1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Opinion: Dirk Nowitzki – a legend both on and off the court

April 10, 2019

After 21 seasons in the NBA, basketball superstar Dirk Nowitzki has announced his retirement from the game. There will never be another like him, writes DW's Andreas Sten-Ziemons.

Dirk Nowitzki
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Gutierrez

When has this ever happened before? An athlete revolutionizes his sport, becomes one of the game's greats, and inspires other players in the world's best league to copy his style. He does all this while keeping his feet firmly on the ground. He doesn't change at all as a person, but remains just as humble and grounded as ever. Dirk Nowitzki has stayed that way right up to the very end of his unparalleled NBA career.

Read more: Dirk Nowitzki: 'I gave it everything I had'


When then-Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson and his son and assistant Donnie Nelson first laid eyes on Dirk Nowitzki, they immediately recognized his potential. A seven-foot mountain of a man, who could shoot from distance. A giant, the kind of guy who in that era in the NBA would usually have been parked beneath the opposing basket – but who had the mobility and pace to attack from the outside – something that the league had never seen before. Nowadays every big player has to be able to shoot the three if he is to stand any chance of making the cut on any of the league's elite teams.

Sten Ziemons Andreas Kommentarbild App
DW's Andreas Sten-Ziemons

Nowitzki's career stats speak for themselves; more than 31,000 points, 11,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, as well as more than 1,000 blocks and steals. Even the game's other truly great players couldn't match his versatility on the court. Nowitzki is sixth on the all-time list of NBA scorers and the best European ever to have played in the league.

However, the number that says the most about his character is the number 21. Nowitzki played 21 seasons for the Mavericks. Hardly any other player has played that many seasons in the league – and Nowitzki did so with just one franchise.

Read more: Dirk Nowitzki: Going out with a double-double


While other NBA superstars seem to spend much of their time working on their public image and individual records, showing off bling, and filling their social media channels with banalities, Nowitzki has remained completely unpretentious. It was touching to see the joy on his face when he found out that the basketball heroes of his youth – the guys whose posters hung over his bed as a teenager – had turned up for his farewell. Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf all turned up to pay homage to an even bigger NBA legend than themselves.

"It's kind of surreal that people want my autograph and photos of me, just because I'm pretty good at putting the ball in the basket," Nowitzki says at the end of The Perfect Shot, the 2014 documentary about his career.

Nowitzki means this just the way he says it, and this sentence is a perfect reflection of the German's mindset.

The Würzburg-native won a lot of awards in his career. The most significant being named the league MVP in 2007 and the NBA championship with the Mavs four years later – when he was named the MVP of the final playoff series. For his modesty, the way he carries himself as a role model, his level headedness and loyalty, Dirk Nowitzki actually deserves to win many more awards.