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

They might be young but their knowledge about the city is really very high. freetourstockholmcity

Both models of business welcome the possibility to cut down production costs, elimination of multiple intermediaries and costs savings as a result of technology usage. Business SEO

hi!! Exceptionally fascinating discourse happy that I went over such educational post. Keep doing awesome. Happy to be a piece of your net group
Best Hotels In Dhanaulti

Awesome things you've generally imparted to us. Simply continue composition this sort of posts.The time which was squandered in going for educational cost now it can be utilized for studies.Thanks new movies releases

Your article has provoked a ton of positive hobby. I can see why since you have made such a decent showing of making it intriguing. voyance telephone gratuite

Actually I am not habituate to reply a comment on blogs but this blog caught my attention and I am compelled to write a comment here to express my gratitude to you. I would like to appreciate for this awesome work. Högsbo sisjön Backaplan hisingen lerum

Easily, the article is actually the best topic on this registry related issue. I fit in with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your next updates. Just saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the fantasti c lucidity in your writing. k doll beauty skincare

The massive repair FUT cell phone requires is that the hosts desires to be increased. It's been a challenge for most of the EA internet games in cell phone consoles.FIFA News

It is great to have the opportunity to read a good quality article with useful information on topics that plenty are interested on.I concur with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your future updates. PAN Card Status

I researed valuable information on this point as I am working on a class project. Thank you posting useful information and its now becoming easier to accomplish this task. https://www.behance.net/gallery/50623865/Sidste-skoledag

Wow, great, I was wondering how to cure acne naturally. And found your site by google, learned a lot, now i'm a clear. I have bookmark your site and also add rss. Keep us updated. songs free download

Great post full of useful tips! My site is fairly new and I am also having a hard time getting my readers to leave comments. Analytics shows they are coming to the site but I have a feeling “nobody wants to be first”. designer clutch bags

It is really liltte wonder why so many so called motivation programs fail within a short period of time. They are focused on the flaws of management, leaving management to correct the issues. When in fact much of the burden for motivation falls on the employee. Organisations that fail to recognize this will fail in their motivation efforts.Thank you for some real insight. Very well done.
Fabrizio politi

It is really liltte wonder why so many so called motivation programs fail within a short period of time. They are focused on the flaws of management, leaving management to correct the issues. When in fact much of the burden for motivation falls on the employee. Organisations that fail to recognize this will fail in their motivation efforts.Thank you for some real insight. Very well done.
Fabrizio politi

i am continually searching for some free stuffs over the web. there are likewise a few organizations which gives free specimens. sump pump repair

Very inspirational to hear about someone pursuing their dream and becoming successful instead of following the traditional path. www.signalboosteruk.co.uk

You have made an incredible showing on this article. It"s extremely lucid and very keen. You have even figured out how to make it justifiable and simple to peruse. Movers Los Gatos CA

I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog, I will keep visiting this blog very often. Movers Gilroy CA

Best work you have done, this online site is truly cool with incredible certainties. Movers San Jose

I am actually delighted to glance at this website posts which contains tons of helpful information, thanks for providing these kinds of data. owranks

Great job for publishing such a beneficial web site. Your web log isn’t only useful but it is additionally really creative too. Foods that Affect Gout

http://images.google.pl/url?q=http://www.halstedhus.dk/tilmelding/efterskolernes-dag 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. uk web directory

I just want to let you know that I just check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative.xiaomi mi6

You have a good point here!I totally agree with what you have said!!Thanks for sharing your views...hope more people will read this article!!! tools consult

In such a chair to invest, how do we get him introduced here by Akracing, testifies our opinion clearly of reasonand worthwhile . But further in the text. eating plans to lose weight

Much thanks for keep this data. healthiest drink

I researed valuable information on this point as I am working on a class project. Thank you posting useful information and its now becoming easier to accomplish this task.
modern kids furniture

https://issuu.com/nataliedk 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! http://images.google.co.jp/url?q=http://www.hjertingrejser.dk/langtidsrejser-costa-del-sol/torremolinos

I admit, I have not been on this web page in a long time... however it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. http://thewordnypmhetsdiary.wordpress.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. https://hhoermann.jimdo.com/

The company is a true leader in the space and I look forward to contributing to its mission of responsibly serving consumers who currently lack access to traditional credit products.iragoldadvisor

Very nice blog and articles. I am realy very happy to visit your blog. Now I am found which I actually want. I check your blog everyday and try to learn something from your blog. Thank you and waiting for your new post.qualité

A lot of free time is also rather than transport to the desire, whenever it got great admiration, passion should never be everyone forget about.click here

I read this article. I think You put a lot of effort to create this article. I appreciate your work. ไทยหัวข้อน่าสนใจ

I read this article. I think You put a lot of effort to create this article. I appreciate your work. ไทยหัวข้อน่าสนใจ

Nice information, valuable and excellent design, as share good stuff with good ideas and concepts, lots of great information and inspiration, both of which I need, thanks to offer such a helpful information here. custom coroplast boxes

Great article Lot's of information to Read...Great Man Keep Posting and update to People..Thanks thesysadmins.co.uk

https://www.behance.net/gallery/50207867/aircraft-for-sale 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. https://markez-alroqya-alchariya.blogspot.com/

Thank you so much for the post you do. I like your post and all you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job. stampare foto da instagram

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! http://maps.google.com/url?q=http://europeanaircraftsales.com

I liked the reading through the blog. the pictures in the blogs were awesome.Thanks for sharing such an awesome idea. using hcg

decent bLog! its fascinating. much obliged to you for sharing.... dental implants perth

Great post full of useful tips! My site is fairly new and I am also having a hard time getting my readers to leave comments. Analytics shows they are coming to the site but I have a feeling “nobody wants to be first”. thesysadmins.co.uk

It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I'm looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it! junk removal demolition trash Cincinnati Cincinnati, OH

I enjoyed reading your post and found it to be informative and to the topic. Thank you for not rambling on and on just to fill the page. Thanks..
iPhone 6s reparation göteborg

You might comment on the order system of the blog. You should chat it's splendid. Your blog audit would swell up your visitors. I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! Salon Facial Products

So luck to come across your excellent blog. Your blog brings me a great deal of fun.. Good luck with the site. 3D Vector Art

A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing the information, keep doing awesome... I truly delighted in investigating your site. great asset... porn cccam server

Thank you so much for this very useful information. It was very effectively and well written article. Keep up the greatness! Parlandealey Impetigo Goodbye Process

Glad to chat your blog, I seem to be forward to more reliable articles and I think we all wish to thank so many good articles, blog to share with us. Magic Bullet Vs Nutribullet