Sven Simon (email@example.com) has been covering German basketball for more than ten years and is the Co-Founder and Editor of the German basketball magazine FIVE. He has previously worked as a TV- and Radio-Commentator, won the media award of the German Basketball Federation (DBB) in 2010 and has been playing organised basketball for 25 years.
141 Games with the eagle on his chest. Six EuroBaskets, two World Championships and the Olympic Games in Bejing. A bronze and a silver medal. Now it's over. Time to say 'thank you' for all the good things that happened to me, just because of Dirk Nowitzki.
|Dirk Nowitzki walked away from EuroBasket after the loss to Lithuania and the fear is, he will not put on a Germany vest again|
He is going to keep the door open for the future, he says, but there will definitely be a break from the national team. The German media crowd in the mixed zone is hanging on Dirk Nowitzkis lips, while he is talking after the 75:84 loss against Lithuania. At least he's not saying that he is ultimately done with the German team and as you know ... hope dies last.
But with Nowitzki being 33 already and saying he's going to have a break for sure next summer, it is not only possible, but even realistic, that this is his last speech with the German jersey on. Because of that, we journalists listen even more concentrated to all of his words and everything you might be able to read between the lines.
He doesn't care about our attention. He never did. And instead of talking about the great run with the national team over the years, what we would like him to do, and all the things he achieved, he's giving another example of his incredibly modest attitude.
It was his fault, he says about the loss against Lithuania. He thought he needed to win the game on his own despite having a bad shooting night (16 points, 4/17 from the field). He should have given more trust and responsibility to Chris Kaman and the young guns, is what he's trying to say. And he feels bad for the guys of the next generation around small forward Robin Benzing (18 points, 7/7 from the field), he says, because he wanted them to get the great experience of playing in the Olympic Games.
This has to wait now at least five years for the young generation. But while Nowitzki is saying this, I think back to all my trips to the big tournaments and how blessed I am, that this former successful youth tennis player from Würzburg changed his mind and went on to play basketball. Without him, that's for sure, most of my colleagues and me would never have had the opportunity to go to all these tournaments, because it would have been much harder for Germany to qualify.
I remember sitting at Indianapolis 2002 next to Rolando Blackman, assistant coach with Germany back then, watching Argentina against USA and Ro predicting right before tip-off that team USA will lose for the first time. Dirk carried Germany to the bronze medal at that World Championship and afterwards, I watched in amazement, how he - after a couple of well deserved beers and with a flag of New Zealand as his cape - stood on the dance floor of a club and tried to learn the Haka dance from New Zealand's Captain Pero Cameron.
Just the memory of him walking off the floor three years later at the end of the Final of the EuroBasket 2005 in Belgrade with all the Greek fans standing up to give the MVP a standing ovation after singing nasty songs during the whole game, still gets my eyes teary.
Later that night, when I arrived at the German party on a boat, some of the players were already dancing on the stage. Misan Nikagbatse was shirtless and Dirk and some of the veterans poured water (maybe it was something else, but somehow I can't remember parts of that night perfectly) from the VIP Area down on him while he was screaming and everybody in the club was going nuts. "Okay, I can work in this surroundings", was flashing through my brain, while I unsuccessfully tried to get that big grin off my face.
Two years later I was following the German team again to a EuroBasket and in Spain I had the chance to talk to Bill Russell and Dean Smith - two guys who were very high on my "People I need to talk to before I die!" list.
These are just a few of my stories involving the German team or other people from the professional basketball circus, but plenty of other great stuff happened to me, just because Dirk brought success to the German national team and I could cover the guys for our magazine and other German media.
Like last Saturday night in Vilnius, when I was walking home with a couple of colleagues after an invitational dinner with the German Federation and we heard nice music from a bar. I can't talk about details, but the next couple of hours involved the DJ, who was celebrating his birthday, and me dancing together to a German song from 1934 called "Mein kleiner grüner Kaktus", all the basketball fans from different countries jumping up and down on the bar and a big carp dancing on the dance floor for a couple of seconds, before going back into his tank (sounds weird, but I got pictures to prove it and just to explain: the fish was a present to the DJ from his best friend).
But I digress, so back to the topic. While I write these lines to thank Dirk, I still got no answer to the most important question: why did he play in this EuroBasket?
There was nothing to gain for him. He had just fulfilled his dream of winning the NBA title, which - of course - goes along with losing some of your fire and focus, at least for some time. The First Round for his German team was tough, the Second a killer. He knew that before. Besides that, he and Chris Kaman could only practice with the team for two weeks, because of insurance issues. Additionally he, being the oldest player on the roster, had never played with most of the guys before. Under these circumstances, I would have said for sure: "No thanks, I prefer staying on vacation with my girlfriend for another couple of weeks. I still love my country, but I had a long and demanding NBA season. See ya!"
Everybody would have understood. But regardless the difficult surroundings, he made the commitment to play. I'm sure he knew that a scenario of failure like it just happened was possible. But he didn't mind. He is not interested in his public image that much. Okay, this time he was not superhuman and everybody could see it, but so what?
I will go even further and say: he played badly! But please don't get that wrong, because I mean not really bad, but bad in the standards, he is demanding from himself. It feels crazy to write the last sentence, but sometimes I catch myself, seeing him taking one of his typical super sick shots and being disappointed, if he misses. And at the end he just said it, too, that he couldn't dominate the way he wanted to.
He looked terrible after the game against Lithuania. His eyes were almost black and it was obvious, that his battery was running on reserve in the last minutes. He was carried only by his will, as the saying goes, to make another miracle happen. It did not happen, but for me that takes nothing away from him. Quite the opposite is true: taking on a fight against overall better teams, where you can't win that much, but lose a lot of your reputation, is something to be proud of. Not a lot of people would do this, but Dirk did.
Him saying he will keep his options open for the future, is my big hope. Maybe another last run, when the young guns collected some more experience? That would mean another chance for me to cover him with the German national team. If it happens, I'll be there for sure. If not, fine too, and thanks for giving it all for the national team, in 141 games over 14 years.