Achieving Dallas sports mononym status—the ranks of Emmitt, Troy, Pudge and Modano—is no small feat. But Dirk (Nowitzki—not that we needed to specify) is no doubt in that category. He played his entire 21-year NBA career as a Dallas Maverick and become the highest–scoring foreign-born player in league history.
You probably picture Dirk on the court. But these days, according to his wife Jessica, you’re likely to find him in the school car line. “Before lockdown, to be honest, I can count on one hand how many times I took the kids to school in the morning. He’s been so awesome. He loves carpooling.”
Before retiring from basketball, Dirk was obviously often on the road. But Jessica didn’t mind being the primary at-home parent. In fact, she said it helped her come into her own as a mom. “The kids were staggered [in ages] to a point where I was always home nursing, or home with someone who wasn’t in school. To me, it was kind of nice, because I hibernated and really found my way as a mother.”
She’s thoughtful, but quick with a joke too. “Of course, he comes home from a road trip and they don’t even know who I am. I’m the one doing everything wrong.” It doesn’t take long chatting with her to realize she’s actually doing everything right.
You are president of the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation. Can you tell us about a foundation partnership? We commit annual grants to a number of amazing organizations throughout the Metroplex. A lot of times, we try to find programs that are very grassroots and build that up from start to finish. We have programs like the Dallas Tennis Association. Now, they’ve renamed the team to Team Nowitzki because we helped a lot of underprivileged children.
They’re high school students, and they get an opportunity to play tennis. They get gear. They get funding for tournaments and those kinds of things, but they have to pass all of their schoolwork, any projects or tests that they have. So far, they have a 100% graduation rate.
What projects have you been passionate about during COVID-19? Luckily as a foundation, we are able to move quickly and offer funding to organizations helping to meet some of the immediate needs of our community [through] North Texas Food Bank, Hope Supply and CitySquare, just to name a few.
Your kids are young—how have you talked to them about the pandemic? You know, we’ve talked about it, and I think our daughter is probably the only one that really understands it. We’ve used very basic explanations as to what’s going on. We found some really interesting comics online, and NPR did a great illustration about the virus that we showed them.
This is, obviously, a very historical time, but I think they’re still so young that I don’t want to overload them too much with information. We don’t really watch the news here. I mean, my husband and I have the paper coming to the house, and so we read the papers and we read what’s online. But we sort of keep it to ourselves and discuss that amongst us. We never turn on the news for the kids. I think at this age it’s a little bit too overwhelming and graphic for them.
What has family life been like during social distancing? We really try to embrace this time and make it fun for them. Of course, they ask about their friends, and so I say, “Well, let’s call. Let’s FaceTime them. Let’s do a meeting, a conference call”—which we do anyway every weekend, because we call home to our families in Europe. Because everyone lives on the other side of the world, they’re used to that digital sort of interaction.
Then we just kind of come up with fun activities at home, throughout the house, and we go outside. They help cook. You obviously have to try and keep them busy, but it does get challenging sometimes when you get tricky questions from your 6-year-old.
How did you and Dirk meet? We met at a charity event. This was 2010, and I was on the committee for this event. It was during NBA All–Star Weekend, and a good friend of mine was working on SEED Project, which is a sports and educational program in Senegal. His friend founded it, and so I was on the committee.
We had put on an event, and Dirk was one of the guests. My boss at the time, Kenny Goss, knew Dirk from way back in the days when Dirk and Steve Nash used to come to the gallery. We got introduced, and from then on, we just started communicating. That was how we first met.
Has your family dynamic changed since Dirk retired? When he was playing basketball, I was happy enough to let him do his thing—because, obviously, his career is not forever and [I wanted] him to really enjoy those last couple years that he had playing, and not have the distraction of getting up at night and feeding a baby or tending to the kids and being stressed out about being up early in the morning. We really have had that understanding and it’s worked out well.
With him being home more, it’s been great. It’s just nice to have a second parent around to back you up and to keep that balance. Mom’s not always the bad guy. It’s nice to bounce off ideas with someone who understands and sees things on a daily basis that are hard sometimes to explain. He loves it. The kids were so young [before he retired] that I don’t think they really understood that he wasn’t around much. He’s been lucky in that sense.
I think they’re now understanding that Dad’s always home and Dad’s here to help. It’s been really nice. He’s enthusiastic and he’s excited to be home with them.
Have your multicultural backgrounds impacted the way that you parent? We speak three languages in the house. I speak Swedish with the children, and Dirk speaks German for the most part. They all went through the German International School. We try to engage them, obviously, in most of our travels. They’re always with us, and so we try to keep a very wide view of things and lay out all sorts of scenarios.
We make sure they have books with a variety of ethnicities, and we listen to world music. We listen to Afro beats. We listen to German music. We listen to Swedish music. We try to just really incorporate our heritage in raising the kids, and sometimes, I’m sure it can get confusing for them. One of our kids took a little while before he started speaking completely clear, where you could understand him, because I think he was sort of processing all these words and all these languages and everything he hears at home. But then one day it just came, and he’s fine.
I think the younger you start them, the better, and that’s kind of our thing. We just want to like get them emerged into our culture and heritage, and same with foods. We make sure to introduce them to everything: African food, European food, Indian food, Thai and Chinese. We grew up in very multicultural communities, and we want to make sure that our kids get a part of that, too.
What life lesson do you most want to impart to your children? I try to always teach my kids to be kind to everyone and just understand that we’re all the same. My mother is Kenyan and my dad’s Swedish. We came from this world of 10 siblings and kind of a wild African, crazy family—you know, we have to help out at home.
You start there, even when you’re young, and you help with daily chores. Everyone’s treated the same, and there’s no talking back to the adults. There’s no questioning what the adults are telling you to do. And then you have the Swedish side, which is a little more liberal and laid–back—so I kind of grew up with more of that. I started off parenting saying, “This is it; this is what we’re going to do. There’s no question asked.”
But then, as you become a parent and you notice that your kids all have different personalities, you cannot speak to each kid the same way. You really have to alter your way of talking and telling them what to do, or your tone of voice. It was a challenge. It still is a challenge. I think parenting’s challenging throughout, but I think it’s just been a learning experience for me. And it’s an exciting one. It’s fun. It gets frustrating sometimes.
You’ve got to have a lot of patience, but you really learn how kids become individuals early. You have to really adapt to them because they’re all different.
Lives in Dallas
Hails from “My dad’s Swedish. My mother’s from Kenya. I was born in Sweden and raised between Sweden and Kenya.”
Significant other Dirk Nowitzki, retired Dallas Mavericks player
Children Malaika, 6, Max, 5, and Morris, 3
Current career President of the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation
Previous job Associate director of the Goss-Michael Foundation Art Gallery
Dream job as a child Flight attendant
Photo courtesy of Misty Keasler.