Pete Sampras seemingly has little in common with Dirk Nowitzki.
But at about the time Sampras began carving out a legacy as one of the greatest tennis players of all time in the early 1990s, Nowitzki was winning junior tennis tournaments in his native Germany.
Nowitzki eventually switched to basketball and won his first NBA title Sunday night with the Dallas Mavericks. Sampras, a Los Angeles resident who can often be seen at Staples Center watching the Lakers, said he appreciated something else about the way Nowitzki finally won his ring.
"You know, I just like to see good basketball," Sampras said in a phone interview. "I don't have any preference for one team over another. You're just happy for Nowitzki. He's sort of a humble guy, and obviously he's a great player. It was a welcome result. Nothing against Miami, I was just happy for Nowitzki."
The word that stands out is "humble." It's a fitting adjective to describe Sampras as well, throughout his professional career that included a then-record 14 Grand Slam singles titles. But the word that would go through opponents' minds when Sampras unleashed a 140-plus mile-per-hour serve at them, that was probably more of the four-letter variety.