The first time I saw Dirk Nowitzki was not on the basketball court, laser-focused on his game, leaping through the air with his one-legged jump shot and basking in the adoration of 20,000 chanting fans “MVP!” No, the first time I saw Dirk Nowitzki in person he was sitting behind a desk in an office.
Now three years away from retiring from the Dallas Mavericks, where he spent 21, Nowitzki is the subject of a book by Thomas Pletzinger, The great Nowitzki: basketball and the meaning of lifeout now.
Pletzinger’s account of Nowitzk’s life story is not a cut-and-dried biography. His focus on the subject is not omniscient or objective. It’s a story of appreciation – not just of Nowitzki, but of basketball as a whole – through Pletzinger’s eyes. It’s a humanizing tale of the man who helped the Dallas Mavericks win their only championship to date in 2011 and the seemingly superhuman player who revolutionized the game and was recently named the NBA’s 21st greatest player ever. all the time by Athleticism. In Pletzinger’s book, Nowitzki is not superhuman. He’s just “Dirk”.
“We didn’t want a biography,” Nowitzki says as he and Pletzinger sit in his office. “We wanted something a little more upscale.”
“I’m not a biographer, I’m a storyteller,” says Pletzinger. “These people have stories. So they gave me their stories, and I tried to write them as best I could.
Pletzinger’s Unconventional Account, a mostly first-person account that traces seven years of his own experiences with Nowitzki, from the Mavericks’ 2012 playoff elimination to Nowitzki’s last game before his retirement against the San Antonio Spurs in 2019. Occasional time jumps via accounts of Nowitzki’s family, friends, teammates and associates – all of whom become characters in a Citizen Kane-esque narrative – attempts to make sense of Nowitzki’s extraordinary successes. None of them is more important than his personal trainer Holger Geschwidner, the physics-obsessed German polymath, quoting Nietzsche, globetrotting and intrepid, often called “mad scientist”.
Geschwidner’s presence in the book is that of a constant background and occasional foreground. In almost every conversation that takes place in the book between Pletzinger and an interviewee, Geschwidner comes up almost as much as Nowitzki. Even in our conversation, Nowitzki and Pletzinger recall various adventures with Geschwidner that were omitted from The Great Nowitzki.
“I actually went to an NBA game in London once,” Pletzinger begins. “In the morning [Geschwidner] wake me up. He said, ‘We’re going to Cambridge to see Charles Darwin’s office!’ So all of a sudden we were on a train going to college to see the desk. He doesn’t want to see the Tower Bridge or [other sights]he wants to sit at Darwin’s desk.
A story that likely morphs into a fractal of other stories involving Geschwidner is initiated by Nowitzki: After the Mavericks’ first-round elimination in 2007 – the year he was crowned MVP – Nowitzki says he felt the need to go into a hegira to clear his mind. “It was so heartbreaking,” Nowitzki says. “I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to see or hear anything about basketball, and just wanted to get as far away as possible. So Holger and I traveled around Australia for six weeks, we did some backpacking, we slept in the car, went to Ayers Rock for outdoor camping, we basically toured the whole eastern side of Australia, and it was fantastic, it’s in the book ?
“It’s mentioned,” Pletzinger says.
In what is perhaps the book’s defining chapter, “B-Ball Is Jazz,” a conversation between Pletzinger and Geschwidner’s friend and former bandmate-turned-saxophonist Ernie Butler reaches an intellectual climax of exciting proportions, comparing nature fiercely improvised jazz music with organized mayhem unfolding on a basketball court. During their early years together, Butler’s comparisons were deeply felt by Geschwidner, who took the notion “B-Ball is jazz” and applied it to an MVP-winning NBA champion and future Hall of Famer. .
“He is a competitor. He has always respected his teammates, his coaches. He is without a doubt one of the greatest of all time.” – Mavericks coach Jason Kidd
The Great Nowitzki was originally published in German in 2019, almost immediately after Nowitzki’s retirement, but Pletzinger and translator Shane Anderson spent the next two and a half years making slight changes to the book for an American audience. “The sports culture in Germany is a bit different from that in the United States,” says Pletzinger. “The knowledge that Americans have of basketball is much greater and it comes more naturally to them than to Germans. I think Germans play basketball as if they were learning a second language. When I talk about Ernie Butler and Americans like that, it’s more innate to grow up with that. So we tried to adapt the text to this different audience. It’s a different book. In fact, I would almost say it’s the best book.
” Oh really ? says Nowitzki. “You didn’t tell me that!”
“Yes!” Pletzinger responds. “Because we made it a little tighter here and there; cut out a little explanation on the basketball side. Added a bit more on the cultural side to further explain Dirk’s Germanness.
Perhaps the greatest success of the book is what is omitted rather than what is contained. It does not contain statistics or technical descriptions of the game. A real basketball game is described in detail only in 259 pages, when the book recounts the 2011 NBA championship. glowing admiration of a fan as many biographies are, nor that of ego as many autobiographies are. The Great Nowitzki (mostly subtitled Basketball and the meaning of life) is an attempt to understand what makes Dirk Nowitzki so great, without ever delving too deeply into his personal life, because such a violation would be alien. Nowitzki’s greatness is described as the sum of his own determination and humility as well as the support of those around him.
These people’s adoration for Nowitzki never seems to fade, either. Before the Mavericks’ final regular season game this year at home against the San Antonio Spurs, Nowitzki’s former teammate and current Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd told us that Nowitzki’s story affected him, him and the NBA, immeasurably.
“When you talk about Dirk, it’s his leadership and his love for the game,” Kidd said. “The way he changed the game for big men. He’s a competitor. He has always respected his teammates, his coaches. He is without a doubt one of the greatest of all time.
When asked how Nowitzki’s story had affected his own longtime rival, Spurs head coach and lovable curmudgeon Gregg Popovich had a much more succinct and pop answer: “I haven’t read the book, but I’m in love with Dirk.”
Obviously, the people of Dallas love Dirk; the open skies above the hills of North Texas even wear the color of his jersey. The same can be said of Nowitzki’s love for the city that adopted him (he’s even a fan of local musical stalwart Jonathan Tyler). What made him stay in Dallas for 21 years? “I wanted it to work,” he says. “I have excellent relationships with the people here. And, you know, Mark [Cuban] because the owner was great with me and super loyal. When I arrived in Dallas, I didn’t know much about it, but the way people gathered around me, were super nice to me, and wanted to make me feel comfortable – I never forgot that. This is where I wanted to be and my family wanted to be. It was an incredible ride. I’m from a small town of Würzburg, and coming here was perfect for me to stay in one place and be comfortable and spend my entire career here. I wouldn’t wish it otherwise.