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Nowitzki: 'You have to do what no one can'

Dirk Nowitzki has been a basketball superstar for years. He told DW what helped him become the best-known German basketball player of all time.

Dirk Nowitzki is one of the most recognizable basketball players in the world. At seven feet tall (2.13 meters) and possessing one of the game's best jump shots, the 34-year-old from Würzburg is as comfortable on the perimeter as he is in the post.

He has played for the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the US since 1998. In 2007, he was named the league's most valuable player and in 2011 he won his first NBA championship.

DW's Michael Marek spoke with the German sports legend…

DW: Mr. Nowitzki, a lot of fans think that you are so successful mainly because of your great talent. But through Holger Geschwinder, who discovered and mentored you, you also have a few unconventional training methods…

Dirk Nowitzki: Definitely, we always trained a bit differently. We rowed a lot. Then we tried fencing and incorporating that into the basketball game. Fencers are great: they are attacking but at the same time they are always in a defensive position. Then we wanted to improve footwork. We dropped in some boxing. I wanted to see how to make it 12 rounds in the ring. We also did hand stands through the gym.

Holger Geschwinder has trained with you since 1994. How did he convince you of his training methods?

His approach was: If you want to get out of Germany, if you want to make something of yourself, then you have to do what no one can. If you do the same things as everyone else, then you won't go any further. That was our approach: that we create something where you can shoot from any position. We wanted to create a shot that was entirely our own.

Sports scientists have the theory that one should break up training routines in order to become more efficient.

I've trained with Holger Geschwinder for 18 years, so there are obviously training routines that we have. Our approach was, because I wanted to be able to do it all, I had to practice it all: with dribbling, without dribbling, three-pointers, close to the basket, hook shots, because we didn't want to concentrate on a specific motion, but rather on everything, on an all-around program.

U.S. President Obama (2nd R) receives a team jersey from Dirk Nowitzki (3rd L) while hosting the 2011 NBA champions Dallas Mavericks in the East Room at the White House in Washington, January 9, 2012. At right is owner Mark Cuban. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Standing next to Barack Obama, Nowitzki makes the US President (1.85 meters) look like a small man.

What makes a successful athlete, what decides victory or defeat: talent, willpower, training hard, discipline?

Everything together. You have to bring some talent. That you get in the cradle. If you don't have some sort of ground level, a feel for the ball beforehand, the feeling at the basket, then you can train as much as you want and you won't have any success. But, on the other hand, talent isn't everything: you don't get better if you aren't able to struggle to do so. With us in the NBA is an example. Some players are as talented as me, but they don't have the bit between their teeth. They take too long of a summer break.

Holger Geschwinder is a qualified mathematician and physicist. How did that show up in training?

He always looked to push me - also in other things in life, not just basketball. When we were getting to know each other, I was a below-average student. I thought about giving up school, not doing my "Abitur" (Germany's high school graduation diploma). But that wasn't even part of the discussion - with my parents behind me I had to struggle through the Abitur. Holger always looked to bring intellect into the foreground. From time to time he would give me books, ones I really had to chew through. At the beginning he put Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker's "The History of Nature" in my hands. I had just turned 18 and I was already having to swallow that. If you have to read every word two or three times, then it's tough.

Did you have fun?

If you have to chew through it, then you've lost the fun in reading. But Holger would recommend one novel or another every year, including Greek tragedies.

It means he would've also recommended that you read Joseph Conrad?

Definitely, "Typhoon," but it's been a long time. On a trip a ship gets caught in a typhoon, the sailors fight for survival. In the book it's about: if something important happens in life, then you shouldn't avoid it. That's been life wisdom for me: If something happens in life, then you go in fully, you look to make the best of it and you learn from it.

What is your best attribute?

Work ethic, discipline. A player in the US told me: You should never think that you've made it, that you've learned everything. If you want to get better, you have to keep your eyes and ears open. A good piece of advice.