NBA 75 Series: #22 Dirk Nowitzki by DJ Hamilton


   Coming in at #22 on my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time is a 7-foot monster who completely revolutionized the game of basketball with his insane ability to shoot the ball from all over the court for a big man, and the first big to be consistent from the perimeter in volume and efficiency, Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki was born on June 19th, 1978, in Wurzburg, Germany to his mother Helga, and father, Jorg-Werner. His mother was a professional basketball player, and father was a handball player who represented Germany at the highest international level. 

His sister, Silke, was also a champion  in track and field while also becoming a basketball player. Growing up Nowitzki was always tall as a child, standing as much as a foot taller than his peers. He initially was a tennis and handball player, even being ranked in the junior tennis circuit in the German youth circuit, but was being called a “freak” due to his height for a tennis player, so he eventually turned to basketball at the age of 13.

Once Nowitzki joined local club DJK Wurzburg at 15 years of age he met former German international basketball player, Holger Geschwinder, who would also become his trainer and good friend throughout Nowitzki’s illustrious career, helping him to evolve into the revolutionary player he would ultimately become. Geschwindner would realize Nowitzki’s talent right from the jump, and would ask his parents for approval to train their son two to three times a week.

During their workouts, Geschwinder would put Nowitzki through unorthodox exercises: emphasizing shooting and passing drills, while ignoring weight-lifting because he believed it caused “unnecessary friction.” He even made Nowitzki play a musical instrument and read literature to improve his personality. Who does that?!

Nowitzki and his coach would then have an important discussion when Geschwindner asked him whether he just wanted to be a local hero in Germany, or play against the best basketball players in the world? Nowitzki would choose the latter, going on to eventually train with DJK in Germany’s second division at the age of 16. In his first season Nowitzki was often benched and struggled in school, causing him to study more than working on his game. 

In 1995-96, he would become a starter and establish himself as a double-digit scorer for the club, highlighted by a 24 point game which afterwards German national basketball coach, Dirk Bauermann stated, "Dirk Nowitzki is the greatest German basketball talent of the last 10, maybe 15 years." 

He would only continue to show improvement in 1996-97, averaging 19.4 points per game while also leading DJK to a second place finish in the regular season. However, they didn’t gain promotion to a higher league. In 1997-98, Nowitzki’s last with the club, he would increase his averages to 28.2 points per game, which led the club and helped DJK finish first with 14:2 points to get promoted to a higher league, resulting in Nowitzki being named the “German Basketball Player of the Year” by the German Basket magazine.

Nowitzki’s game was starting to get noticed by people in the states and was ultimately invited to play in the Nike “ Hoops Heroes Tour” and Nike Hoop Summit. In the Heroes Tour Nowitzki played against NBA stars Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen, and in 30 minutes of action he outplayed Barkley, one of the greatest power forwards of all time, and even dunked on him. Barkley gave him praise when he stated, “The boy is a genius. If he wants to enter the NBA, he can call me.” High praise coming from a legend!

In the Nike Hoop Summit, Nowizki put NBA scouts on notice, scoring 33 points on 6-of-12 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds and three steals, outplaying future NBA players such as Rashard Lewis and Al Harrington. During the match Nowitzki surprised many with his combination of ball-handling skills at 7-feet tall, along with his quickness and deep shooting range. That performance  would help him be selected as the ninth overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, but would get traded to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night for Robert Traylor.

Ultimately, Nowitzki would become known as “The Germanator”  as he was a 7-foot German monster who, similar to Curry, revolutionized the game with his insane shooting ability from all over the court for a big man. He was the first big man who shot from the perimeter consistently and at a high volume and efficiency level. He got called “soft” a lot in his career because he wouldn’t bang down low like most bigs did during his time. He was drafted ninth overall by the Bucks in 1998 but later traded to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night.

He struggled his first few years in the league struggling to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NBA game that he wasn’t used to playing over in Germany but by his fourth year in the league in 2002 he became an NBA-All Star. He formed a dynamic duo with the legendary point guard Steve Nash early in his career and would’ve won a championship together had they stayed together if it wasn’t for owner Mark Cuban not wanting to sign Nash to a new contract.

With Nash leaving in the summer of 2004 Dirk took his game to new heights. He would go on to finish his career as a NBA Champion (2011), Finals MVP (2011), an MVP (2007), 14-time NBA All-Star, 12-time All-NBA selection, a part of the 50-40-90 club, the only 7-footer to win a three point shootout (2006), and even a Teammate of the Year award (2017). Dirk had historic playoff performances from the 2002 series against Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves, to the 2006 WCF against the San Antonio Spurs where he averaged 27 points and 13 rebounds per game, absolutely dominating the Spurs big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili en route to the 2006 Finals.

He would sadly lose a 2-0 series lead against the Miami Heat in 2006 because of Dwyane Wade’s historic Finals performance. The next season he would win MVP but would get embarrassed and exposed by the “We Believe” Warriors team losing to the number eight seed Warriors in six games as a number one seed that season. Critics started to wonder can Dirk ever win and can you win with a primarily jump shooting big man.

He would answer that question in 2011, going on one of the most historic individual playoff runs in NBA history, defeating the Blazers, sweeping the defending champion Lakers with Kobe Bryant, and beating the Thunders young big three in five games of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. He would meet the newly put together Miami Heat Big Three that year of LeBron James, Wade, and Chris Bosh and beat them in six games to capture his one and only elusive title in historic fashion by being down 2-1 in the series and winning the next three straight games. Nowitzki would be named Finals MVP by averaging 26.0 PPG, 9.7 RPG, and 2.0 APG.

That title would give Nowitzki the respect he deserved by the media and solidified him as one of the best to ever do it. He also is one of seven players to ever score 30,000 or more points, the others are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, LeBron, Kobe, Michael Jordan, and Wilt Chamberlain. He is the only player to record at least 31,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, 1,000 steals, 1,000 blocks and 1,000 three-point field goals. He helped pave the way for bigs to space the floor and has influenced the next generation of big men such as guys like Karl Towns, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, and others. He was a great teammate and the greatest Maverick of all time, unless Doncic stayed there his whole career.