On a cool, crisp night in the Sahara Desert, miles from civilization, Dwight Powell heard footsteps.
Not human footsteps. Might have been a jackal or a hedgehog. And even though the fourth-year Mavericks player is 6-11 and powerfully built, he was in no hurry to find out what critters might be scurrying about. Better to curl up in the sleeping bag and just assume that if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. But it definitely got his attention as he slept under the stars not far from the Faiyum Oasis southwest of Cairo.
“It was horrifying,” Powell said. “Obviously, it’s pitch black and you know there’s nothing but straight desert for miles all around you. And you hear these footsteps moving around. There’s like foxes and scorpions and all sorts of things. But they didn’t mess with us. They just took our food and left.”
Well, that sounds like they messed with you, Dwight.
Powell, born in Toronto and schooled at Stanford, is not your typical NBA player. While basketball often takes them to exotic places, most NBA players don’t go to Egypt for pleasure.
But where Powell grew up, living with people of different nationalities, personalities and ideologies was an accepted part of life. He was from the inner city, like a lot of NBA players. But inner-city Toronto is different from urban areas in the U.S. Street smarts are a little different there.
“I’ve always enjoyed people from different walks of life,” he said. “Growing up in Toronto, it’s like growing up in the United Nations. I got a great chance to be drowned in different cultures and different societies. So coming to the U.S. and playing in a league where people come from all walks of life, it’s the same thing. For me, whether we’re having a conversation about C++ computer programs or dribble pull-ups, it’s always interesting to hear the way people form their thoughts and communicate. I take something away from everything that happens in the locker room. I enjoy what people have to say.”
Powell, who is entering the second season of a four-year, $37 million contract, has been a positive influence in the Mavericks’ locker room. He’s going to be entering an important season next month when training camp opens. He figures to get more playing time at both power forward and center this season.
Plus, his job provides him with a great melting pot of friends, just as growing up in Toronto did.
“Along with being a great competitor, Dwight also has a cultural and intellectual curiosity that has taken him many interesting places,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s an interesting guy to talk to.”
Because of basketball commitments, Powell put off his dream vacation to Egypt. There was always a next summer. Then something would always come up and he’d postpone it again.
This summer, he went. And it was as eye-opening as an experience can be. One of his best friends growing up was Omar Nazmi, whose parents are from Egypt. A Pakastani friend lived not far away, and they all stayed close as they grew up.
Powell said a couple of things stood out about the journey to Cairo and beyond.