Dirk Nowitzki got a hero’s welcome in Germany Saturday when the Dallas Mavericks took on European club Alba Berlin. The preseason game, part of the NBA Europe Live tour, was the backdrop for Nowitzki’s big homecoming, which included several appearances and press conferences in his native country.
The Mavericks won in a sloppily played 89-84 matchup that saw both teams struggle with any consistency on offense and had several breakdowns on defense. Nowitzki didn’t have his best stuff, scoring just eight points on 3-for-9 shooting from the field in 33 minutes. But he still managed to excite the 02 World Arena crowd with a couple of his signature step-back, fadeaway jumpers.
Overall, the Mavericks have plenty of work to do to get ready for the real season. Head coach Rick Carlisle must incorporate a ton of new faces into his system, as only six remain from Dallas’ 2011 NBA championship squad.
But the lead role on the Mavs still belongs to Nowitzki. The 34-year-old is without question the greatest basketball player to come out of Germany and the only European to claim the Maurice Podoloff trophy as the NBA’s most valuable player in the regular season. When his storied career is all said and done, he will be enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame not only because of his accomplishments on the court but for his immense contributions to the game as one of the pioneers of Euroball in the NBA.
Before Dirk, most NBA 7-footers were back-to-the-basket types who rarely drifted past the free throw line. Nowitzki spawned face-up big men such as Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh, and Mehmet Okur, and now big men are encouraged to develop a midrange game.
Nowitzki is now in the third year of a four-year contract extension he signed back in 2010. He has previously stated that he wants to fulfill his contract, but would need to reassess his position in two years, leaving the possibility of playing in Europe as sort of a farewell tour. In any case, the NBA has been truly lucky to have Nowitzki. He has been nothing but a model of consistency in terms of his play on the court and the way he has handled himself for much of his professional career. Sure he suffered through some embarrassing defeats in the past, but he rose above it and erased all doubts when he won a championship ring in 2011.
Nowitzki enters his 14th season in the NBA, all with the Mavericks. He is also a newlywed as he married his longtime Kenyan-born girlfriend, Jessica Olsson. He is happily married and in much better shape than last season, so the rest of the league better watch out.
AMERICANS ON ALBA BERLIN
Alba Berlin don’t have any big-time names on its roster, but there are three Americans who, if you are a fan of college basketball, you might recognize:
Deon Thompson: A 6-foot-9 power forward who was a teammate of Brandan Wright at North Carolina in 2007. That team won both the ACC regular season and tournament titles and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAAs before falling to Georgetown in OT. He is in his first year with Alba, having played the past three years in Greece and Slovenia.
DaShaun Wood: A 6-foot-1 point guard who played at Wright State and was the Horizon Conference player of the year in 2007. In 2011, he led the German league in scoring for Skyliners Frankfurt. He is in his second season with Alba.
Zach Morley: A 6-foot-8 SF who played at Wisconsin. He was a member of the 2005 team that reached the Elite Eight before losing to North Carolina. He played in the Ukraine the last two seasons and prior to that has had played in the second and third divisions in Spain.