Sports Illustrated today published a terrific feature on Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki, written by Chris Ballard. Full of awesome anecdotes and plenty of emotion, the piece explores Nowitzki’s psyche at this late stage in his career, focusing on the joy he still experiences from playing the game juxtaposed against the intensity and discipline required to continue performing at such a high level.

Here’s just some of the gold you’ll dig up in the article…

On his first car and confusion with the American way of life: “Instead of buying a Benz like any self-respecting new millionaire, Nowitzki rented a midsized Chevy for the duration of the lockout-shortened season. (Only in the final two weeks, after sweating through a Texas spring, did he figure out how to turn on the AC.) He had the temerity to tell (former Maverick Gary) Trent that peanut butter and jelly should never be in the same sandwich. ‘This is America,’ responded Trent, who preferred his with three pieces of bread, the better to maximize both the PB and the J. ‘We put those two together here.'”

On his hilarious, loud sense of humor — every player on the team would confess Nowitzki is the funniest player in the locker room: Standing in the key, Georgian center Zaza Pachulia inadvertently deflects the return pass from the ball boy to Nowitzki. ‘C’MON, ZAZA,’ Nowitzki yells with a toothy grin. ‘IF EUROS DON’T STICK TOGETHER NOW, WHEN WILL THEY?’ Then, noticing that rookie Justin Anderson is looking at his phone rather than this shootout, he hollers, ‘HEY, ROOK, YOU GOTTA WATCH THIS!'”

Finally, on just how good this guy is, and how easy it can be to take him for granted: “Indeed, Nowitzki has been so good for so long that it’s easy to take him for granted. Good ol’ Dirk, swishing his knock-kneed free throws while humming Counting Crows. The guy no one wants in their fantasy draft, because this has to be the year he finally tails off. The guy who looks comically stiff on defense. Then you remember all that he’s done. First European-born player to win the MVP award and, four years later, the first to be the best player on a championship-winning team. The original stretch four. Took a pay cut (twice) to help his team. Evolved from overwhelmed kid to beloved elder statesman. One of the greatest clutch shooters of his era. Has scored more points (and counting) than all but five men in league history.”

It’s a lengthy read, so be sure to set aside some time. You don’t need me to tell you this, but I’ll do it anyway: It’s well worth it. Nowitzki is one of the most unique superstars in the history of professional sports, so it’s always a pleasure to take a glimpse into his world, from the agony of 2006 and 2007 to the glorious 2011 championship run, and everything that happened before and after. He’s an unbelievable athlete with an incredible story, and he’s still going strong after all these years.

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