Karl Marx is more likely to spring to mind than Dirk Nowitzki when thinking of a German “revolutionary”, but in his own way the 39-year-old from Wurzburg has changed the way basketball is played at the highest level.
Nowitzki brought a new quality to the NBA two decades ago — a big man as comfortable hitting an outside jump shot as banging the boards — and in doing so forced other teams to adjust the way they defended.
“He’s revolutionary,” Chuck Cooperstein, the Mavericks’ play-by-play radio announcer, said in a telephone interview.
“The concept of the stretch forward did not exist until Dirk appeared. Until then you wanted your seven-footers to be close to the basket, posting up and drawing fouls.
“This is a credit to Don Nelson, Dirk’s first coach here in Dallas. Don saw a particular skill, that singular ability to shoot the ball that really could change the geometry of the floor.”
The 7-foot (2.13 metres) Nowitzki, who won league most valuable player honors in 2007, is one of very few tall players with a career shooting percentage approaching 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the foul line.
He is the highest non-American scorer in NBA history, ranked sixth overall with 30,260 points during the regular season at an average of 21.7 per game.
And Nowitzki has done it all with the Mavericks. When he starts the new season on Wednesday, he will become only the second player after Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) to play 20 seasons with the same team.
It has been quite a journey for Nowitzki, who played tennis and handball as a youngster before switching to basketball, a sport compatible with his height.
He was the ninth overall pick in the 1999 draft, taken by the Milwaukee Bucks and immediately dealt to Dallas.
The architect of the Mavericks’ only NBA championship in 2011, he signed a one-year guaranteed $ 5 million deal that had some observers saying he was too nice a guy for not maximizing his value.
“Dirk has been criticized in some quarters for not holding a billionaire (owner Mark Cuban) over a barrel,” Cooperstein said.
“Dirk has never used a super agent. He’s never been part of that culture. He’s left a lot of money on the table to allow the Mavericks the ultimate flexibility to do whatever they want.”
Not that Nowitzki will have to worry about bouncing a check any time soon.
“The man has still made over $ 240 million over his career,” said Cooperstein. “He’s not going hungry.”
Nowitzki’s down-to-earth personality in a league full of large egos has been well documented, and Cooperstein has seen it first hand, including the time he saw the player help the team’s equipment personnel unload luggage from the team bus at 2 a.m. during a road trip.
Why has Nowitzki remained so grounded?
“I think it’s his background,” said Cooperstein. “Coming from Germany, which did not have a huge basketball culture, he didn’t grow up in the (American college) pipeline, being told from the age of 13 he’d be the next big thing.
“He gets it on every imaginable level. He’s never sold shoes, appeared in commercials, because that’s never been his thing but he’s adored by the players.
“The stars around the league have a tremendous respect for how he plays and for his contribution to the game.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Gene Cherry)
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