By Argyris Argyroudis
Growing up in Wurzburg -not a very well-known sports town in Germany- presumably nobody expected Dirk Nowitzki to become a future NBA Hall of Famer. He joined the NBA community in 1998 after being selected with the 9th pick by Milwaukee and then traded to Dallas, where he would set the foundations for his future success. On January 5, 2015, Nowitzki became the 7th highest all-time NBA scorer. The achievements of the German international player evoke comparisons to other European basketball stars like Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and Arvydas Sabonis.
At the age of 16 he joined the local basketball team, DJK Wurzburg. Due to the fact Dirk was very tall, his coaches used to play him as a centre in the early stages of his youth basketball career. Mentored by Holger Geschwidner (a national team player), he later improved his shooting and passing game significantly, becoming one of the best players in Germany. Very soon he would be added in the starting line-up of his team and he would lead them to unparalleled winning records -sending his team from the 2nd to the 1st division- averaging 28.2 points per game in his final year with Wurzburg.
In the 1998 NBA Draft, the Bucks selected Dirk Nowitzki, but they seemed to have no interest in him. However, the Mavericks were keen on acquiring the European power forward. After trade deals, both Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash landed in Dallas. Jumping from Division II in the Bundesliga to the NBA league was an extremely difficult start for the German international. A few fans called him “Irk Nowitzki”, omitting the “D” due to his poor Defensive performance, while the player even considered moving back to his homeland.
Proving he has the guts to be an NBA player, Nowitzki did not quit whatsoever. He developed himself quickly, averaging 21.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game in his 3rd year in the NBA whilst starting every game that season (source: ESPN). Even though the Mavericks lost against the Heat in the 2006 NBA finals, Dirk came back stronger next season becoming the MVP of the league, averaging 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game in the regular season. In the 2011 NBA finals, the Mavs faced the Miami Heat again, when both Lebron James and Chris Bosh were playing for the latter. This time it was Dirk Nowitzki’s opportunity to shine. Miami took an early lead in the series (2-1), but the German power forward hit the winning basket in Game 4 to tie the series notwithstanding the fact that he was ill (reviving the moments of what legendary Michael Jordan did back in Game 5 of the 1997 finals against Utah Jazz). He eventually led the Mavericks till the end -winning the championship that season- and he was named the Finals MVP.
Dirk proved himself at an international level playing for the German national basketball team as well. He led the German team in the 2002 Basketball World Cup held in Indianapolis, U.S., getting the bronze medal and he was nominated as the tournament’s MVP (being the highest scorer). He is also seen as the main contributing factor for Germany’s success in the 2005 European Championship, when they got the silver medal and Nowitzki was elected as the MVP of the tournament once again.
Many other European basketballers have managed to stand out the last few decades. Two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol is known for his ability to score through a number of different ways and defend efficiently. Tony Parker (a four-time NBA champion) is very successful as a point guard for his layups and the unpredictability surrounding his shooting. Toni Kukoc won three NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan at the late 90s. Arvydas Sabonis -named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011- was considered to be Europe’s breakthrough player in the late 80s, leading the national basketball teams of U.S.S.R. and Lithuania to many titles. Croatian Drazen Petrovic was an incredible shooter (arguably one of the best in basketball history) and was also named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
Nonetheless, Nowitzki has made his mark as the only European basketball player who has ever scored more than 28,000 points in the NBA. The Dallas Mavericks all-time leading scorer has been widely recognised by many as one of the best European players (if not the best) to ever play the sport. It is worth-mentioning that he has been awarded the “Euroscar player of the year” title 6 times (the maximum number of times the title has been awarded to a basketball player), the “Eurobasket’s all-Europeans player of the year” title 5 times, and he was the “German sports personality of the year” in 2011.
Well-known and respected players acknowledge Nowitzki’s achievements and his contributions, arguing that he will never be forgotten (even after his retirement). He mastered a few moves which many tried to follow, including last year’s MVP Kevin Durant who admitted he has tried to copy some of Nowitzki’s moves. “The King” Lebron James said once that Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged fadeaway jumpshot has been the second most unstoppable basketball move ever, behind Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s deadly sky hook shot. His name will appear on the list of NBA all-time leading scorers for many years to come and he will always be known as one of Germany’s brightest sports personalities.