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Nowitzki's drive for NBA glory inspires German basketball dreams

The Local · 10 Jun 2011, 14:41

Published: 10 Jun 2011 14:41 GMT+02:00

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Jonas Gerstenberger is only 13, but he's been setting his alarm clock for 2 am for much of the past week.

The young basketball player from Berlin has been waking up to watch Dirk Nowitzki lead his team the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals on German TV.

“If I’m not able to stay up that late, I’ll watch highlights later on my mobile phone,” he told The Local as he prepared to play in a tournament organized by the city’s basketball federation this week. “They are so important.”

With Nowitzki’s team on the verge of a possible NBA championship this year – the 32-year-old has dominated the finals with Dallas leading the best of seven series three games to two against the Miami Heat – thousands of young Germans like Gerstenberger are watching from afar with bated breath.

As this would be the first time a German player dominates the world’s best league, officials from the German Basketball Federation believe a championship ring for Nowitzki could also give a kick-start to the sport in Germany, where football, or soccer to North Americans, still dominates.

Humble beginnings

To understand Nowitzki’s importance to German basketball, one has to trace his beginnings from the small Bavarian city of Würzburg to his position at the pinnacle of his sport.

An unusually tall boy from a family of athletes, Nowitzki caught the attention of former national team player Holger Geschwinder and the two began training together. After Geschwinder took him under his wing, the young Dirk quickly developed, ending up being drafted into the NBA as a 19-year-old in 1998.

There, Nowitzki slowly became a star and built up a following both in the United States and in Germany.

There have been other German NBA players – super-tall centre Shawn Bradley and Detlef Schrempf, who played forward for the Seattle Supersonics, among others.

But none have reached the stature of Nowitzki.

“When he comes back to Germany in the summers and plays here, the arenas are filled,” said Christoph Büker, a spokesman for the German Basketball Federation. “There’s just no other German player who has had the recognition that he does.”

Players like Schrempf and Nowitzki have played a major part in basketball’s increasing popularity in Germany, Büker said.

Today nearly 200,000 people are members of club basketball teams throughout the country. Twenty years ago, membership was just a fraction of that, Büker said.

The meaning of a title

Büker admitted it was impossible to quantify what an NBA title for Nowitzki would mean for German basketball.

Could it mean more exposure on TV and in newspapers, where basketball is still considered a footnote? Could it mean more people, inspired by Nowitzki’s accomplishments, want to play ball?

“We don’t really know,” Büker said. “We’ll probably get at least a short-term boost from it. We hope we’ll see more people playing.”

But even if the association doesn’t gain new members, a championship for Nowitzki would demonstrate to the sceptics that German basketball has arrived, said Steffen Hamann, a point guard who plays on Germany’s national team.

“In a lot of ways, he represents what German basketball is all about,” told The Local. “He’s a very down to earth person, very hard working and good and what he does.”

Story continues below…

Gerstenberger also takes pride in Nowitzki’s basketball accomplishments.

The teenager said his idol's success had convinced him that he, too, can become a world-class pro baller one day.

“I’m going to make it,” he said as he prepared with teammates for their next game. “That’s my dream.”

Moises Mendoza



The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

15:57 June 10, 2011 by hanskarl
Go Mavericks!! Dirk is making the news across the USA as well.
21:15 June 10, 2011 by starsh3ro
well he might be german, but basketball is still too boring like the other american sports.
13:04 June 12, 2011 by dirving71
@ starsh3ro,

And football is more exciting? You see a bunch of guys running around for two hours or longer and very little to no scoring. I get bored watching football sometimes. I cannot look away from a basketball game because I am afraid I will miss an amazing play. The best basketball players are far more athletic and stronger than the best football players could ever hope to be. Most basketball players are also guys who were good at multiple sports but chose to play basketball. (i.e. Michael Jordan played three sports as a kid and most thought he was better at the other two sports than basketball. The whole world knows how that turned out.) The only thing football players may have on basketball players is leg strength and endurance--and even that is debatable. I do enjoy football more now than when I first came to Germany because I understand the game more and I know what is going on and the strategy that takes place. Football has not replaced basketball or American football in my heart but I enjoy it more now because I watched with people who knew the game and explained to me what was taking place. I suspect you have never watched basketball or watched but do not truly "understand" or "know" the game. It has a lot of strategy, fundamentals and adjustments just like football that flies over the casual viewer's head. I think if you watch with someone who truly knows the game, you may have a more enjoyable experience.

In the meantime, spend your time doing something more constructive like supporting your fellow countryman as he has a chance to do something historic and truly remarkable (I am pulling for him as well). That would serve you better than bashing a sport I truly believe you know absolutely nothing about.
00:50 June 13, 2011 by farmy
This is just the start. This will inspire many much needed Germans to the NBA.

They bring the leadership and teamwork ethics that will make the NBA fun to watch again.
06:37 June 13, 2011 by statforthat
Dirk earned his ring and he was the real closer tonight. He has had to wait on long time for his ring, longer than other superstars. Congrats Dirk, J-Kidd and Co.

07:22 June 13, 2011 by HANNIBAL-BARCA
Like clockwork you can always depend on some eugenicist such as "farmy" to somehow someway try to make a silly game into a statement on his glaube of race.

Though its not required to delve into the obvious bs of such statements I remain quite amused at the propaganda shilled by the local and what are clearly a tribe of trolls pushing their drug of hatered.
12:21 June 13, 2011 by dirving71

I think you need to slow you roll a little bit. First of all, I am very happy that DIrk led Dallas to the NBA title. He is a great player and deserves to be a champion--a very rare player with outstanding shooting range that players his size normally do not possess. However, the NBA will be fine without an influx of more Germans for now. Most of the German national players are not even good enough to make an NBA roster yet. With Nowitski being an exception, German players are still leap years behind American players as far as skill level. Think not? The USA swept every major FIBA championship last year (men, U17 men, women, U17 women) -- the first time that has ever been done. Meanwhile, only the U17 German men team made it out of the qualification round. Moreover, Germany is still far behind Spain, Argentina, Greece, Turkey, and Lithuania as far as basketball is concerned. Your statement implying the NBA needs more Germans to be fun to watch again is about as ridiculous as me saying the Bundesliga needs more Americans to be fun to watch again. Let just hope that Dirk's success will inspire more young Germans to take an interest in basketball while I will hope that America's last World Cup run will inspire our some of our best American athletes to take an interest in football (soccer).
14:52 June 13, 2011 by hanskarl
@ dirving 71,

Well said. This is like comparing American Fussball to German Fussball championships. Nevertheless, it is satisfying and a great story to see Dirk rise up and come out of Germany to become one of the best players in the American NBA. He had the size and Herr Geschwinder saw the possibilities and built up the foundation correctly. The rest is history and the makings of another great story of persistence and perseverance.

Congratulations to Dirk for not giving up and working hard and consistently for five more years to prove everybody wrong after the 2006 NBA championships that Dallas lost to Miami. This is the type of story that builds dreams in the younger generation and in time aspires some of them to become the future marquee players and leaders of sports. It makes me think of Martin Kaymer and Steve Stricker in golf and so many other great athletes.
23:13 June 13, 2011 by farmy

How did you get eugenicist, trolls pushing hatred, and race out of the comment that Germans bring leadership and teamwork to the NBA. That is an unbelievable imagination.

And dirving71, you made your point clear. The Germans can't play basketball.
16:56 June 14, 2011 by tonilton
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
20:22 June 17, 2011 by farmon
Don't read the June 14th German newspaper Spiegel article about Dirk, HANNIBAL. You will be totally upset.
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