed with the San Antonio Spurs as a free agent. Here is a retrospective on Finley’s career as a Dallas Maverick:
Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki (1998-present)
Few trades in the history of the NBA have turned out to be as lopsided as the one that brought Dirk Nowitzki to the Dallas Mavericks. On draft night in 1998, the Mavericks had taken Michigan star Robert Traylor with the sixth overall pick. A little bit later, the Milwaukee Bucks selected a 7-foot German named Dirk Nowitzki with the ninth overall selection. Later, Milwaukee packaged Nowitzki and Pat Garrity and sent them to the Mavericks for Traylor.
All Nowitzki has done is become the best player in the history of the Dallas Mavericks’ franchise. He’s played in 10 All-Star Games, was the Most Valuable Player when the Mavs won a franchise-record 65 games in 2006-07 and was MVP of the NBA Finals when Dallas finally captured its first title in 2011.
He’s been named to the All-NBA team 12 times, including four first-team nods and is the franchise’s all-time leader in games (1,108), 3-point field goals (1,340), rebounds (9,096) and points (25,051). His 87.7 free-throw percentage is third in club history and his 22.6 points per game ranks second for the Mavs. With a career PER of 23.5 over his 15 seasons, Nowitzki is ranked No. 1 in Dallas history.
Nowitzki has established a reputation for his buzzer-beating heroics and some of his game-winners are featured here:
Center: James Donaldson (1985-92)
James Donaldson became a Dallas Maverick in November 1985, when he was traded by the Los Angeles Clippers for Kurt Nimphius. The imposing 7’2”, 275-pound Donaldson would become a key component of a Dallas team that challenged the Los Angeles Lakers for Western Conference supremacy for the remainder of the 1980s.
Donaldson was an efficient rebounder and shot blocker and never strayed far from his comfort level as a shooter. He was an effective low-post scorer who always finished among the league’s leaders in shooting percentage.
Donaldson averaged only 8.8 points per game over his time with the Mavericks, but made his lone All-Star appearance representing Dallas in 1988 and led the NBA with an offensive rating of 132.1 in 1986-87. But on teams featuring Mark Aguirre and Rolando Blackman, Donaldson wasn’t the first scoring option.
Donaldson ranks second in Dallas history with 4,589 rebounds and third with 615 blocks. His 55.1 field-goal percentage is second in franchise history, as is his 9.5 rebounds per game average.
Donaldson left the Mavericks in February 1992, when he was traded to the New York Knicks for Brian Quinnett.
Donaldson was always about more than basketball. He recently ran for mayor of Seattle and his off-court interests were featured in a 1990 halftime show on CBS.
Shooting Guard: Rolando Blackman (1981-92)
Rolando Blackman was the second of two top-10 picks in the 1981 NBA Draft who helped shape the early years of the Dallas franchise. After the Mavericks took Mark Aguirre with the top overall pick, Dallas selected the Kansas State All-American ninth overall and he didn’t disappoint.
Blackman went on to play in four All-Star Games and was a key cog for the Mavericks for more than a decade.
He averaged 19.2 points a game over his 11 seasons in Big D and shot 49.7 percent, a very high figure for a guard. Blackman is second in team history with 16,643 points and sixth with 19.2 points per game. He’s also fourth in games (865), fifth in field-goal percentage (49.7 percent), sixth in assists (2,748) and minutes per game (34.3), seventh in steals (668), eighth in rebounds (3,083) and ninth in PER (17.2).
Blackman was traded to the New York Knicks in June 1992 in exchange for a first-round pick in 1995. Perhaps his biggest game was a 43-point explosion against the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1985 playoffs, shown here.
Point Guard: Derek Harper (1983-94, 1996-97)
Derek Harper was the 11th overall pick in the 1983 NBA Draft out of Illinois and within three seasons had supplanted original Maverick Brad Davis as the team’s point guard.
Harper was never a star, but he was a dogged backcourt defender and an able facilitator for the high-powered Dallas attack of the 1980s. Harper never made an All-Star appearance, but averaged 14.4 points and 5.9 assists per game in two stints with the Mavericks.
He is the franchise’s all-time leader in assists (5,111) and steals (1,551). He is third all-time with 872 games and fourth with 12,597 points. His career PER of 17.0 is 10th in team history.
Harper was—like Donaldson and Blackman—traded to the New York Knicks in January 1994 for Tony Campbell and a first-round pick in 1997. He returned to the Mavericks in July 1996 as a free agent and was traded to the Orlando Magic with Ed O’Bannon in September 1997 for Dennis Scott and cash.
Here are some of Harper’s highlights with the Mavericks: