Even at the ripe age of 37 years old, Dirk Nowitzki is about to lace them up one more time for the German National Team.
Just more than two weeks ahead of EuroBasket 2015, a tournament that would help Germany qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the national team’s roster is about to be set for the Sept. 5 opener against Iceland. Nowitzki is certainly a favorite to make the final roster, not only because of his All-Star ability but also because of his iconic status in his home country. Berlin, the capital of Germany, is one of the host cities, adding yet another element of excitement for the Big German, who was hesitant to participate in the tournament until he found out he’d be playing on his home soil.
“I’m very excited,” Nowitzki said earlier this summer. “You know, to me, it was the big deal that the tournament, or at least the first round, is in Germany. I think I’ve never had a home European championship or world championship at home. This means a lot to our country and to the basketball world in our country. Berlin is an amazing basketball city already over the last 10, 15 or 20 years, so this should be fun. We have a murderous group with a lot of great countries, but we’re going to give it our best and see what happens.”
The Germans are in a group with four of the top-seven teams in Europe, according to FIBA Power Rankings in anticipation of the tournament. Nowitzki’s gang will square off against teams including Spain, Serbia, Italy, and Turkey. Germany is ranked eighth among teams which qualified for the tournament. No matter how difficult the opponents are, however, there’s always hope that the home crowd and a motivated Nowitzki will be enough to push Germany through group play and into the elimination round.
If Nowitzki is feeling any pressure — earlier this summer he hinted this could be the last time he wears his nation’s colors in competition — he certainly isn’t letting it show. In practices he’s still being the same old Dirk: relaxed and funny, enjoying himself. (Following gif courtesy of Jason Gallagher.)
How can you not like the guy?
It goes without saying his international career has already been a storied one. He’s averaged 20.3 points and 7.2 rebounds at the senior level with the national team, according to his FIBA profile, in games dating back to 1999. His accolades include a EuroBasket 2005 MVP award for averaging 26.1 points and 10.6 boards, and earning the MVP award at the 2002 World Cup for scoring 24.0 points and grabbing 8.2 boards. At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, he was selected to carry the German flag during the opening ceremonies. He considered that one of the biggest honors of his career. Nowitzki is Germany’s best-ever player and has had possibly the greatest NBA career of any international player in league history.
The difference between this EuroBasket and the last tournament he competed in in 2011, though, is that Nowitzki is playing with young, NBA-caliber players who can help carry the load through an intense group schedule that will see the team play five games in six days. Atlanta Hawks’ point guard Dennis Schroder and big man Tibor Pleiss of the Utah Jazz will both play in the NBA this season, and combined with Nowitzki that creates a solid trio that could make some noise come tournament time. That isn’t to say that, in the past, Nowitzki hasn’t teamed up with NBA talent. He’s played alongside former Mavericks big men Shawn Bradley and Chris Kaman in past competitions. But, as is the case in the NBA, point guard is perhaps the most important position on the team, so having Schroder to shore up that spot will make Nowitzki’s job easier in the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop game.
Although he’s about to enter his 18th season in the league, he still remains an effective player — he was an All-Star last season, after all. But Mavs forward Chandler Parsons hopes to earn an expanded role in the offense this season, and with new acquisitions Wes Matthews and Deron Williams entering the equation, Dallas has built a team that can take the burden of scoring of Nowitzki’s shoulders in ways the club hasn’t been able to before. Offensive responsibility hasn’t been an issue for the German, however, who said following the season that he’d even consider coming off the bench for the Mavs if it meant giving the team a better chance to win in the playoffs.
He’s the seventh-leading scorer in NBA history, a Finals MVP, a surefire Hall of Famer, and an Olympian, but he’s making one more push to help his country qualify for yet another Olympics. That type of selflessness defines who Nowitzki is as a player and leader.
Germany’s EuroBasket schedule is below. Some games might be available for viewing in the U.S., but a finalized TV schedule hasn’t been released yet.
Sept. 5 – vs. Iceland
Sept. 6 – vs. Serbia
Sept. 8 – vs. Turkey
Sept. 9 – vs. Italy
Sept. 10 – vs. Spain
The top four teams in each of the four groups advance. If Germany moves on, it will play in the elimination round on Sept. 12 or 13 in Lille, France.