A Good Wag is Hard to Find

I came across an interesting article on ESPN.com a while ago about Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki, who had just placed himself on the injured list. The emotionally injured list. His fiancé, Cristal Taylor, broke off their engagement two months before the nuptials.

What a bummer for poor Dirk, but it turned out to be for the best: last year the woman was arrested for violating the terms of her probation. Why? She was indicted in ‘06 for neglecting to pay her dental bills. Damn. She must have eaten more candy than Lamar Odom. Or went to Jacob the Jeweler and put a bill in her mouth like she was Hillary Rodham. Either way, she was not a great catch, and I had to wonder where Dirk ever found her.

This is where it gets interesting. Allegedly, Ms. Taylor dialed Dirk’s number by accident one serendipitous day in 2005. They talked on and off via text and email for the next three years. Finally, they met, and soon after, they were engaged. This reminds me a little bit of the ‘Donna Chang’ episode ofSeinfeld. Jerry’s phone lines get crossed, and he ends up speaking to a woman who is smart, funny, and seemingly Chinese. She quotes Confucius, gets acupuncture, and has the last name ‘Chang’. Needless to say, Jerry is pretty surprised to find out that she is blandly white. Her not being Chinese—–despite her Chinese-sounding everything—becomes a deal breaker, and it doesn’t work out. Even if the specifics were a little different, the circumstances were similar, and the same valuable lesson can be taken away from both: don’t trust someone you met randomly over the phone.

For all Dirk knows, the original accidental call could have been made from a pay phone in the can. This woman may have been in lockup until the day before they met for the first time. And who knows what her motives were. It’s possible she had never heard of Dirk Nowitzki before speaking to him, but whether he told her himself or she did some investigating, I’m sure it was only a matter of time before she found out exactly who he was and, more importantly, what he was: rich.

Now I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger. But she ain’t messin’ with no broke Germans. She was in debt and Dirk had money. Makes sense.

But why not meet over the course of those three years? Perhaps she was thinking long-term? Establish a friendship. Talk regularly. Gain his trust. Find out his secrets. Very Catherine-Zeta-Jones-in-Intolerable Crueltyof her. Perhaps she’s a little smarter than I thought. Keep up the act until he proposes, get married sans pre-nup, and then make off with the cash for more dental debauchery. How dastardly.

Or maybe, just maybe, they actually had a real connection and she didn’t have an evil agenda. Dirk seems like a nice guy, so I hope for his sake this is true. But after his fiancé’s May arrest and after hearing of all of her priors, Nowitzki would’ve been a fool not to give her das boot. When you’re as rich and famous as a star athlete, you’ve got to take the precautions necessary to protect your assets. And at the top of that list is to stay away from convicted lady felons trying to whisper sweet nothings through the phone into your ear.

So since living and loving on a reckless whim like us normal folks is out of the question, where and how should a male pro athlete meet women? Let’s start with where and how they shouldn’t. Internet chat rooms or dating services are a bad idea, because like phone relationships, they leave many essential questions unanswered. For instance, what do you look like? How do I know you’re not a man? Or old as hell? Or a paraplegic? You don’t.

When a team is on the road, trying to meet a nice young lady at the hotel bar isn’t too smart either. These women know who you are. They’ve been checking the schedule. They’ve been expecting you. Some of them follow a single team from city to city. I didn’t believe these women existed until I discovered that one of my high school history teachers was one of them (true story). These women are either seductive gold diggers or creepily obsessed with the players. Both are bad news.

For athletes seeking real relationships, hooking up with a huge fan is probably worse than it sounds. They already love you unconditionally, so there’s no sense of accomplishment when you do get with her. I’m assuming that type of affair is not very rewarding and overwhelmingly one-sided. What if a woman loves sports, but isn’t necessarily a big fan of yours? This could work, but she would probably bust your balls about your performance on the field/court/ice/whatever. Imagine that kind of nagging: “Your OPS is too low.” “You had 15 drops last season!” No chance.

How about the opposite: a woman who hates sports? This would eliminate any unnecessary amount of worship. However, she’d probably call you an arrogant bastard who contributes nothing to society and needs to get a real job. A lot of athletes like ‘em fiery (Andre Rison anybody?), but that’s just hurtful.

The list of eligible candidates is rapidly shrinking. They can’t like sports too much or too little. They can’t be in awe of you, but they certainly can’t despise you. Maybe the smartest thing for a pro to do is to take a page out of the everyman’s book and try for a student. Not only has the school basically screened every girl there—so your chances of hooking up with a con artist or a crazy person are significantly lower (though the risk is still there)—there’s also plenty of classroom small talk to break the ice. You learn a few fun facts here and there, so you don’t always have to start off with a googled one-liner.

So what would be a pro athlete’s equivalent of a classmate? A female pro athlete. Psych! That would be the worst. We’ve all heard about the 70-some cents women make to every dollar men make. But in the world of pro sports, I would be surprised if a woman made a dime for every buck a man makes. Take married hoopsters Candace Parker and Sheldon Williams. Parker is more popular, more successful, and could probably beat Sheldon in one on one (either with that sweet J of hers or by shooting him the ‘if you beat me you’re sleeping on the couch’ look). But her salary still doesn’t even approach that of a guy who gets less playing time than Brian Scalabrine. Damn. I’d never let Sheldon hear the end of it if I was her. The only reason she doesn’t is because that man is so ugly that he’s gotta be getting it from all angles already. So no, male and female pro athletes don’t mix.

What I would suggest for a star athlete is someone he meets in the workplace. Maybe someone who works on the grounds crew, who sees the players every day and never gets starstruck. Or maybe someone who works in the clubhouse or the locker room. They know what kind of shampoo you use and what you take in your coffee, and they know you’re human because they know how bad your dirty laundry smells. Even a cheerleader or dancer would be good. Just ask Dwight Howard, who married an Orlando Magic dancer (but then made her quit since “Thou had best shake that ass at halftime” isn’t one of the Ten Commandments). There’s plenty of opportunities for casual chit-chat, you’d see each other often, you might even have the same health insurance.

I’m just throwing out ideas, and maybe the superstar lifestyle really is better suited for a model or a pop star or an actress, but I’ve heard of too many of those unions failing. So think twice about that one, athletes. And don’t meet women online, lest you become the next Dirk Nowitzki. And if you normal folks don’t have the time to go cruise for chicks at the farmers’ market or the pumpkin patch, try your own arena. You may be surprised.

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