Mavs From the Past: Eduardo Nájera

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Eduardo Nájera was born in Meoqui, Chihuahua, Mexico. He became the second Mexican-born player in NBA history and the first to be drafted into the league. In spite of not being a star in the NBA, his career spanned 11 years, and he became a mentor to the younger players on his team.

College Years

Nájera attended the University of Oklahoma for college. In his first year on the basketball team, the 6’ 8” forward played in all 30 games while getting the opportunity to start in 16 of them. He averaged 7.0 points per game (PPG), 5.6 rebounds per game (RPG), 1.1 assists per game (APG), 1.3 steals per game (SPG), and 0.6 blocks per game (BPG). OU went 9-7 in conference play, finished sixth in the Big 12, and qualified for the NCAA tournament. They entered the tournament as the 11th seed in the West Region but they were quickly eliminated in the first round by the sixth seed, Stanford University. The team finished the season with a winning record of 19-11.

Nájera got more time as a starter in his second year on the team and improved on his scoring. He started in 20 out of the 30 games that season. He averaged 10.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1,2 SPG, and 0.7 BPG. The team improved their standings in the conference in Nájera’s second year on the team as they went 11-5 in conference games, finished second in the conference, and again qualified for the NCAA tournament. This time around they entered the tournament as the 10th seed but were again promptly eliminated in the first round, this time by the seventh seed, Indiana University. The Sooners again finished the season with a winning record of 22-11.

By Nájera’s junior season he was a full-time starter for the team and took part in all 32 of the team’s games that season. He put up 15.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.8 SPG, and 0.8 BPG for the season. The team again went 11-5 in conference play, finished fourth in the conference, and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row. OU made it into the tournament as the 13th seed in the Midwest Region and made it all the way to the Sweet 16 before getting eliminated by the first seed, Michigan State University. The team finished the season with a winning record for the third consecutive year as they again went 22-11.

In Nájera’s senior year he started in all of the team’s 34 games and had the best statistical year in his basketball career. He averaged 18.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.7 SPG, and 0.7 BPG for the year. The team went 12-4 in conference games, finished third in the conference, and qualified for their fourth straight NCAA tournament. They entered the tournament as the third seed in the West Region and made it to the second round before getting eliminated by the sixth seed, Purdue University. Nájera led the team to their fourth winning season in a row as the Sooners went 27-7 for the season, their best record since Nájera joined OU.

Welcome to the NBA

Nájera was drafted 38th overall by the Houston Rockets in the 2000 NBA Draft. That same night he was traded from Houston to the Dallas Mavericks.

In Nájera’s first season with the Mavs, he came off the bench as a supporting role player, but he did get the opportunity to start in four out of his 40 games played that year. His first-year numbers weren’t eye-popping since he got limited playing time, but he did manage to average 3.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.7 APG, and 0.3 SPG for the season. The Mavericks finished the season 53-29 and clinched the fifth seed in the Western Conference. The team made it past the Jazz in five games before getting eliminated in the second round by their rivals, the San Antonio Spurs, in five games. Nájera took part in seven of the playoff games and averaged 3.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG, and 0.1 APG.

Nájera got to see more playing time in his second year with the team as he started in 11 out of 62 games. His stats improved as he averaged 6.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.6 APG, and 0.9 SPG for the year. The Mavericks finished as the fourth seed in the West with a 57-25 record. They again made it past the first round, having defeated the Timberwolves in a three-game sweep, but again fell in the second round, this time at the hands of the Sacramento Kings in five games. Nájera played in eight playoff games and started in half of them while averaging 4.6 PPG, 1.6 RPG, and 0.1 APG.

Knee injuries hampered his last two years on the Mavericks. In the 2002-03 season, he played in 48 games and started in a quarter of them. He put up 6.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.0 APG, and 0.8 SPG in the year. The Mavericks finished with their third consecutive winning season as they went 60-22 and clinched the third seed. In the first round of the playoffs, they beat the Portland Trailblazers in seven games. The second round was just as difficult to win as the series went to seven games again, the Mavs again pulled off the series victory, this time against the Kings. Dallas would reach the end of their playoff journey in the Western Conference Finals, where they lost in six games to the Spurs. Nájera played in all but one playoff game and started in five of them. He averaged 6.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.8 APG, and 0.7 SPG in the playoffs.

In his final year with the team, he participated in 58 games while starting in seven. His playing time and numbers took a big hit. His numbers for the season were 3.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.4 APG, and 0.6 SPG, less than half the points and assists from the year prior. The Mavericks went 52-30 for the season and clinched the fifth seed to advance to the playoffs. Their championship hopes were cut short, this time by the Kings, who eliminated them in five games. Nájera averaged 0.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG, and 0.4 SPG while playing very limited minutes in all five games.

Traveling Around the League

During the 2004 offseason, Nájera was traded to the Golden State Warriors. He spent half a season with the team. In the 42 games he played with the Warriors, he started four, and averaged 4.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG,  0.9 APG, and 0.4 SPG.

On February 24, 2005, Nájera was traded to the Denver Nuggets. He spent three and a half seasons with the Nuggets. In his time there he was mainly used as help off the bench. Nájera had his most productive seasons as part of the Nuggets as he put up 6.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.9 SPG, and 0.5 BPG in his time there. The team made the playoffs all four years he was there, but the furthest they never made it past the first round in all four attempts. His playoff average with the Nuggets was 2.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.7 APG, and 0.5 SPG.

During the 2008 offseason, Nájera signed as a free agent with the New Jersey Nets, a team he would be part of for one-and-a-half seasons. It was during his time on the Nets that he took on more of a veteran leadership role, mentoring the younger forwards and centers. He played in very limited games with the team, only appearing in 40 over the one and half seasons he was there. In his limited appearances he averaged 3.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.9 APG, and 0.5 SPG.

Return to Dallas

Halfway through the 2009-10 season, Nájera returned via trade to the first NBA team he played on, the Mavericks. In his return to the team, he started in three out of the 33 regular season games played with them. He averaged 3.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.4 APG, and 0.5 SPG in his half-season in Dallas. The Mavs finished off the season 55-27 and clinched the second seed in the West. They were quickly eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by their rivals, the Spurs, in six games. Nájera participated in five of the playoff games and put up 0.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG, and 0.4 SPG, all coming off the bench.

Final Years in the NBA

During the 2010 offseason, Nájera was traded from Dallas to the Charlotte Bobcats. He spent his final two seasons in the league as part of the Bobcats. He played in 53 games with the team, all coming off the bench, and averaged 2.4 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.6 APG, and 0.6 SPG. He was also part of the infamous 2011-12 Bobcats team that went 7-59, the worst NBA regular season record in history, a record that still stands ten years later. The 2011-12 NBA season would be his final one as a player.

Between his two stints with Dallas, he went from a rookie trying to establish himself in the league to a veteran who was willing to assist younger players in reaching their full potential. He averaged 4.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.6 APG, and 0.7 SPG during his four-and-a-half seasons with the Mavs.

Life After the NBA

After retiring as a player he became the head coach of the Mavericks’ D-League team, the Texas Legends. In his first year as coach the team went 21-29 and finished fifth in their Central Division. The following year the team went 24-26 and finished fourth in the division. In Nájera’s final season as the Legends’ head coach, the team went 22-28 and finished fourth in the Southwest Division. Before the start of the 2015-16 season, Nájera was relieved of his coaching duties.

Personal Life

Nájera graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a degree in sociology. That same year, he received the Chip Hilton Player of the Year Award, an award that the Basketball Hall of Fame gave to the male collegiate basketball player that demonstrated the best personal character.

The following year he served as the United Nations Drug Control Programme Goodwill Ambassador for the program Sports Against Drugs.

In 2004, he made his own foundation called the Eduardo Nájera Foundation for Latino Achievement. His foundation offers college scholarships to outstanding Latino students who need help to get their education.

In 2006, he received the Chopper Travaglini Award for his charity work in Denver.

Legacy

Nájera made history when he became the first Mexican-born player to be drafted into the NBA. Even though he wasn’t a star in the league, he was still a superstar and role model to many Hispanic children and international kids in general that have dreamed of becoming NBA players. No matter where he went, whether on the court or off the court, he always found a way to assist somebody in need. Despite not being one of the most memorable NBA players, his vibrant personality made him stand out in any locker room he occupied. Nájera’s legacy is built on the impact he had on younger players and on the children he influenced.



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