He gave it his all, and now he's finally got there: Dirk Nowitzki is the first German NBA winner. His team, the Dallas Mavericks, beat Miami Heat 105-95 in the sixth game of the best-of-seven championship series.
It's been a long time coming for Nowitzki's Mavericks
When he started out they called him the German wunderkind, now he's known as 'The Dirkules.' Dirk Nowitzki is no longer simply the best German basketball player, but one of the all-time greats. Basketball legend "Magic" Johnson calls him "the best player of all time," and the equally famous Charles Barkley says he has not seen anyone in the NBA with such a unique style in the last 30 years.
And yet, until now, Nowitzki's stellar career was missing one essential milestone: he had never won an NBA title. But now, victory is finally his - in North America's championship basketball series, which is more important than a World Cup title or the Olympics. The Maverick's triumph was largely down to Nowitzki's skills.
His style of play is sometimes as simple as it is impressive. In the fourth game of the playoffs against Miami, with 14 seconds to go on the clock, Nowitzki holds the ball, waits and then pushes himself off, turning irresistibly towards the basket - and scores. A magic moment for Dallas Maverick fans, who hold the German player close to their hearts.
"I think he is one of the best players in the series," one of the fans says before they clinch the title. The much-praised Nowitzki is usually quick to return the compliment to his supporters. "The fans were great throughout this last year. They always pushed us forward - our victory was also for them."
Nowitzki worked relentlessly for the title, even if he shouldn't really have been on the court, as he had torn a tendon in his left middle finger and was running a high temperature.
Nowitzki is at the top of his game
"Coughing, a runny nose and blocked sinuses you just accept and, really, it's not that bad - but of course, a high temperature is pretty tiring," a visibly weakened Nowitzki admitted to reporters.
Blocking those things out and focusing all his efforts on the game is one of his strengths. When the NBA series enters into the crucial phase, there's only one thing on his mind: basketball.
"For a month and a half, all you think about is basketball," Nowitzki said. "In every game, you have to push the boundaries and you hardly sleep after the game. It really takes it out of you."
The trauma of 2006
Nowitzki's zeal in going for the title dates back to 2006, the first time he and his team had a real chance of winning the series. Back then, the Mavericks also faced Miami Heat in the playoffs. The Mavericks were 2-0 up in the finals, when the unthinkable happened. Dallas fell apart completely and lost the next four games in a row.
For Nowitzki, it was a bitter pill to swallow five years ago. "What can I say, it was a crushing defeat," he said at the time, his voice trembling.
But the 32-year-old has learnt from this experience. These days, his actions are more calculated and, even when provoked by his rivals, he won't rise to the bait. Instead he is usually calm and collected, on and off the court.
Nowitzki is the star of his hometown Würzburg in Bavaria
"This whole celebrity culture, that's not really for me," he said. The millions of dollars he makes playing the game haven't gone to his head. A giant measuring 2.13 meters (7 feet), he is not known for a lavish lifestyle nor does he feed the gossip columns.
The fans like that about him, but the US sports press has repeatedly portrayed it as a weakness. Nowitzki is perhaps too soft and too nice to win the title, they used to speculate. But he proved his critics wrong, and he is still down-to-earth and proud of his roots.
"I'm very loyal, I go back to Würzburg [his hometown in Northern Bavaria] every summer and I will never forget where I came from."
In the genes
He says he was brought up around sport and therefore owes a lot to his parents. His father Jörg was a keen handball player and his mother Helga played basketball for the German national team. They will no doubt both look forward to welcoming home their son - the first German NBA winner.
Author: Joscha Weber / ng
Editor: Michael Lawton