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Dirk Nowitzki’s greatest moments with Germany
Releasing a video across his social channels, Dirk Nowitzki has announced he's joined Kobe Bryant and Yao Ming as an official ambassador for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019.
As (arguably) the greatest European Player of all time, there is no better player to mirror the influence that Kobe and Yao have had across their respective continents.
Trademark Offensive Game
As a young player he was known for his rare combination of size, a sneaky level of athleticism and incredible shooting touch - a 'Unicorn' in today's basketball vocabulary. However, as Dirk's career developed, he used his already polished shooting and deceptive first step from the perimeter to develop a set of go-to moves from both the high and low post.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and after Dirk unveiled his patented one leg fadeaway, it started to creep into the games of other NBA superstars willing to put in the time in the offseason to perfect the shot. Everyone from Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James looked to add it to their own game.
Much like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon before him, Dirk's offensive repertoire reached the point where, if he was on form, there was nothing you could do.
Former teammate and regular opponent DeAndre Jordan captured how unguardable Dirk became when he said: "He's a monster, man. He could drive and get to the basket easily. You couldn't really block his shot because he fades away, he shoots with a high arc and he gets that knee up there. And for me, I was a young player, playing against him, so I wanted to really guard him hard or try to block his shot or do something that took him out of his game. But more times than not, it did not work."
"He's a monster, man. He could drive and get to the basket easily. You couldn't really block his shot because he fades away, he shoots with a high arc and he gets that knee up there. And for me, I was a young player, playing against him, so I wanted to really guard him hard or try to block his shot or do something that took him out of his game. But more times than not, it did not work."
- DeAndre Jordan
Another top European player, Marc Gasol, has also discussed the decision-making process when guarding Dirk: "He's a right-handed guy, high release, high arc, so you gotta be really close to contest that. Then if you take away the right hand - which, he rarely drove right hand, but you still gotta honor the drive - you cut him off, he's going to back to a little spin move, one leg fadeaway. You're not getting to that shot. Everything was a counter to a deadly weapon, which was his jump shot."
Dirk’s career with the Mavericks included the 2006-07 NBA MVP award, the 2011 NBA title and NBA Finals MVP, 14 NBA All-Star appearances and many more individual honors.
One of the less discussed aspects of Dirk's game was that, as polished an individual offensive player as he was, he was able to share the load and fit within a team structure while playing for his club team.
When he represented Germany however, he was often carrying the hopes of his nation more squarely on his shoulders and having to put up huge individual numbers. But Dirk would answer the call regardless. He had an international career that is difficult for many contemporaries to rival.
Dirk led Germany to a runners-up finish at FIBA EuroBasket 2005 - the second best finish in the country’s history, behind their European title in 1993. He was also the tournament's MVP, as the outstanding performer averaging 26.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
Demonstrating his offensive dominance on the European stage, he was actually the leading scorer at the 2001, 2005 and 2007 editions of the old continent's top basketball competitions. He replicated this level of performance in single game scoring too - most impressively with 43 points against Spain in 2001, the most a single player has scored in the 21st century in a EuroBasket competition.
The growth of Dirk's game beyond scoring was also evident to anyone that watched his career develop. He also led the 2005 and 2007 competitions in total rebounds, grabbing 74 and 78 boards respectively.
Dirk flew the flag both figuratively and literally for Germany at the 2008 Olympics. His status as the flag bearer for Germany was a powerful and emotive experience. As the first ever German basketball player to be granted the honour, it also represented the impact that Dirk was having on the status of basketball in his home country.
"Competing at an Olympic Games is something that has motivated me since the age of 10 and 11," Nowitzki told a press conference in Beijing in 2008. "On Friday (at the Opening Ceremony), I will experience something astonishing. I never thought I would be chosen to carry the flag but maybe it's happened because a lot of athletes identify with me."
Dirk had been instrumental in Germany even making it to the Beijing Games, averaging 26.6 points in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
FIBA Basketball World Cup
Dirk also has a huge pedigree in the tournament for which he has now become an ambassador. In 2002, with a tournament MVP performance, he led Germany to second place, the best finish Germany has ever achieved in the competition.
Dirk also led the 2006 tournament in total points scoring. Perhaps what best captures his achievements on the World Cup stage is that, since 1994, only three players have scored over 200 points in a single FIBA Basketball World Cup. Luis Scola and Kevin Durant both achieved this in 2010, while Dirk accomplished it in both the 2002 and 2006 tournaments. He's the only player to have done this twice.
The 47 points that Dirk scored against Angola in 2006 were also the most points scored by a single player in the 21st century. As is evident, Dirk's international career is so impressive from an individual perspective that it's hard to even find more than a handful of rivals.
The perception and expectations of a power forward have changed more than any other position over the past few decades. No player can be thought to be more singularly responsible for this change than Dirk Nowitzki. Standing seven feet tall (2.13m), he had an impeccable outside shooting touch to space the floor for his teammates, as well as an unstoppable post game and was an elite defensive rebounder.
While some of these trends had already been occuring, Dirk Nowitzki was the first European player in his mould. He was so undeniably talented that he could impose the skills and matchup problems he caused and exploit them over and over again, even though the other team knew where the ball was going.
The fundamental problems and questions that Dirk imposed on rival teams cast him as a role model for young players, but also forced opposing teams to adjust.
Accustomed to playing against rivals with modest shooting range and consistency, it was a big adjustment for many Power Forwards at the time to guard Dirk Nowitzki. If they played close to him (particularly in his younger days) he could simply blow by them with a deceptive first step and finish strong at the rim. If teams tried someone smaller and able to stay in front of him, he could simply back them down and unleash his untouchable fadeaway.
Adrian Griffin, who would eventually become a teammate of Nowitzki discussed the adjustment he went through the first time he guarded Dirk “I switched on him, BANG! Just drilled a 3. And I was like, that's probably just a glitch, probably just a mistake, he probably got lucky on that. Came right back down, I got right back on him again in transition, BANG! … That's the first time that I was introduced to Dirk Nowitzki, and then I became a fan from afar.”
Dirk Nowitzki has left his mark on all levels of basketball. Not only with his team and individual accomplishments, but through changing some of the fundamental assumptions about his position and the way elite basketball is played.