Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki is the best European-born player in NBA history.

Nowitzki [Na-VIT-skee] has enjoyed one of the NBA’s best careers.  He recently finished his 19th pro season – all with the Dallas Mavericks – and is unquestionably the finest player in franchise history.  In fact, the seven-foot, 245-pound forward is one of the greatest players in league history.  This past season, Nowitzki moved into sixth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.  He is one of four players [Kareem Abdul-JabbarWilt Chamberlain, Karl Malone] with over 30,000 points and 10,000 career rebounds and is one of two players to amass 150 three-pointers and 100 blocks in a single season.  “Dirty” blends a combination of quickness, ball handling and shooting range never before seen from a player his size.  He has the seventh-most defensive rebounds of all time and is the best free throw shooter in NBA Finals history.

In nearly two decades as a pro, Nowitzki has compiled an impressive body of work.  In 1,394 career NBA games, the “German Race Car” has averaged over 20 points and nearly eight rebounds per contest.  He has been durable — logging over 48,600 minutes, and he has been deft — making over 47 percent of his shots from the field.  A rugged defender, Dirk has amassed more than 1,200 blocks and is one of three players in league history with over 1,000 threes and 1,000 blocks for a career.  The 2007 NBA MVP is also a champion, having led Dallas to the 2011 NBA title, the only championship in the 37-year history of the franchise.  Displaying an unparalleled work ethic, Nowitzki practically willed himself into the NBA.  “You don’t have to encourage him to get into the gym, he’s the guy you lock out,” said Mavs owner Mark Cuban.  “He’s not the guy who you wonder if he cares, he’s the guy who hurts so much when things don’t go the way you want.”  This work ethic, combined with superb athleticism, has led to Nowitzki making 13 All-NBA teams in 19 seasons.

Born in Wurzburg, a town of 125,000 residents in northern Bavaria, Germany, June 19, 1978, Dirk Werner Nowitzki comes from an athletic family.  His mother played professional basketball, his father played handball at the highest international level and his sister was a track and field star.  A tall child, he migrated from handball and tennis to basketball at 14, where he made a top local club team.  At 15, he was discovered by former German basketball star Holger Geschwinder, who began training young Dirk a few times each week.  Using unorthodox methods, Geschwinder emphasized shooting and passing exercises and encouraged his young prodigy to play a musical instrument and read literature in order to become more well-rounded.

The following year, coach and pupil began training together daily.  In the summer of 1994, the 16-year-old Nowitzki made the DJK Wurzburg club team in Germany’s second-tier professional league.  Nowitzki continued to progress, playing against NBA stars in the 1997 Hoop Heroes Tour.  One year later, the 6’11” German wunderkind was invited to play in the 1998 Nike Hoops Summit, one of the premier talent watches in U.S. men’s basketball.  After scoring 33 points and grabbing 14 rebounds while outplaying top American stars, Nowitzki was instantly on the NBA’s radar screen.

The Dallas Mavericks selected Michigan’s Robert “Tractor” Traylor with the sixth overall pick of the 1998 NBA Draft, then promptly traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Nowitzki and Notre Dame’s Pat Garrity, whom Milwaukee had selected ninth and 19th, respectively, in the first round.  Traylor was out of the league by 2005 and died of an apparent heart attack six years later.  Barely 20 when he was drafted, Nowitzki was not sure he was ready for the NBA.

The Mavs were inept between 1988 and 2000, missing the playoffs in 11 of 12 seasons.  In 1998, Dallas obtained Steve Nash and Nowitzki to join Michael Finley, whom they had acquired two years earlier, to form the “Big Three.”  The Mavericks became instant contenders.  Led by Nowitzki, they reached the playoffs for a dozen straight years, beginning in 2000-01.  Dallas won 58 or more games three times in four seasons and appeared in the 2006 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat in six games [losing four straight after taking the first two].  Nowitzki had his best season the following year, when he led the Mavs to 67 wins en route to being named 2007 NBA MVP.  The season turned disappointing when Dallas was eliminated in the first round by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in a shocking upset.  Following two more first-round exits in the next three seasons, the Mavericks finally got over the hump in 2011, when they downed Miami in the NBA Finals.  Nowitzki was brilliant, averaging 26 points and nearly ten rebounds per game.  He shot better than 97 percent from the free throw line and, after leading Dallas to a six-game series victory, was named 2011 Finals MVP.

Dirk Nowitzki is the fourth international player — and first European —  to be win an NBA MVP Award.  He did not attend high school or college in the U.S. yet for two decades, has dominated the best competition America has to offer.  A superb shooter, Nowitzki won the three-point contest at the 2006 NBA All-Star Game and excels from the free throw line.  His streak of 82 free throws is the third-longest in league history and he has made a record 26 straight in the NBA Finals.  Number 41 has had a long and illustrious career in Big D and is undoubtedly headed to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, where he will be the first Maverick player enshrined [former Mavs Alex English, Adrian Dantley and Dennis Rodman are inductees, but each played two seasons or fewer in Dallas].  Mr. Nowitzki was named 2011 German Sports Personality of the Year and is the first basketball player to receive the award.  In 2012, he received the Naismith Legacy Award, becoming the first non-American so honored.

On this date in 2007, Dirk Nowitzki was named winner of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as NBA MVP, beating out Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant {}.