Veteran Willis May Find A Way With Mavericks

By Eddie Sefko
Updated: March 30, 2007

DALLAS — When he “retired” after the 2004-05 NBA season, Kevin Willis never filed the formal papers with the league.

He figured there was a chance his departure might not be permanent.

“My brother kept saying it was over,” Willis said Thursday after a workout with the Mavericks. “But I kept telling him something might happen.”

Something finally has – Willis may become a Maverick soon.

Willis went through the second of two workouts with the Mavericks Friday to determine if the club wants to sign him as a third center for the playoffs.

Willis worked out for more than an hour Thursday and emerged with a good sweat and positive feeling about the chances of a 44-year-old being able to contribute to a championship team.

“I haven’t played,” Willis said, “but if I get a couple pints of oxygen, I’ll be all right.”

Actually, the 7-footer was one of the fittest players in the NBA for his two-decade career. He was a key reserve on San Antonio’s championship team in 2003 and envisions a similar role with the Mavericks if he signs.

“Very similar,” he said. “I just don’t anticipate playing as much as I did in San Antonio. But a lot of things that I brought to that locker room and that team, I expect to do here, if I’m here.”

If Willis signs with the Mavs, he will become the oldest active player in NBA history at 44. Robert Parish ended his career at 43.

Avery Johnson watched the workout Thursday, which was conducted mostly by Popeye Jones.

Johnson said there is a good chance Willis will be a Maverick in the next few days.

“I’d say it’s 50-50, but he had a really good workout,” Johnson said. “We’ll see what happens.”

President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson added: “Right now, he’s the best candidate available. He’s obviously in great shape, although it would take him some time to get in basketball shape.”

Willis has spent the last year and a half relaxing at his home in Atlanta and running his clothing business, Willis & Walker, which deals in high-end sports clothes, mostly denim.

He sells a lot of jeans to big and tall shops, and many NBA players wear his gear.

A chance meeting with Mark Cuban in Las Vegas at All-Star weekend was the genesis of Willis getting an audition with the Mavericks.

“I ran into Mark at All-Star weekend and had a few words,” Willis said. “The next thing I know, I get a call from Rolando [Blackman], and it kind of went from there. I started doing some shooting and running just in case I got a call. And here I am.”

Willis’ conditioning is not in question. It will be the Mavericks’ call as to whether they believe he can be used for three to five minutes in an emergency situation if they get matched up against a big center in the playoffs like Yao Ming.

“I just got to get my timing back, get a few practices under my belt and get used to banging bodies again and get the conditioning up to about 110 percent, because these guys are on a mission,” Willis said.

“They’re taking it extremely serious, and I’m taking it serious. I don’t want to come in and be any kind of distraction. I just want to come in and enhance. Whatever I got to do to enhance it and make it better, I’m here to do that.”

Willis was a superior locker-room presence during his NBA career, particularly in San Antonio, where he played for then-Spurs assistant coach Joe Prunty, now an aide to Johnson.

“It’s in the real early stages right now,” Willis said of the flirtation with the Mavs. “Avery and I played together in Denver, so he knows me, and I know him. I know what he expects if I do come.”