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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Who is Dirk Werner Nowitzki?

Who is Dirk Werner Nowitzki?  The professional basketball world knows him as Dirk Nowitzki, he is a German professional basketball player who plays for the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association (NBA). An alumnus of Röntgen Gymnasium and DJK Würzburg basketball club, Nowitzki was drafted ninth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1998 NBA Draft, and was immediately traded to the Mavericks, where he has played ever since. Standing at 7 ft 0 in (2.13 m), Nowitzki plays the power forward position but also has the mobility, size, and shooting ability to play the other frontcourt positions, center and small forward.
Nowitzki has led the Mavericks to eleven consecutive NBA Playoffs (2000–01 to 2010–11), including a Conference Finals appearance in 2003 and an NBA Finals appearance in 2006. He is a ten-time NBA All-Star and ten-time member of the All-NBA Teams, and is the first European-born player in NBA history to receive the NBA Most Valuable Player award.[1] He is the first Maverick ever to be voted into an All-NBA Team and also holds several all-time Mavericks franchise records.[2]
Nowitzki led the German national basketball team to a bronze medal in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and the silver medal in EuroBasket 2005, and was leading scorer and elected Most Valuable Player in both tournaments. Regarded as one of the best European players in basketball history, Nowitzki has been a seven time European Player of the Year, being named the Euroscar European Basketball Player of the Year by the Italian sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport for five years in a row, the Mister Europa European Player of the Year by the Italian sports magazine Superbasket in 2005, and the FIBA Europe Basketball Player of the Year the same year.[2]

 Early years

 Dirk was born June 19, 1978 in Würzburg, Germany, Nowitzki comes from an athletic family: his mother Helga was a professional basketball player and his father Jörg-Werner was a handball player who represented Germany at the highest international level.[3] His older sister Silke, a local champion in track and field, also became a basketball player and now works for the NBA in International TV.[2][4] Nowitzki was a very tall child; most of the time he stood above his peers by a foot or more.[3] He initially played handball and tennis, but soon grew tired of being called a "freak" for his height and eventually turned to basketball.[5] After joining the local DJK Würzburg, the 15-year-old attracted the attention of former German international basketball player Holger Geschwindner, who spotted his talent immediately and offered to coach him individually two to three times per week. After getting both the approval of Nowitzki and his parents, Geschwindner put his pupil through an unorthodox training scheme: he emphasized shooting and passing exercises, and shunned weight training and tactical drills, because he felt it was "unnecessary friction."[6] Furthermore, Geschwindner encouraged Nowitzki to play a musical instrument and read literature to make him a more complete personality.[6]
After a year, the coach was so impressed that he said to his pupil: "You must now decide whether you want to play against the best in the world or just stay a local hero in Germany. If you choose latter, we will stop training immediately, because nobody can prevent that anymore. But if you want to play against the best, we have to train on a daily basis." After pondering for two days, Nowitzki decided on the former. Geschwindner let him train seven days a week with DJK Würzburg players and future German internationals Robert Garrett, Marvin Willoughby and Demond Greene, and in the summer of 1994, the 16-year-old Nowitzki made the DJK squad.[7]

DJK Würzburg (1994–98)

When Nowitzki joined the team, DJK played in the Second Bundesliga, South Division. His first trainer was Pit Stahl, who played the tall teenager as an outside-scoring forward rather than an inside-scoring center to utilise his shooting skills.[8] In the 1994–95 Second Bundesliga season, ambitious DJK finished as a disappointing sixth of 12 teams; the rookie Nowitzki was often benched and struggled with bad school grades, which forced him to study rather than work on his game.[9] In the next 1995–96 Second Bundesliga season, Nowitzki established himself as a starter next to Finnish star forward Martti Kuisma and soon became a regular double-digit scorer: after German national basketball coach Dirk Bauermann saw him score 24 points in a DJK game, he stated that "Dirk Nowitzki is the greatest German basketball talent of the last 10, maybe 15 years." DJK finished second in the South Division, but could not earn promotion after losing 86–62 in the deciding match versus BG Ludwigsburg: in that game, Nowitzki scored only eight points.[10]
In the 1996–97 Second Bundesliga season, the team's top scorer Kuisma left the team, and Holger Geschwindner replaced Pit Stahl as head coach. Filling Kuisma's void, Nowitzki averaged 19.4 points per game and led DJK again to second place after the regular season, but could not help his team gain promotion.[11] In the following 1997–98 Second Bundesliga season, Nowitzki finished his "Abitur" (German A-levels), but had to do his compulsory military service in the Bundeswehr (German Military) which lasted from September 1, 1997 to June 30, 1998;[2] Nowitzki described this period as "a tough time at first, we had no privileges and had to participate in all the drills... later [after finishing the tough "Grundausbildung," the most intensive initial part of the service] it was much more relaxed."[12] Concerning basketball, the 18-year old, who had grown to 6 ft 11 in (2.11 m) tall, forward flourished further, leading DJK to a 36:4 point total (in Germany, a victory gives 2:0 points and a loss 0:2) and ending as leading scorer with 28.2 points per game. In the promotion playoffs, DJK finally broke its bane, finishing at first place with 14:2 points and earning promotion; Nowitzki scored 26 points in the deciding 95–88 win against Freiburg and was voted "German Basketballer of the Year" by the German BASKET magazine.[13]
Abroad, Nowitzki's progress did not go unnoticed. In 1996, FC Barcelona Bàsquet wanted to sign him, but Nowitzki refused to move before finishing his German A-levels.[14] A year later, the teenager participated in the Nike "Hoop Heroes Tour," where he played against NBA stars like Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen. In a 30-minute show match, Nowitzki outplayed Barkley and even dunked on him, causing the latter to exclaim: "The boy is a genius. If he wants to enter the NBA, he can call me."[15] On March 29, 1998, Nowitzki was chosen to play in the Nike Hoop Summit, one of the premier talent watches in U.S. men's basketball. In a match between the U.S. talents and the international talents, Nowitzki scored 33 points on 6-of-12 shooting, 14 rebounds and 3 steals for the internationals[2] and outplayed future US NBA stars Rashard Lewis and Al Harrington. He impressed with an array of quickness, ball handling, and shooting range, and from that moment on a multitude of European and NBA clubs wanted to recruit him.[16]

Dallas Mavericks (1998–present)

Difficult start (1998–99)

After leading DJK Würzburg to promotion and his Abitur and military service behind him, Nowitzki looked to the NBA for his future. Projected to be seventh pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, he passed up many college offers and leapt directly into the NBA as a then still rare prep-to-pro player.[17] In particular Rick Pitino and Don Nelson, head coaches of the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks respectively, were highly interested in acquiring him. After a 45-minute private workout with Pitino, where Nowitzki showcased his versatile shooting, rebounding and passing skills, the Boston coach immediately compared him to Celtics legend Larry Bird; Pitino assured Nowitzki that he would draft him with the Celtics' first-round draft pick at number ten.[18]
However, Pitino's plan was foiled by Nelson, whose team had the sixth pick. Nelson worked out draft day deals with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns: the Mavericks wanted Nowitzki and Suns reserve point guard Steve Nash; the Bucks desired muscular forward Robert Traylor, who was projected to be drafted before Nowitzki; and the Suns had set their sights on forward Pat Garrity, who was projected as a low first round pick. In the draft, the Mavericks drafted Traylor with their sixth pick, and the Bucks selected Nowitzki with their ninth and Garrity with their nineteenth pick. The Mavericks then traded Traylor to the Bucks for Nowitzki and Garrity, and they in return traded the latter to Phoenix for Nash.
In retrospect, Don Nelson had an outstanding trade instinct, essentially trading future career underachievers Traylor and Garrity for two future NBA MVPs, Nowitzki and Nash; in addition, both new recruits became best friends.[18] Nowitzki became only the fourth German player in NBA history, following pivots Uwe Blab and Christian Welp and All-Star swingman Detlef Schrempf, who was a 35-year old veteran player of the Portland Trail Blazers when his young compatriot arrived.[17] Nowitzki finished his DJK career as the only Würzburg player to have ever made the jump into the NBA.[19]
In Dallas, Nowitzki joined a franchise which had last made the playoffs in 1990. Shooting guard Michael Finley captained the squad, supported by 7-foot-6-inch (2.29 m) center Shawn Bradley, once a number two draft pick, and team scoring leader Cedric Ceballos, an ex-Laker forward. Nowitzki experienced a rocky start: prior to the 1998–99 NBA season, NBA commissioner David Stern wanted to introduce a salary cap, causing the NBA players' union to declare a strike, the combination putting the entire season in jeopardy. In limbo, Nowitzki returned to DJK Würzburg and played thirteen games before both sides worked out a late compromise that resulted in a shortened 1998–1999 schedule of only 50 instead of 82 regular season games.[20]
When the season finally started, Nowitzki struggled. Played as a power forward by coach Don Nelson, the lanky 20-year old felt overpowered by the more athletic NBA forwards, was intimidated by the expectations as a number nine pick, and played bad defense, causing hecklers to taunt him as "Irk Nowitzki," omitting the "D" which stands for "defense" in basketball slang.[21] He only averaged 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in 20.4 minutes of playing time.[22] Looking back, Nowitzki said: "I was so frustrated I even contemplated going back to Germany... [the jump from Second Bundesliga to the NBA] was like jumping out of an airplane hoping the parachute would somehow open." The Mavericks only won 19 of their 50 games and missed the playoffs,[23] although Nowitzki completed the season with eight double-digit scoring games out of the last twelve.[2]

Mark Cuban and the "Big Three" (1999–2004)

In the 1999–2000 NBA season, Don Nelson wanted to use Nowitzki as a point forward to make use of his passing skills.[24] One of the most important moves was made outside the hardwood: until then, the owner of the Mavericks was Ross Perot, Jr., who had bought the franchise for $125 million, but had no plans of investing in players and admitted he knew little of basketball.[25] On January 4, 2000, he sold the Mavericks to Internet billionaire Mark Cuban for $280 million. Cuban quickly invested into the Mavericks and restructured the franchise, attending every game at the sidelines, buying the team a $46 million six-star Boeing 757 for traveling, and increasing franchise revenues to over $100 million. Nowitzki lauded Cuban: "He created the perfect environment... we only have to go out and win."[26] As a result of Nelson's tutelage, Cuban's improvements and his own progress, Nowitzki significantly improved his averages. The sophomore now scored 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in 35.8 minutes,[22] had nine double-double games, and scored a career-high 32 points twice.[2] He was voted runner-up in the NBA Most Improved Player Award behind Jalen Rose, and made it into the NBA All-Star Sophomore squad along with peers Paul Pierce and Vince Carter.[2] In the traditional Rookie-Sophomore match, he scored 17 points, six rebounds and four assists in an overtime loss against the rookie team led by Steve Francis and Lamar Odom.[27] The 7-foot-0-inch (2.13 m) Nowitzki also was chosen for the NBA All-Star Three Point Shootout, becoming the tallest player ever to participate. After draining 15 three point shots in a row in the first shootout, he entered the final round, where he only was beaten by Jeff Hornacek.[27] While he improved on an individual level, the Mavericks missed the playoffs after a mediocre 40–42 season.[27]
In the following 2000–01 NBA season, Nowitzki further improved his averages, recording 21.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.[22] Now playing the power forward position, he became the second player in NBA history after Robert Horry to score 100 three-pointers and 100 blocks in the regular season by registering 151 and 101, respectively.[2] As a sign of his growing importance, he joined team captain Finley as only one of two Mavericks to play and start in all 82 games and had 10 games in which he scored at least 30 points.[2] Nowitzki became the first Maverick ever to be voted into the All-NBA squads, making the Third Team.[2] In addition, his best friend Nash became a valuable point guard, and with Finley scoring more than ever, pundits were calling this trio the "Big Three" of the Mavericks.
Posting a 53–29 record in the regular season,[28] the Mavericks reached the playoffs for the first time since 1990.[29] As the fifth seed, they were paired against the Utah Jazz of all-time assist leader John Stockton and second all-time leading scorer Karl Malone. After losing the first two games, Nowitzki scored 33 points in both games 3 and 4 and helped to tie the series.[30] In Game 5, the Mavericks trailed the entire game until Calvin Booth drained a jump shot which put them ahead 84–83 with 9.8 seconds to go. Jazz players Bryon Russell and Malone missed last-second shots and the Mavericks won, setting up a meeting with Texas rivals San Antonio Spurs of All-Star power forward Tim Duncan.[30] The Mavericks lost their first three games, and Nowitzki fell ill with flu and later lost a tooth after a collision with Spurs guard Terry Porter. After a Game 4 win, Nowitzki scored 42 points and 18 rebounds in Game 5, but could not prevent a deciding 105–87 loss.[31] While Sports Illustrated pointed out that the Mavericks shot badly during Game 5, Nowitzki was lauded for scoring his playoff career-high 42 points. The German said: "It's a disappointment to end the season on a blowout."[32]
Prior to the 2001–02 NBA season, Nowitzki signed a six-year, $90 million contract extension, which made him the second highest-paid German athlete after Formula One champion Michael Schumacher.[33] He continued to improve, now averaging 23.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, was voted into the All-NBA Second Team and into his first All-Star Game.[22] He also had 13 games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds, third behind Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan.[2] Powered by new recruit Nick Van Exel, who became a high-scoring sixth man, the Mavericks "Big Three" convincingly made the playoffs with a 57–25 record.[34]
The Mavericks swept Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2002 NBA Playoffs 3–0: Nowitzki outscored Garnett with 33.3 points per game versus 24.0.[35] In the second round, the Mavericks met the Sacramento Kings with rival power forward Chris Webber. After splitting the first two games, Kings coach Rick Adelman changed his defensive scheme: before, Webber had defended Nowitzki one-on-one, but now, the Kings coach ordered his smaller but quicker player Hedo Turkoglu to cover the German. Turkoglu should use his agility to play Nowitzki tightly, and if the taller Maverick tried to post up Turkoglu, Webber would double team Nowitzki.[36] In Game 3 in Dallas, the Mavericks lost 119–125; Nowitzki scored only 19 points and said: "I simply could not pass Turkoglu, and if I did, I ran into a double team and committed too many turnovers."[36] In Game 4, more frustration awaited the German: the Mavericks gave away a 14-point lead, although the entire Kings starting frontcourt of center Vlade Divac and power forward Chris Webber (both fouled out) and small forward Peja Stojakovic (injury) were eliminated in the closing stages of the game. Nowitzki missed two potentially game deciding jump shots, and the Mavericks lost 113–115 at home. In Game 5, the demoralised Texans were no match for the spirited Kings, lost 101–114 and were eliminated again.[37] Among others, nba.com remarked that the Kings defended better than the Mavericks:[38] in those five games, the statisticians counted 115 Sacramento layups against the Mavericks, meaning the Kings averaged 23 uncontested baskets (i.e. 46 easy points) per game.[39] However, Nowitzki received a consolation award: the Gazzetta dello Sport voted him as "European Basketballer of the Year," his 104 votes lifting him over second-placed Dejan Bodiroga (54) and Stojakovic (50).[40]
Before the 2002–03 NBA season, Don Nelson and Mark Cuban put more emphasis on defense in the training drills, specialising in a zone defense anchored by prolific shotblockers Raef LaFrentz and Shawn Bradley. The Mavericks won their first 11 games, and Finley, Nash and Nowitzki were voted "Western Conference Players of the Month" in November 2002.[41] In that season, Nowitzki lifted his averages again, now scoring 25.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.[22] In addition, the German had 41 double-double games, the seventh highest figure that season. By averaging 25.1 points (the highest by a white player since the 25.9 average of Chris Mullin in 1992–93), he became the first European to score 2,000 points in a season, and it was also the first time by a white player since Chris Mullin in 1991–92.[2] As a reward, he was voted into the All-Star game and the All-NBA Second Team again,[22] and was also runner-up in the "German Athlete of the Year" election, only losing to ski jumper Sven Hannawald.[42] He led the Mavericks to a franchise-high 60–22 record, which earned them the third seed: as a result, the Mavericks had to play sixth seed Portland Trail Blazers in the 2003 NBA Playoffs.[43] Now playing in a best-of-seven series instead of the former best-of-five, Dallas quickly won the first three games, but then the Mavericks completely lost their rhythm and lost the next three matches. In Game 7, Portland held the game close, but 90 seconds before the end, Nowitzki hit a clutch three point shot, and the game ended 107–95 for the Mavericks. "This was the most important basket of my career," he later said, "I was not prepared to go on vacation that early."[44] He later added in an ESPN interview: "We had to be more physical in the paint and rebound the ball. We worked hard all season to get the home-court advantage and we used that advantage today."[45]
In the next round, the Mavericks met the Kings again. After losing the first game at home with 113–124, Nowitzki (25 points) and veteran sixth man Van Exel (36) led Dallas to a spectacular 132–110 Game 2 win in which the Mavericks scored 83 points in the first half.[44] Helped by the fact that Kings star forward Chris Webber injured his meniscus, Nowitzki and Van Exel led the Mavericks to a 141–137 overtime win in Game 3, before dropping Game 4 with 83–99, where Nowitzki only scored 11 points and was ejected after angrily kicking over a load of towels.[44] After splitting the next two games, Nowitzki delivered a clutch performance in Game 7, scoring 30 points, grabbing 19 rebounds and playing strong defense, and led the Mavericks to a series-deciding 112–99 win.[44] ESPN lauded Nowitzki as "Big D," and after again winning a Game 7, the German added: "We've really learned how to close games out."[46]
In the Western Conference Finals, the Mavericks met the San Antonio Spurs of Tim Duncan again. In Game 1 in San Antonio, Nowitzki scored 38 points on Duncan and led his team to a 113–110 win. In Game 2, Duncan quickly put Nowitzki in foul trouble, and the Spurs equalised the series with a 132–110 win. In Game 3, fate struck as Nowitzki went up for a rebound and Spurs guard Manu Ginóbili collided with his knee, forcing him out of the series: without their top scorer, the Mavericks still fought valiantly and trailed 2–3, before Spurs guard Steve Kerr got hot from three-point range late in Game 6 to end the series.[47] Don Nelson later commented: "We were playing so well for so long and the bottom just dropped out... We went cold at the wrong time."[48] Nowitzki only took little consolation in the fact that he again was voted "European Basketballer of the Year"[47] and was named "Best European Basketballer" in a general survey of the NBA general managers.[2]
In the 2003–04 NBA season, Mark Cuban and Don Nelson decided to add more offensive wing players to their squad. As a result, the Mavericks acquired two All-Star forwards, namely Golden State Warriors All-Star forward Antawn Jamison (along with Danny Fortson, Jiri Welsch and Chris Mills, for Van Exel and role players) and Antoine Walker (Boston Celtics) who came for center Raef LaFrentz. Basketball experts were wary about latter trade, because it sent away the Mavericks starting center; they argued it left a hole in the middle that the aging, injury-prone backup pivot Shawn Bradley could not fill anymore.[49] Unable to trade for a new center, Don Nelson decided to start the prolific rebounder Nowitzki at pivot, put Walker on Nowitzki's usual power forward spot and played Jamison as a high-scoring sixth man.[50] To cope with his more physical role, Nowitzki put on 20 lb (9.1 kg) of muscle mass over summer, sacrificed part of his agility, and put more emphasis on defense rather than scoring:[51] as a result, his averages fell for the first time in his career, dropping to 21.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game,[22] but he was still the Mavericks leader in scoring, rebounding, steals (1.2 spg) and blocks (1.35 bpg).[2] These figures earned him nominations for the All-Star game and the All-NBA Third Team.[22] Compiling a 52–30 record, the Mavericks met their familiar rivals Sacramento Kings again, but were eliminated in just five games.[52]

Franchise player (2004–present)

Before the 2004–05 NBA season, the Mavericks were re-tooled again. Defensive center Erick Dampier was acquired from the Golden State Warriors, but Nowitzki's close friend Steve Nash left Dallas and returned to the Phoenix Suns as a free agent. During the season, long-time head coach Don Nelson resigned, and his assistant Avery Johnson took on coaching duties. In the midst of these changes, Nowitzki stepped up his game and averaged 26.1 points a game, a career-high, 9.7 rebounds, and his 1.5 blocks and 3.1 assists were also career numbers.[22] In addition, Nowitzki scored at least 10 points in every game and was only one of four players who registered at least 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. This was also his second 2,000 point season, his 26.1 points scoring average set a new record by a European player, and was the highest by a white player since Tom Chambers knocked in 27.2 per game in 1989–90.[2] On December 2, 2004, Nowitzki scored 53 points in an overtime win against the Houston Rockets, a career best.[2] As a reward, Nowitzki was voted to the All-NBA First Team for the first time.[22] He also placed third in the league's MVP voting, behind Nash and Shaquille O'Neal. By being elected to the All-NBA First Team, Nowitzki became the first player who did not attend a United States high school or college to be on the All-NBA First Team.
However, the Mavericks had a subpar 2005 NBA Playoffs campaign. In the first round, Dallas met the Houston Rockets of scoring champion Tracy McGrady and 7–6 center Yao Ming, and Nowitzki was expected to average high figures against unheralded forward Ryan Bowen: nba.com described Bowen as "overmatched" versus the German.[53] Instead, Bowen limited Nowitzki to just 21 points in Game 1[53] and 26 points in Game 2, where the latter only hit 8 of 26 shots from the field.[54] The Rockets took a 2–0 lead before the Mavericks won three games in a row. After losing Game 6, Dallas won Game 7 convincingly and won the series even though Nowitzki struggled with his shooting.[55] In the Western Conference Semifinals, the Mavericks met the Phoenix Suns, the new club of Nash. They split the first four games, before the Suns won the last two games. In Game 6, which the Mavericks lost in overtime, Nowitzki was again not at his best: he scored 28 points, but also sank only 9 of his 25 field goal attempts;[56] in addition, he was visibly irritated, repeatedly shouting at his team mates and missing all his five shots in overtime.[57]
Prior to the 2005–06 NBA season, veteran Mavericks captain Michael Finley was waived over the summer, and now Nowitzki was the last player remaining from the Mavericks' "Big Three" of Nash, Finley, and himself. Nowitzki blossomed as the sole franchise player, averaging 26.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. Not only was this his third 2,000 point season, but his scoring average of 26.6 points was highest ever by a European, and the highest by a white player since the 27.2 average of Tom Chambers again in 1989–90.[22] He improved his shooting percentage, setting personal season records in field goals (48.0%), three-point shots (40.6%) and free throws (90.1%).[22] During the 2006 All-Star Weekend in Houston, Nowitzki scored 18 points to defeat Seattle SuperSonics guard Ray Allen and Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas in the Three-Point Shootout contest.[58]
Nowitzki paced the Mavericks to a 60-win season. The team finished with the third-best record in the league, behind the defending champion San Antonio Spurs and defending Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons.[59] As in the 2004–05 season, he finished third in the league's MVP voting, this time behind Nash and LeBron James. He was again elected to the first team All-NBA squad.[22] Nowitzki confirmed his superstar status during the playoffs as he averaged 27.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists.[22] The Mavericks swept the Memphis Grizzlies with 4–0, with Nowitzki's most spectacular play being a clutch three-point shot in the closing seconds of Game 3 which tied the game and forced overtime. In the Western Conference Semifinals, the Mavericks played against the San Antonio Spurs again. After splitting the first six games, the Mavericks took a 20-point lead in Game 7 before Spur Manu Ginóbili broke a tie at 101 by hitting a clutch three-point shot with 30 seconds left. On the next play, Nowitzki completed a three-point play, which tied the game at 104. In the end, the Mavericks won 119–111, and Nowitzki ended the game with 37 points and 15 rebounds.[60] Nowitzki commented: "I don't know how the ball went in. Manu hit my hand. It was a lucky bounce."[60]
The Mavericks advanced to the Western Conference Finals, where they would again meet Nash and the Phoenix Suns. Nowitzki scored 50 points to lead the Mavericks to a victory in the crucial Game 5 with the series tied 2–2; the Mavericks would go on to win in six games and face the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals. A content Nowitzki commented: "We've been a good road team all season long, we believed in each other. We went through some ups and downs this season, but the playoffs is all about showing heart and playing together."[61] Of Nowitzki's performance, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons would remark, "Dirk is playing at a higher level than any forward since Bird."[62] The Mavericks took an early 2–0 lead, but then gave away a late 15-point lead in a Game 3 loss[63] and finally fell to a scoring onslaught by Heat Finals MVP Dwyane Wade: Wade scored at least 36 points in the next four games, which the Heat all won. Nowitzki only made 20 of his last 55 shots in the final 3 games as the Mavericks lost the Finals series 4–2 to the Heat. The German was criticised by ESPN as "clearly... not as his best this series" and remarked: "That was a tough loss (in Game 3) and that really changed the whole momentum of the series... After that, they got confidence. They played a lot better afterwards."[64]
The 2006–07 season was the year Nowitzki was named the league's Most Valuable Player. He shot a career-best 50.2% from the field, and recorded averages of 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists[22] and led the Mavericks to a franchise-high 67 wins, which meant Dallas earned the first seed of the 2007 NBA Playoffs.[65] Nowitzki was touted as the overwhelming favorite for the Most Valuable Player award, and was expected to lead the Mavericks to an easy win against the eighth seed Golden State Warriors. However, the Mavericks ended up losing to the Warriors in six games, marking the first time a #8 seed has beaten the #1 in a best of seven series in NBA history.[66] In the clinching Game 6, Nowitzki shot just 2–13 from the field for only eight points.[66] Defended by Stephen Jackson, Nowitzki averaged nearly five points less than his regular season average in that series and shot only 38.3% from the field as compared to 50.2% during the regular season.[22] He described this loss as a low point in his career: "This series, I couldn't put my stamp on it the way I wanted to. That's why I'm very disappointed."[67] In spite of this historic playoffs loss, Nowitzki was named the NBA's regular season Most Valuable Player and beat his friend and back-to-back NBA MVP Nash with more than 100 votes. He also became the first European-born player in NBA history to receive the honor.[68]
The 2007–08 campaign saw another first-round playoffs exit for Nowitzki and his Mavericks. Despite a mid-season blockbuster trade that sent veteran NBA All-Star Jason Kidd to Dallas, the Mavericks could only finish seventh in a highly competitive Western Conference. Nowitzki averaged 23.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and a career-high 3.5 assists for the season.[69] In the playoffs, they faced rising star Chris Paul's New Orleans Hornets, and were eliminated in five games.[69] The few positive highlights that season for the German were his first career triple-double against the Milwaukee Bucks on February 6, 2008, with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and a career-high 12 assists, and on March 8, 2008 (34 points against the New Jersey Nets), when he surpassed Rolando Blackman with his 16,644th point to become the Mavericks' all-time career points leader.[70]
The 2008–09 NBA season saw Nowitzki finish with averages of 25.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. He was fourth in the league in scoring, and garnered his fourth All-NBA First Team selection. He also made the 2009 All-Star game, his eighth appearance. Nowitzki led Dallas to a tight finish towards the playoffs, finishing 50–32 for the season (6th in the West), after a slow 2–7 start. In the playoffs, the German led Dallas to an upset win over long-time rival San Antonio (3rd seed), winning the first round series 4–1. The Mavericks, however, fell short against the Denver Nuggets 4–1 in the second round, with Nowitzki averaging 34.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 4 assists in the series.
The Mavericks finished the 2009–10 NBA season as the second seed for the playoffs—it was their 10th consecutive season with at least 50 regular season wins. Notable additions to the squad were multiple All-Stars Shawn Marion and Caron Butler, with the latter coming in the latter half of the season. On January 13, 2010, Nowitzki became the 34th player in NBA history—and the first European—to hit the 20,000 point milestone, while ending the regular season with averages of 25 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1 block. He was selected to the 2010 All-Star game, his ninth appearance. The Mavericks faced off against San Antonio once more in the first round of the playoffs, but for the third time in four seasons, they failed to progress to the next round. Nowitzki was the only consistent player throughout the series for the Mavericks, averaging 26.7 points per outing, while the likes of Jason Terry, second leading scorer for the Mavericks averaged only 12.7 points per game compared to his 16.6 regular season. There was speculation that Nowitzki might join another team in the off-season as a free agent, but on July 5, 2010, he agreed to remain with Dallas by re-signing to a four-year, $80 million deal.[71]International career
Medal record
Center
Nowitzki has been playing for the German national basketball team since 1999
Men's Basketball
Competitor for  Germany
FIBA World Championship
Bronze 2002 USA Germany
FIBA European Championship
Silver 2005 Serbia & Montenegro Germany
Nowitzki has been playing for the German national basketball team since the 1999 FIBA European championships. In his debut tournament, the 21-year old rookie emerged as the main German scorer, but Germany finished seventh and failed to qualify for the 2000 Olympic Games.[72] In the 2001 FIBA European Championships, Nowitzki was top scorer with 28.7 points per game, and narrowly lost the MVP vote to Serbian player Peja Stojaković. Germany reached the semi-finals and were close to beating host nation Turkey, but down by three, Hedo Turkoglu hit a three-point buzzer beater, and the Turks eventually won in overtime.[73] Germany then lost 90–99 against Spain, and did not win a medal. However, with averages of 28.7 points and 9.1 rebounds, Nowitzki led the tournament in both statistics, and was voted to the All-Star team.[74] Back home, the German basketball team attracted up to 3.7 million television viewers, a German basketball record at the time.[73]
Nowitzki finally earned his first medal when he led Germany to a bronze medal in the 2002 World Championships. In the quarter-finals against the Pau Gasol-led Spain, Spain led 52–46 after three quarters, but then Nowitzki scored 10 points in the last quarter and led Germany to a 70–62 win.[75] In the semi-finals, his team played against the Argentinian squad led by Manu Ginóbili, but despite leading 74–69 four minutes from the end and despite Argentina losing Ginobili to a foot injury, the South Americans won 86–80.[75] However, the Germans won 117–94 against New Zealand in the consolation finals and won bronze, and tournament top scorer Nowitzki (24.0 ppg) was elected MVP. Back in Germany, over 4 million television viewers followed the games, an all-time record in German basketball history.[75]
The 2003 FIBA European Championships proved to be a major disappointment for Nowitzki and his German squad. In a preparation game, he suffered a foot injury after a collision with French player Florent Pietrus; as a result, Nowitzki played inconsistently and was also often target of hard fouls.[76] In the decisive second round match against Italy (only the winner was allowed to play the medal round), Germany lost 86–84, finished ninth and did not qualify for the 2004 Olympic Games. Nowitzki scored 22.5 points per game (third overall), but in general seemed to lack focus and dominance due to his injury.[76]
In the 2005 FIBA European Championships, Nowitzki came back strong. He surprisingly led a depleted German squad into the Finals, beating title favorites Slovenia in the quarter-finals and Spain in the semi-finals on the way. Eurobasket pundits praised Nowitzki in both matches: against Slovenia (76–62), the forward scored a game high 22 points and commented: "The Slovenians underestimated us. They said we were the team they wanted and that was wrong, you shouldn't do that in the quarter-finals."[77] Against Spain (74–73), Nowitzki scored a game-high 27 points and scored the decisive basket: down by one and with only a few seconds to go, he drove on Spanish forward Jorge Garbajosa, and hit a baseline jump shot over Garbajosa's outstretched arms with 3.9 seconds to go. The German later commented: "It was indescribable. Garbajosa kind of pushed me towards the baseline so I just went with it."[77] Despite losing the Finals 78–62 to the Greeks, Nowitzki was the tournament's leading scorer (26.7 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (10.8 rpg) and shot blocker (1.8 bpg), and was voted Most Valuable Player of the tournament.[78] In the 2006 FIBA World Championships, Nowitzki led the German team to an eighth place and commented: "It's tough luck. But overall, finishing eighth in the world is not bad."[79]
In the 2007 FIBA European Championships, in which the top three teams automatically qualified for the 2008 Olympics, Nowitzki led Germany to a fifth place. He was the leading scorer with 24.0 points per game.[80] The fifth place meant that Germany fell short of direct qualification, but was allowed to participate in the 2008 Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Nowitzki led Germany into a decisive match against Puerto Rico for the last remaining slot. In that crucial match, he scored a game-high 32 points and was vital for the 96–82 win which sent the German basketball team to their first Olympics since the 1992 Summer Olympics.[81] Nowitzki was chosen to be the flag bearer for the German Olympic Team at the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Olympics. Nowitzki led the German team to a tenth place finish, and averaged 17.0 points, and 7.6 rebounds for the tournament.[82] In 2009, Nowitzki skipped the 2009 FIBA European Championships. In July 2010 he said that he would skip the 2010 FIBA World Championship. However he already announced that he will play the EuroBasket 2011 to help the team to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Player profile

Nowitzki is a versatile frontcourt player who mostly plays the power forward position, but has also played center, small forward and point forward throughout his career. With career averages of 23 points and over 8 rebounds, he is a constant double-double threat.[22] Nowitzki is considered one of the best shooters in the game, hitting almost 88% of his free throws, connecting on almost 50% of his field goal attempts and on almost 40% of his three-point shots, and is also winner of the 2006 NBA All-Star Three-Point Shootout competition.[22] In 2006–07 Nowitzki became only the fifth member of the NBA's 50–40–90 Club for players who shot 50% or better from the field, 40% or better on three-pointers, and 90% or better on free-throws in a single season while achieving the NBA league minimum number of makes in each category. His shooting accuracy, combined with his tall seven-foot frame, makes him a tough defensive assignment, because he can shoot over most players.[83] NBA.com lauds his versatility by stating: "The 7–0 forward who at times mans the pivot can strike fear in an opponent when he corrals a rebound and leads the break or prepares to launch a three-point bomb."[2] One of the forward's main problems remains defense, where he averages just over one block per game and never made an All-Defense Team.[22] However, in a 2005 ESPN article, Nowitzki was voted the tenth best power forward of all time and was lauded for his "revolutionary" outside-shooting skills.[83]
Nowitzki is the 34th player in NBA history, and the first European to hit the 20,000 point milestone. Apart from being the Dallas Mavericks' all-time leader in points, rebounds, field goals, field goal attempts, 3-pointers, 3-point attempts, free throws, and free-throw attempts, Nowitzki has made the NBA All-Star games ten times, and the All-NBA Teams ten times. He was voted NBA MVP of the 2006–07 NBA season, becoming the first European player to receive the honor. Other achievements include winning the 2006 NBA All-Star Three-Point Shootout, being voted "European Basketballer of the Year" five times in a row by La Gazzetta dello Sport, and being the leading scorer and MVP of the 2002 FIBA World Championship, and Eurobasket 2005 tournaments.

 NBA career statistics

Legend
  GP Games played   GS  Games started  MPG  Minutes per game
 FG%  Field-goal percentage  3P%  3-point field-goal percentage  FT%  Free-throw percentage
 RPG  Rebounds per game  APG  Assists per game  SPG  Steals per game
 BPG  Blocks per game  PPG  Points per game  Bold  Career high
(Correct as of end of 14 April 2011)[84]

Regular season

Year↓ Team↓ GP↓ GS↓ MPG↓ FG%↓ 3P%↓ FT%↓ RPG↓ APG↓ SPG↓ BPG↓ PPG↓
1998–99 Dallas 47 24 20.4 .405 .206 .773 3.4 1.0 .6 .6 8.2
1999–00 Dallas 82 81 35.8 .461 .379 .830 6.5 2.5 .8 .8 17.5
2000–01 Dallas 82 82 38.1 .474 .387 .838 9.2 2.1 1.0 1.2 21.8
2001–02 Dallas 76 76 38.0 .477 .397 .853 9.9 2.4 1.1 1.0 23.4
2002–03 Dallas 80 80 39.0 .463 .379 .881 9.9 3.0 1.4 1.0 25.1
2003–04 Dallas 77 77 37.9 .462 .341 .877 8.7 2.7 1.2 1.4 21.8
2004–05 Dallas 78 78 38.7 .459 .399 .869 9.7 3.1 1.2 1.5 26.1
2005–06 Dallas 81 81 38.1 .480 .406 .901 9.0 2.8 .7 1.0 26.6
2006–07 Dallas 78 78 36.2 .502 .416 .904 8.9 3.4 .7 .8 24.6
2007–08 Dallas 77 77 36.0 .479 .359 .879 8.6 3.5 .7 .9 23.6
2008–09 Dallas 81 81 37.7 .479 .359 .890 8.4 2.4 .8 .8 25.9
2009–10 Dallas 81 80 37.5 .481 .421 .915 7.7 2.7 .9 1.0 25.0
2010–11 Dallas 73 73 34.3 .517 .393 .892 7.0 2.6 .5 .6 23.0
Career
993 968 36.5 .476 .381 .877 8.4 2.7 .9 1.0 23.0
All-Star
9 2 17.0 .458 .227 .875 4.1 1.6 .8 .4 10.6

Playoffs

Year↓ Team↓ GP↓ GS↓ MPG↓ FG%↓ 3P%↓ FT%↓ RPG↓ APG↓ SPG↓ BPG↓ PPG↓
2000–01 Dallas 10 10 39.9 .423 .283 .883 8.1 1.4 1.1 .8 23.4
2001–02 Dallas 8 8 44.6 .445 .571 .878 13.1 2.3 2.0 .8 28.4
2002–03 Dallas 17 17 42.5 .479 .443 .912 11.5 2.2 1.2 .9 25.3
2003–04 Dallas 5 5 42.4 .450 .467 .857 11.8 1.4 1.4 2.6 26.6
2004–05 Dallas 13 13 42.4 .402 .333 .829 10.1 3.3 1.4 1.6 23.7
2005–06 Dallas 23 23 42.7 .468 .343 .895 11.7 2.9 1.1 .6 27.0
2006–07 Dallas 6 6 39.8 .383 .211 .840 11.3 2.3 1.8 1.3 19.7
2007–08 Dallas 5 5 42.2 .473 .333 .808 12.0 4.0 .2 1.4 26.8
2008–09 Dallas 10 10 39.5 .518 .286 .925 10.1 3.1 .8 .9 26.8
2009–10 Dallas 6 6 38.8 .547 .571 .952 8.2 3.0 .8 .7 26.7
Career
103 103 41.7 .459 .372 .882 10.9 2.6 1.2 1.0 25.6

Personal life

Nowitzki's older sister, Silke, describes Nowitzki, four years her junior, as a confident, but low-key character unspoiled by money and fame.[85] He also enjoys reading and playing the saxophone.[2] Nowitzki passed his Abitur examination at Röntgen Gymnasium Grammar School of Würzburg. He also founded the "Dirk Nowitzki Foundation," a charity which aims at fighting poverty in Africa.[86]
Nowitzki dated Sybille Gerer, a female basketball player from his local club DJK Würzburg. The relationship started in 1992 and held for 10 years before it eventually ended; Nowitzki said, "At the end, we found out we developed in separate ways... It did not work anymore, but we are still good friends."[87] He added: "I surely want to start a family and have kids, but I cannot imagine it happening before I become 30."[87]
Nowitzki acknowledged close ties to his mentors Holger Geschwindner, whom he called his best friend. He is also good friends with his ex-teammate Steve Nash.[88] Nash said of playing with Nowitzki, "We were both joining a new club, living in a new city, we were both single and outsiders: this creates a bond... He made life easier for me and I for him... our friendship was something solid in a very volatile world." Nowitzki added, "He would have also become a good friend if we had met at the supermarket."[88]

Books

Nowitzki's career has been the subject of the book Dirk Nowitzki - german wunderkind by German sports journalists Dino Reisner and Holger Sauer. It appeared in 2004 at the CoPress Munich publishing house under the ISBN 3-7679-0872-7. The 160-page hardcover book follows Nowitzki's beginnings in his native Würzburg and documents his entry and ascent in the NBA, and ends at the beginning of the 2004–05 NBA season.

 




















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