LA JOLLA — The e-mails keep pouring in, letters from the fans he was forced to leave behind. While playing for the Dallas Mavericks, Chihuahua-born basketball player Eduardo Najera hustled his way into the hearts of a large fan base that stretched from Oklahoma (where he went to college) to Mexico City, where his games were broadcast on Spanish-language TV.
He was a clean-cut role model for Dallas-area kids with his tidy hair — which rarely moves during a game — his diving-for-loose-balls play on the court and his clean living off it.
Najera's standard evening involves playing with his daughter and hanging with his wife, who might rent a movie once in a while. Wild man!
For Mexican companies, he was an ideal spokesman, the first Mexican-born player to compete in the National Basketball Association and make a real impact on his team. (Horacio Llamas had a cup of coffee with the Phoenix Suns in the late 1990s.)
In the e-mails his fans sent, some said they're going to start following the Golden State Warriors, the team that traded for him this summer.
Sitting in a metal chair after practicing with his new mates in La Jolla on Thursday night, it sounded as if Najera didn't believe the words.
Who can blame him?
The Mavericks organization told him he was part of its long-term plans.
Those words proved false after the team dealt him to the Warriors to complete a trade for Erick Dampier, a 7-foot center who averaged a double-double last year.
Given the minutes, Najera could average a double-double as well, but at 6-foot-8, he can't drag Yao Ming or Shaq up and down the court all night.
There went the long-term plans.
When the Warriors worked a deal with the Mavericks last year, the team received Nick Van Exel, a key member of Dallas' 2002-03 playoff run.
Van Exel wasn't happy with the way the Mavericks cut him loose. He blasted team owner Mark Cuban, the dot.com billionaire-turned-Donald Trump wannabe because he didn't drop him a line before the trade.
Najera, the polar opposite of "Van Smack," hasn't received a call from Cuban, either, but he didn't blast his former team or his former owner for the move that sent him to the Bay Area. He understands the NBA is a business. He said his fans will understand, too.
"It wasn't like that at all (the Van Exel hubbub) ... I'm happy with the move, happy with the four years I spent over there. They treated me really well, really helped me out to grow as a player," he said.
He had hoped to team with Dirk Nowitski for a championship there, but now he's a member of the Warriors, a team that hasn't been to the playoffs in a decade.
With Golden State, Najera hopes to get minutes, time on the court he wasn't getting in Dallas.
After picking up 23 minutes per game in 2002-03, his playing time was cut last year to 12 minutes per game. A sore left knee and a deep Mavericks rotation made Najera the odd man out.
This year Najera will be competing with Mike Dunleavy and Calbert Cheaney for small forward minutes. New coach Mike Montgomery said Najera can play a little power forward even though that he's a bit undersized for the position.
Wherever he plays, Najera said he will bring the same intensity he brought to the Mavericks last year, the year before and every year he has played in the NBA. He said the lunch-pail work ethic that made him a favorite in Dallas is his playing style.
He expects that hustle and drive to bring him new fans in the East Bay, where the Oakland Athletics and Raiders have cultivated fanatical attachments with the community, but he hasn't gotten a chance to bond with the community yet.
After arriving in Oakland for media day, the team flew straight to the University of California San Diego for training camp.
Najera brought a four-year contract with him when he was traded to Golden State, but he doesn't necessarily expect to play for Golden State for four more years. When asked about his contract he specifically noted that it was for four years, but not exactly for four years with Golden State.
No one in Warriors management has come to him yet and told him he is part of the franchise's long-term plans, he said.
While that could be a good thing when compared to the Dallas situation— we love you! ... see you later — it seems to have turned Najera into a somewhat guarded player who is concentrating on that which he can control, his play on the court.
On Monday, the manager of the Foot Locker in Mesquite, Texas, said he hasn't received a shipment of Najera's new blue and gold jerseys yet. The manager of the Foot Locker in Richardson, Texas, said he's hoping to get some of the new jerseys in soon.
The fans told Najera they'd stick with him. The Mavericks said they'd stick with him, too. The Warriors haven't said anything yet.
From the sound of the manager in Richardson, it seems as if his Dallas-area fans will show the loyalty the Mavericks didn't. It seemed as if he had buyers looking for jerseys.
Over in Sacramento, Mike Bibby and the Kings checked out the new look Warriors lineup before Sunday's preseason game.
From the Sacramento Bee:
"I know (the Warriors) signed Derek Fisher and have Speedy Claxton," Jackson said. "I know about the guards. But I sure didn't know they got Dale."
Said Bibby: "They got (Eduardo) Najera, too?"
It looks like Mike Bibby and Dallas-area fans know what kind of player the Warriors got in Najera. Let's see if the Warriors figure it out and schedule a meeting one of these days.
If they don't and he leaves — see Tom Gugliotta, Antwan Jamison and Chris Webber — Najera will be one more good player to use the Warriors as a stepping stone to better days.
|Copyright © 2004 Imperial Valley Press.|