Which NBA players celebrate the most

Basketball player Dirk Nowitzki : 20 years in the NBA - what now?

It begins in Charlotte, North Carolina earlier this year. Three minutes before the end of the game, the audience chanted: “We want Dirk!” Dirk Nowitzki waves back from his place on the bench, almost shyly. A few days later, in Boston, the fans cheer with every throw of the 40-year-old and groan in disappointment when the basketball player fails to make any of his ten attempts. When Nowitzki comes on in New York's Madison Square Garden, the spectators rise from their seats. In Brooklyn they boo one of his teammates who pulls to the basket instead of passing the ball to Nowitzki, later the call “Thank you, Dirk!” Goes through the arena. And in Los Angeles the opposing trainer takes a break seconds before the end of the game, grabs the microphone of the hall speaker and asks the audience to stand up and clap for Nowitzki, "one of the greatest of all times". Dirk Nowitzki raises his hand, with difficulty holding back tears.

It's a strange farewell tour that Dirk Nowitzki is currently doing in the American professional basketball league NBA. On the one hand, because fans all over the country, who used to whistle and fear him, now seem to feel nothing but love for the Würzburger. On the other hand, because Nowitzki has not even officially stated that his 21st NBA season in the Dallas Mavericks jersey will actually be his last. That after the still outstanding 17 games with the end of the season on April 10th it will really be over. After more than 1,500 games, more than 31,000 points and the championship with Dallas in 2011.

American basketball fans appreciate all of these merits, but they are currently celebrating him less for what he used to be. But for what he is: an athlete who still does what he loves. A person who ages with dignity.

“Of course I enjoy it,” says Nowitzki after almost every game. “I will never forget all of this.” However, you can tell from more than two decades in professional sport. His movements appear angular, sometimes he almost drags himself across the field. The game he once dominated has gotten too fast for him. In his heyday, the 2.13 meter tall Nowitzki was a brilliant offensive player - tricky, elegant, with strong nerves. When he came to the NBA in 1998, players his size were still beefy fighting machines fighting under the baskets in wrestling matches. Dirk Nowitzki was different, his perfect throwing technique and accuracy from a distance revolutionized his sport. From time to time Nowitzki's ability still flashes, the cheering becomes even louder.

Dignity in the face of aging

The writer Thomas Pletzinger observed all of this up close. The 43-year-old is working on a Nowitzki biography, the book "The Great Nowitzki" is due to appear in August. “This is an extraordinary situation for an athlete,” says Pletzinger. “People just stand up because they want to show respect to Dirk. It's not orchestrated jubilation, but unscripted and authentic. ”The author was last in Dallas two weeks ago, and he will soon be traveling there again. Seven years ago Pletzinger got to know the basketball player at the height of his fame and his productivity, but even after all these years he is still amazed at him.

"It is remarkable that Dirk is not attached to a status that he once had," says Pletzinger. “And that also demands respect from the audience.” In the past, almost every attack by the Mavericks took place on the German. Now he often sits on the bench and watches as the 20-year-old child prodigy Luka Doncic becomes a favorite in Dallas with every game. Nowitzki, born in 1978, finds nothing but words of praise for Doncic, born in 1999. The Slovenian was not even born when the German was already playing in the NBA.

"Dirk has great dignity in the face of aging," says Pletzinger. "He does not insist on what has been, but just plays his game very presently."

Especially in the NBA, where great careers usually go hand in hand with great egos, this is a rarity. Nowitzki's long-time adversary, Kobe Bryant, resigned in 2016, and he too was previously celebrated across the country. In his last game, Bryant threw the basket 50 times and scored 60 points. An impressive but manic feat - Bryant seemed desperate to cling to who he once was. Nowitzki seems happy with who he is.

Pletzinger has been to the USA a number of times in recent years for his book, and met Nowitzki in Poland, Slovenia and China. When the basketball player scored his 30,000th point a year ago - another milestone, only six players have more - Pletzinger was sitting in the stands next to Nowitzki's discoverer and mentor Holger Geschwindner, who was crying with joy. The author spoke to people from Nowitzki's environment for hours. Now his book is almost finished, in six weeks he will hand in the manuscript, the beginning and the end are still missing. The writer did not expect the current turnaround, the emotional home stretch, either. “Now my book has to react,” he says. "What is happening there right now is special."

"He plays to play"

At least in terms of sport, Dirk Nowitzki will probably have wished for a different ending. His team has no chance of reaching the play-offs of the 16 best NBA teams this season, most recently Dallas has mostly lost heavily, the Mavericks are at best NBA mediocre. Nowitzki had missed the first 26 games of the season anyway, after an operation in the summer, a tendon in the sole of his foot developed in preparation for the season, he was not allowed to train for weeks, and he only made his comeback in mid-December.

What was easy for Nowitzki in the past is now associated with great effort. “It is sometimes frustrating when the body doesn't react the way you want it to,” he said last. At the age of 40, every game and training session requires a lot of preparation. When his younger teammates come into the hall, Nowitzki has been there for hours to get a massage, to stretch and warm up, to get his body ready for basketball. When asked why he still does all this to himself, Dirk Nowitzki always gives two reasons: the competition and the camaraderie. He loves to compete with other athletes. He loves being part of a team.

After the game in Los Angeles, Nowitzki is asked by reporters how he would like to be remembered. “As someone who could obviously throw a little. Who was there for his team, his teammates, his club, ”he said. “Who always wanted to win. Having fun playing the game he loves. ”All the records? Nowitzki reached it by the way.

“You don't expect a star like him to refer to the basic values ​​of sport,” says Pletzinger. In principle, Nowitzki plays basketball for the same drive as he did when he was a teenager, even then money and status did not play a role. “His motivation is still the same. He doesn't play to take another Markfuffzich with him. Or to be celebrated, ”says Pletzinger. “He plays to play. And people notice that. "

Nowitzki, now the father of three children, has earned around $ 250 million in his career, not counting advertising contracts. It could have been almost 200 million more, but he has repeatedly waived money on contract extensions in order to give his club more financial leeway when signing other professionals. This is one of the reasons why he enjoys hero status in Dallas, 21 seasons for the same team - another record.

In Germany, says Thomas Pletzinger, Nowitzki is fundamentally loved differently than in Texas. "In Germany, the story is often told of the likeable boy who is successful all over the world - how revolutionary his game actually was is not so important," says Pletzinger. “People in the US have greater knowledge of basketball. They also find him likeable and appreciate him as a person - but he is also a professionally certified superstar. "

Nowitzki has not yet decided

However, someone who doesn't take himself too seriously. During the summer break, many NBA pros post videos on social networks in which they lift huge dumbbells or sprint through gyms covered in sweat. Nowitzki prefers to publish a photo that shows him on a rickety bicycle including a child seat on a Swedish lake - and refers to his “summer drudgery”. He also has no problem appearing as “the great mummy” in Mavericks commercials - he has long been nicknamed because of his stiff movements.

Should his career actually end this summer, Nowitzki wants to spend more time with his family, travel the world, get involved in the two foundations he set up and support disadvantaged children. All the signs indicate that this is indeed how it will happen. The NBA has already given him a farewell gift by nominating him for the All-Star-Game, the show game of the best professionals, in February. Nowitzki used the performance to remind everyone of what he used to be able to do every evening: within a very short time he hit three three-point throws.

Couldn't moments like this be a motivation to postpone the end of your career? Nowitzki does not want to commit himself, the fuss about him will still get bigger the closer the season gets closer. The countdown is on, there are still 17 games left. Oklahoma City one last time, Miami one last time, San Antonio one last time, closing in April. And then?

“Dirk Nowitzki is free to choose,” says Pletzinger. "He's a free man, a free spirit."

Nowitzki himself explains again and again that he has not yet made up his mind, "we will see how the rest of the season goes", then he will discuss with his family whether he will continue for another season. After the game in Los Angeles he also said with a laugh: "I guess people take the decision for me."

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