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Mark Kreidler: Dallas fans feel pain in Najera's exit to Warriors

By Mark Kreidler -- Bee Sports Columnist - (Published August 31, 2004)

Interesting story in the paper this summer: Beloved local NBA veteran ships out to another Western Conference city. The player is cherished perhaps more than actually needed, a nice way of saying the fans adore him even though his numbers are down. The local team has to make a tough decision, and after it does, it waits to discover what the long-term fallout may be.

Vlade Divac? Well, sure. But this exact scenario also just played out in Dallas, which, if nothing else, may reassure that grieving faction of Kings Nation that it is not alone.

Eduardo Najera wasn't much for the Mavericks last season, which makes the public pain over his trade to Golden State in the Erick Dampier deal so much more notable. Dallas fans loved Najera for his unswerving effort and his attitude even after those attributes had become much more prominent than his results.

Mavs GM Donnie Nelson, who said he tried to keep Najera out of the Dampier trade but was pressured by the Warriors, went so far as to call Najera "in some ways the heart and soul of this team." That's a familiar phrase; it was written and spoken about Divac maybe a billion times over the last six years.

This was the Vlade effect with a Southwestern twist. Najera, a Mexico native, has a huge following among Latino fans in Texas, but over the years his appeal crossed all boundaries. Mavs fans loved him because he gave everything he had even when it wasn't golden, which was the case often over the past two seasons while Najera battled back from a Chris Webber-type knee injury.

Like Divac, Najera was celebrated in Dallas in direct proportion to how often he was reviled on the road. Kings fans, among others, thought Najera a dirty player; opponents and fans in other cities often dismissed Divac as a theatrical flopper and an epic whiner. You see the parallel.

But, of course, we knew Vlade better, certainly well enough to love him for the myriad ways he made his team better. Dallas fans cultivated that kind of relationship with Najera, and it is remarkably difficult to imagine them falling for Erick Dampier in a similar way. Looks like it's the end of the affair - in two time zones.

•  Statistical note of the Olympics: Zero medals for the United States in diving. In the modern history of the Games, the platform and springboard tanks have been genuine gold mines for the country: 128 medals overall.

•  Fascinating to the point of sick: The Atlanta Braves. Done with Greg Maddux, done with Tom Glavine, watching Chipper Jones struggle along at .250, the Braves again put together the lowest team ERA and the fourth-highest batting average in the National League and make a mockery of their division. It's Bobby Cox at manager and Leo Mazzone at pitching coach, and, really, you may not need much else.

•  One reason Alex Rodriguez has just 78 RBIs despite batting in the middle of the Yankees' loaded lineup: a .215 average with runners in scoring position, one of the worst in the league among everyday players. That is unconscionable for a player of A-Rod's stature, and judging by his evident frustration when he fails in such situations, he knows it.

•  Tim Brown update: Not as sad as you'd think. Signed by Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, the lifetime Raider is in line to see a ton of playing time because of Keyshawn Johnson's dismissal, Joe Jurevicius' injury and Keenan McCardell's holdout. It's basically Joey Galloway, rookie Michael Clayton and Brown right now.

•  Sacramento kid Larry Bowa is purportedly in postseason job jeopardy in Philadelphia, but you wouldn't know it by the otherwise acidic Phillies fans, who by and large hold the players more responsible than Bowa for the team's swoon out of contention. The other problem: Philly is just .500 at home in its first year at Citizens Bank Ballpark, a pitcher's nightmare that is producing the eighth-highest scoring average in the majors - more than 10 runs per game.

•  Absolutely hilarious situation in Arizona, where Jeff Moorad takes over as chief executive of the Diamondbacks. Moorad spent the past two decades essentially ridiculing owners and blasting them for their shortcomings while gigging them for hundreds of millions of dollars as a player agent. Now he pulls on the other boot to run a franchise that has slid off the table competitively. Inspired but insane.

•  Larry Brown wanted to commiserate with his U.S. basketball players after they received bronze medals at the Olympics, but first he'd have to recognize them all. Just to be helpful, coach: That's Emeka Okafor down there at the end of the bench, doing absolutely nothing, waiting for the game minutes that he will never receive. Go say howdy.

•  Not that Tim Duncan wasn't thrilled with the officiating, but he said after the bronze-medal game that his international career likely is done. Asked if he was concerned that his experiences might keep even more U.S. players away from world and Olympic teams (and they're bailing out at top speed already), Duncan replied, "I hope not. I'll try not to share my experiences with anybody."

Other than that, hey, great visit to Greece.

About the Writer

Reach Mark Kreidler at (916) 321-1149 or Back columns:

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