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Culture

Basketball’s Wunderkind

No one has made the transition from foreign courts to the world’s top league as successfully as Dallas Mavericks forward-center Dirk Nowitzki.

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Out of my way - I've got a game to win.

He’s tearing up the NBA Playoffs. US sports analysts have already put him in the top 10 of the league’s best players.

A homegrown Midwest talent? A tough-as-nails hoopster from the streets? Nope, Germany’s very own Dirk Nowitzki, of Würzberg, - future American basketball legend.

Even though he’s only been in the NBA for a short time, the 23-year-old has astounded both fans and foes.

The 7-foot player recently made the cover of America’s renowned Sports Illustrated and is celebrated in Germany as a hero. Without him and his tournament leading scoring average, the German National Team could have never won a bronze in the 2001 European Championship.

Nowitzki's path was anything but convential. In his youth, he was actually a very successful tennis player. As a 14-year-old, he was even second in his age group in Germany. But luckily, Nowitzki chose a career in basketball in the end.

A true success story

Already in Germany, Nowitzki was an outstanding junior player. He led his hometown team, DJK Würzburg, to a division title in the Bundesliga in 1997-98. With over 20 points per Bundesliga game, he was the German league's top scorer.

But Nowitzki wanted to go to the NBA. He applied for early entry to the NBA Draft, where he was chosen ninth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. The draft rights were immediately traded to the Dallas Mavericks and he has been playing there since January 1999.

His first season in the US wasn’t easy, though. Mavericks coach Don Nelson had named Nowitzki his favorite for the NBA "Rookie of the Year". But in the first season, he only scored 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds. Many observers quickly said he was too weak for the NBA.

Basketballspieler Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki

But these critical voices fell silent when, after hard training, he reached 17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the next season – and was subsequently voted "Most Improved Player".

In 2000-01, Nowitzki was named to the All-NBA 3rd Team, a first for the Mavericks. The next year, he jumped to the All-NBA 2nd Team. This season, he played the All-Star Game.

Internationalization reaches American courts

Last week, Nowitzki was named TIME Magazine’s "Person of the Week", "for fulfilling the promise of globalization through basketball". International players – mainly from Europe - are causing quite a stir in the traditionally all-American game.

This is especially true for the Dallas Mavericks. Not too long ago, trainer Nelson was ridiculed for buying so many international players. Now, following the ongoing success of the team, people are just astounded.

Of the 405 players in the NBA’s 29 clubs, 51 are foreigners. This is more than double the figure of a decade ago. Over half (26) are from Europe. The largest number (11) learned their trade in the former Yugoslavia.

But for the NBA, the globalization of basketball is a blessing. Players from different countries open up new markets.

And that expansion means more money for the league. This is necessary when you consider the huge sums stars earn, like Shaquille O’Neal ($210.5 million for 10 years) and, of course, the German Wunderkind Nowitzki ($90 million for six years).

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