Why We Watch: Dirk Nowitzki, The Stretch

Dirk Nowitzki was at the mercy of a silly narrative, until he blew it up simply by being his own weird self.
Share |
Oh you a fashion model now.

Screengrab via DesignWeTrust.com.

The year before Dirk Nowitzki arrived in Dallas, Mavericks coach/GM and resident mad scientist Don Nelson drafted an Australian named Chris Anstey in the first round and dubbed him “the best running seven-footer in the world.” So when he dubbed a painfully shy German teenager the future of the franchise, there was plenty of skepticism. Few would have guessed he had unearthed the most unlikely franchise player in NBA history.

At the time, the only basketball that “mattered” was happening in the lower 48 states. NBA players were still unbeaten in international competitions; the painful drubbings given to Team USA overseas were still years away. Dirk was the first foreign player selected in the Top 10 who hadn’t played in the NCAA. No one knew what to make of him, especially after a rookie season where he averaged only 8 points a game. The NBA was a more provincial place, then.

When Dirk started coming into his own in his second year, the league really didn’t know what to make of him. Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett had shown that seven-footers didn’t have to be centers, but they were still athletic big men who dominated the glass and thrived in the paint. Dirk, on the other hand, was sui generis. There had been other sweet-shooting big men, but none who preferred running off screens and spotting up from 25 feet like a shooting guard. Dirk wasn’t just unconventional; he was a challenge to almost a century of conventional wisdom in the sport.

***

Dirk was born in 1978, the year before the three-point line altered the game and opened up the floor. He was part of the first generation that grew up with the shot rather than viewing it as a gimmick. His path to stardom began 16 years later, when Holger Geschwindner saw him goofing around in a gym in Wurzburg. Geschwindner, an eccentric coach who became Dirk’s Mr. Miyagi, was a man possessed of some radical notions:

A former captain of the German national team and a physicist, [Geschwindner] has developed a series of formulas that may reveal the optimum arc for jump shots, using a combination of player height, arm length and release point. “Take differential and integral calculus. Make some derivations and create a curve,” he recently said. “Everybody can do it.” “The higher the arc, the better, but you can go too high. The optimum is around 60 degrees.”

If a proper shot was a matter of mechanics, then a skilled player, with enough practice, could make it any time he had a clean look at the basket. And who had have a better look at the basket than a seven-footer who literally towered over his competition? So instead of making his pupil a post player, Geschwindner made him a jump-shooter. He molded Dirk into a 7-0 shooting platform, a human artillery piece who could fire from any spot on the floor.

Big men whose first instinct was to concede the jumper had no answer for a seven-footer who played like Steve Kerr. After a lifetime of wrestling in the paint, they were uncomfortable moving their feet along the three-point line. By his third season in the NBA, Dirk was averaging 22 points and nine rebounds a game. He was a 7-0 240 forward who shot five three-pointers a game and knocked them down at a hyper-efficient 39% clip.

Post scorers created shots for their teammates by drawing double teams; Dirk created space for them just by being on the court. Most NBA defenses were designed around shuttling penetration towards two big men at the rim; Dirk’s defender had to respect his shot all the way out to the three-point line. Instead of four players cluttering up the action inside, there were only two. For guards raised on the dribble-drive game, an open lane to the rim was worth more than an open shot on the perimeter. Dirk wasn’t the first “stretch four,” but he was the first great one.

But as the first of his kind, people had a hard time evaluating him on his merits. His game couldn’t be categorized in a familiar box. Big men were supposed to dominate on the low block and control the game defensively in the same way that quarterbacks were supposed to stay in the pocket and manage a game through the air.

Dirk is a 7-0 perimeter scorer, and if you look through history, every great perimeter scorer, with the notable exception of Michael Jordan, needed to play with a great big man to win an NBA title. Oscar Robertson and Jerry West needed Wilt, Magic needed Kareem, Bird needed Robert Parish, Kobe needed Shaq. Yet people blamed Dirk for not winning a title with Shawn Bradley, Erick Dampier and Raef LaFrentz protecting the rim.

***

You can divide the prime of Nowitzki’s career into three distinct eras. First came the “Big Three” of Dirk, Michael Finley and Steve Nash. Incredibly good offense, incredibly bad defense. By their final season together, Nelson abandoned any pretense of two-way basketball by bringing in Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker. The Mavs had the first “Big Five”: five guys who could score 20-plus points, and give up 20-plus points, on any given night.

The second era began when Nash left for his own date with immortality in Phoenix. Nelson and Finley soon followed, while Jamison and Walker were moved as swiftly as they were acquired. “Nellieball” was over: the Mavs brought in a defensive-minded coach (Avery Johnson) and athletic, tough-minded slashers (Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Devin Harris, Marquis Daniels) to complement Dirk’s ability to stretch the floor. Dallas was, more or less officially, his team.

In his first year without Nash, he made the All-NBA first team. In his second, he averaged 27/10/3 as the Mavs won 60 games. Dirk didn’t need anyone creating easy shots for him; he had an easy shot every time he stepped on the floor. But, to take the next step, he would have to defeat Tim Duncan and the Spurs in a seven-game series, something only the Shaq/Kobe Lakers had done before.

Due to a quirk in the seeding, the Mavs met their fellow 60-win juggernaut in the second round. In six of the seven games, the final outcome was undecided with the ball in the air and the clock at 0:00. Nowitzki was brilliant, no more so than in Game 7, when he hit an and-1 in the teeth of the Spurs defense in the final seconds to force OT. It should have been his greatest triumph, but it faded down the memory hole after Dwyane Wade’s NBA Finals.

Despite the setback, Dallas appeared no worse for wear the next season, going 67-15. Nowitzki was even better, winning his first MVP while reaching the shooters “Holy Grail”: 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the line. Then, the unthinkable. The Mavericks lost—out-run, out-strategized and fully-counterpunched—to the eighth-seeded, Nelson-coached Warriors.

In Dirk’s first nine seasons in the NBA, the Mavericks had won 50+ games eight times. L.A. and San Antonio won seven championships in that span; Dallas had zero. And so Nowitzki was overtaken by the familiar narrative of What It Takes To Win and the star player who just didn’t have It.

***

The Golden State loss exposed a hole in Dirk’s game, but it wasn’t enough to point out that he lacked a strong post game to punish smaller defenders. Instead, the usual armchair sportswriter moralizing began in earnest. It was the the fundamental attribution error at its finest—when something happens to you, it’s a matter of circumstance, when something happens to someone else, it’s a matter of character.

Wins and losses were matters of toughness and who “wanted it more.” Being a champion was something “ingrained” in a chosen few, a matter of having “a killer’s DNA”. Michael Jordan had won six championships by “imposing his will;” Wade had done the same to Dallas in the 2006 Finals. This was just something a soft European jump-shooter would never be able to do. Dirk hadn’t won an NBA title in nearly a decade of trying; hadn’t we all seen enough?

Unable to judge the process, pundits went by the results. It’s the same warped view of the game that explains why, just last season, some doubted whether a team with LeBron James was capable of winning a title. It’s the same stupid, silly story, oddly and endlessly repeated.

Once the narrative was set, it was impossible to dislodge. So in 2009, when Dirk said that the Denver Nuggets “gave him problems” on defense, it became yet another example of why he didn’t have the instinct to be a champion. Dirk averaged 27/10/3 on 52% shooting in those same playoffs; two years after the debacle in Oakland, he had learned to unleash his Geschwindnerian fade-away while playing with his back to the basket. He was essentially scoring at will. And still the story stuck.

***

After graduating from college, I moved home, picked up a job as a copywriter and began attending Mavericks games in person for the first time since high school. By the fall of 2011, the story was the story about both Dirk and the Mavericks, but the team seemed different to me. For the first time, Dirk was surrounded by elite defensive players at the three and the five in Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler.

So I took a leap of faith and put a paycheck on the Mavs winning the title at 16:1. Four months later, I had a new career. Dirk Nowitzki changed my life.

In kindergarten, they teach you that if you believe in yourself and try your hardest, you can accomplish anything. Why limit the imaginations of six-year olds when the world will do it soon enough? Unfortunately, those stupid, silly stories hold up more often than they should. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the Emperor actually does have clothes, however ill-gotten. Ninety-nine percent of the time, a genuinely new way of doing things won’t prove conventional wisdom wrong. But, every once in awhile, someone like Dirk comes around. With all due respect to Kevin Garnett, anything isn’t possible, until that one time out of 100, when it is.


Share |

Comments

I thought it was going to be some boring old post, but it really compensated for my time. I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will locate that extremely useful... The Best strategy for binary option trading

Hello! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this page to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!
los angeles carpet cleaning

I really enjoy simply reading all of your weblogs. Simply wanted to inform you that you have people like me who appreciate your work. Definitely a great post. Hats off to you! The information that you have provided is very helpful.
old tamil films

Awesome work! That is quite appreciated. I hope you’ll get more success.

urlopener

Thanks for your insight for your fantastic posting. I’m glad I have taken the time to see this. web design in los angeles

Flagsmore Its my great pleasure to visit your blog and to enjoy your great posts here. I like it a lot. I can feel that you paid much attention for those articles, as all of them make sense and are very useful. online casino Malaysia

free pokies downloads Great tips and very easy to understand. This will definitely be very useful for me when I get a chance to start my blog. small garden marquee hirer

free pokies downloads Great tips and very easy to understand. This will definitely be very useful for me when I get a chance to start my blog. small garden marquee hirer

I want you to thank for your time of this wonderful read!!! I definately enjoy every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff of your blog a must read blog!!Blog Comments

The font you've used is top notch. Everything here is just as I wanted it to be. You really are a great writer! Keep it upnatural cure for herpes

The font you've used is top notch. Everything here is just as I wanted it to be. You really are a great writer! Keep it up women cheap summer shoes

daily horoscopes uk It is perfect time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if Classifieds I could I desire to suggest you few interesting things or tips. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I want to read more things about it! marquee hire cheap prices

maybe we can see more on this. Are you aware of any other websites on this subject. stresser

maybe we can see more on this. Are you aware of any other websites on this subject miramar locksmith

I simply want to tell you that I am new to weblog and definitely liked this blog site. Guias ahorro

This content is written very well. Your use of formatting when making your points makes your observations very clear and easy to understand. Thank you. Michigan Wolverines Apparel

We are really grateful for your blog post. You will find a lot of approaches after visiting your post. Great work.
Tourism in Cyprus

I really enjoy simply reading all of your weblogs. Simply wanted to inform you that you have people like me who appreciate your work. Definitely a great post. Hats off to you! The information that you have provided is very helpful.
Call girls in Cyprus

This is the ideal website for any individual who needs to think about this point. The article is pleasant and its lovely to peruse find a local tour guide

Really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article. The Best strategy for binary option trading

Interesting and amazing how your post is! It Is Useful and helpful for me That I like it very much, and I am looking forward to Hearing from your next.voyance en ligne

I truly love how it is easy on my eyes it is. I am wondering how I might be notified whenever a new post has been made.. RechargeTricks

I thought it was going to be some boring old post, but it really compensated for my time. I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will locate that extremely useful...
Hampton Bay Lighting

This is also a very good post which I really enjoyed reading. It is not everyday that I have the possibility to see something like this..
vtv10.com

I really enjoy simply reading all of your weblogs. Simply wanted to inform you that you have people like me who appreciate your work. Definitely a great post. Hats off to you! The information that you have provided is very helpful.
jets for sale

This blog Info is fabulous; I must wanna see best more from your writers. instant payday network update

I am definitely enjoying your website. You definitely have some great insight and great stories. Olicandy

Thank you very much for sharing this post here. academic writing companies 

Fascinating information I haven’t been experienced such information in quite a long time software reuse

Excellent Blog! I would like to thank for the efforts you have made in writing this post. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. I wanted to thank you for this websites! Thanks for sharing. Great websites!
efterskole fodbold

I simply want to tell you that I am new to weblog and definitely liked this blog site. Best deals of sleep monitors

I dispatched your articles links to all my contacts and they all mate it including mejob portal

dispatched your articles links to all my contacts and they all mate it including me Cashback Offers

Great tips and very easy to understand. This will definitely be very useful for me when I get a chance to start my blog.
udklædningstøj

I am very happy to read this article .. thanks for giving us go through info.Fantastic nice. I appreciate this post.
Windows 7 Games

If you don't mind fill me in regarding whether you're searching for an article essayist I'd completely love to compose some material for your web journal in return for a connection back to mine. If it's not too much trouble send me an email if intrigued. Much obliged to you! cccam server

We are really grateful for your blog post. You will find a lot of approaches after visiting your post. online

I really enjoy simply reading all of your weblogs. Simply wanted to inform you that you have people like me who appreciate your work. Definitely a great post. Hats off to you! The information that you have provided is very helpful.
effective interest rate formula

If you are looking for tips on how to lower the yearly premiums you pay on your home contents and/or home buildings medical nsurance policies, the following are some sure-fire ways to do it: iis interview questions and answers for experienced

I’m reading the stuff of your site continuously n I have got really a lot of the things that’s very important. You have put the great effort here. Guess watches

This is truly a decent and instructive, containing all data furthermore greatly affects the new innovation. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing it Fifa Bot

This is truly a decent and instructive, containing all data furthermore greatly affects the new innovation. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing it The Best strategy for binary option trading 

A simple bookmarking tool that makes it easy to save, organize and share your favorite web pages. Access your bookmarks from any computer, phone or tablet. Listango works on all modern web browsers…
biotech companies in bangalore

I really like the dear information you offer in your articles. I’m able to bookmark your site and show the kids check out up here generally. Im fairly positive theyre likely to be informed a great deal of new stuff here than anyone else!
Smart Tv Box

Awesome blog. I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work!
SocialBuzz

A very awesome blog post. We are really grateful for your blog post. You will find a lot of approaches after visiting your post. I was exactly searching for. Thanks for such post and please keep it up. Great work.
airplane for sale

Such a very useful article. Very interesting to read this article.I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article.
construction companies in bangalore

Much obliged to you for such an elegantly composed article. It's brimming with canny data and captivating portrayals. Your perspective is the best among numerous. jocuri gratis

I’m reading the stuff of your site continuously n I have got really a lot of the things that’s very important. You have put the great effort here. rencontre coquine

The font you've used is top notch. Everything here is just as I wanted it to be. You really are a great writer! Keep it up weight loss systems for women