Nowitzki, voted the National Basketball Association (NBA) player of the year in 2007, will be competing in his first Olympics at the age of 30. He is the first basketball player to carry the German flag at an Olympics, succeeding showjumper Ludger Beerbaum (2004), kayak canoe racer Birgit Fischer (2000) and fencer Arnd Schmitt (1996).
“Competing at an Olympic Games is something that has motivated me since the age of 10 and 11,” Nowitzki told a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday. “On Friday (at the opening ceremony), I will experience something astonishing. I never thought I would be chosen to carry the flag but maybe it’s happened because a lot of athletes identify with me.”
He added: “I loved my sport from the moment I played my first game and I still enjoy training.”
Fischer, an eight-time Olympic gold medallist who retired after the Athens Games four years ago, was critical when it was first suggested Nowitzki, one of the biggest earners in the NBA, might carry the flag as, in her eyes, he did not represent one of Germany’s traditional Olympic sports.
Gymnast Fabian Hambuchen, the world high-bar champion, had been the German Olympic Committee’s first choice to be their flag-bearer but he declined the offer because his event takes place on Saturday.
Dallas Mavericks forward Nowitzki played a key role in ensuring Germany clinched the final qualifying place on offer in the 12-team line-up for these Games by scoring 32 points in a 96-82 victory over Puerto Rico in July. That win saw Germany into their first Olympic basketball tournament since 1992.
They were also aided by Los Angeles Clippers centre Chris Kaman who, courtesy of his great-grandparents, became a naturalised German citizen at the start of July. Despite then not speaking a world of German, Kaman played his part against Puerto Rico by scoring 10 points with 12 rebounds.
“I’ve only been here 12 days but Dirk has waited 12 years for this to happen,” Kaman said afterwards. “I can’t even imagine the emotions that he must be feeling at this moment.”