It was a day that Dirk Nowitzki will never forget – “D-Day – Dirk-Day” – the Tuesday, June 28, 2011 when he returned to his native Würzburg, Germany as an NBA champion.

Nowitzki, who turned 33 on June 19, said the words “overwhelming”, “unbelievable” and “crazy” probably a hundred times over the course of the full day.

It started with a “press conference” at the s.Oliver Arena in Würzburg, followed by a session in the City Hall with the mayor where he signed the city’s Golden Book. Then came a car parade down the streets of Würzburg before appearing on the balcony of the Würzburg Residence in front of some 11,000 fans, topped off by a chorus of “We are the champions” before he headed out in the Würzburg nightlife for some more partying.

Here a nice video summary by the German Basketball Federation of the whole day.

What started out with a Facebook idea of having the German Wunderkind appear on the balcony of the Würzburg Residence for a reception turned into a full day of events planned by Nowitzki’s sister and manager Silke Nowitzki and his main sponsor the Ing DiBa bank – which would later donate a check for 100,000 euro to the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation.

Nearly 3,000 came out to the Würzburg Arena including 150 reporters and nine camera teams. The organizers put together a full “Final Countdown” party including live music and cheerleaders to get the crowd ready for the press conference, which was broadcast live on Sport1 and the German sports channel’s online site.

Nowitzki was introduced using the intro from the Dallas Mavericks and then he entered to the bells of “Hells Bells” and smoke and cheers of “MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP!” sporting a Green Nike t-shirt and beige shorts.

The crowd would not let the moderator, German basketball commentator Frank Buschmann, start the “press conference”. It eventually started and lasted more than 80 minutes as a chat with Buschmann and questions from journalists and children and fans on hand.

Nowitzki addressed why the Dallas Mavericks want rings and not bracelets; the possibility of playing at EuroBasket 2011; the NBA lockout; LeBron James and Dwyane Wade questioning his sickness during the NBA Finals; the acquisition of Rudy Fernandez; how his success could help basketball in Würzburg and Germany; why he wears number 41; where the Finals MVP trophy and the NBA trophy are; and why he wept after the Finals were won.

At the end of the press conference, a handicapped man asked Nowitzki to sign a couple things and the shopping bag include a soccer ball and a Nowitzki jersey. As he saw the soccer ball, Nowitzki yelled “Fussball! (football)” and tried to dribble the ball – but with little success. And then he noticed that there was already a signature on the ball – and the fan said, “Yeah Paul Breitner (German soccer football legend). Only the stars.” And then the fan complained about Nowitzki’s signature – “You can’t read that.”
Another highlight was Nowitzki showing off his shooting technique after a young girl had asked if he had a specific shooting style.

At City Hall, he wrote “Many thanks for the great reception. In my heart I will also remain a Würzburg native.” into the Golden Book.

At the residence party, Nowitzki told the crowd: “You guys are wearing me out.” The crowd and the heat – about 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees) – which led to 20 people being treated for circulatory problems, and Nowitzki to sweat through three t-shirts during the whole day.

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Here a transcript of the whole press conference – followed by the speech on the balcony:

Could you have ever imagined coming home to Germany – home to Würzburg – and there be such a euphoria about you, or to be honest, for a German basketball player?

Nowitzki: No, I wouldn’t have thought that. It is absolutely overwhelming what’s going on here. The whole day is planned and hopefully later at the Residence all hell will break loose. It’s absolutely overwhelming. Also hearing about how everyone was awake in the middle of the night and celebrating at 3 or 4 in the morning and even a car parade through downtown Würzburg. Somehow everything is just incredible.

Now that the ring has been achieved, is there even going to be a ring? How are things looking with Mark Cuban?

Nowitzki: I think all players tend towards the ring. Cuban wanted a bracelet or something like that. But I made clear to him that we’re men and not women. (Cheers from the crowd). I think that last word hasn’t been spoken and I think a ring is just so classy. So in that regard I hope we can convince him otherwise.

Some time has passed since Game 6 in Miami. Have you been able to realize everything that has happened to you and – I will say – your team. Or is it just still a big balloon hanging up there?

Nowitzki: No, not really. The last two weeks have been really non-stop. In Dallas too there was a lot of celebrating. The parade was an unbelievable experience for me and the team. There were more than 200,000 people there celebrating us. That was a huge experience. And then all the photo shooting and then flying here. The last two weeks have been non-stop. I’m trying to enjoy everything and take it all in and have fun with it. It’s been absolutely incredible so far. So I think it will take some time before it sinks in and I am able to have a vacation and can finally shut down and relax. Everything will go through my head again – all the games, the playoff series that we won. But that will come.

What was the turning point? The game against Portland where the critics said oh here we go again with Dallas?

Nowitzki: After that loss we grew together more as a team – after we lost the game with an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter. We gave it up and it was 2-2 and all the media and critics said the old Mavericks are back. They’re going to fold now and lose the series. It was really important that we pull together for Game 5. We went home and practiced a bit together and then we won the Game 5 and I think that was very, very important. And then we got back the momentum and that held on in the Lakers series by winning the first two road games. It just went better and better after that.

When did you really believe, this is our year?

Nowitzki: We have very experienced team and we never allowed ourselves to get too excited too early, even after we swept the Lakers the happiness wasn’t that big. We also tried to stay concentrated and focused in the week before the Oklahoma City series. The experience of the team really help, that we didn’t get too high with the big wins or too low with the bad losses. And that helped us in the whole playoff run.

Does the team as an older team have an advantage in having more time or would you get a bit rusty?

Nowitzki: If you had asked me five or six years ago I would have said I would rather just play on through – every two days and keep the rhythm. But if you look at our team, all of the main pillars were all 30 or older. Our playmaker, who had a great playoffs, Jason Kidd is already 38. I think that was also the key for our game – that we could give him a bit of a break before the playoffs. And then after the Lakers series he had a long break as well. That was the key.

And then you faced off with the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder, with a great Kevin Durant.

Nowitzki: Yeah, I really didn’t know what to expect after eight or nine days off. But the coaches did a good job with us. The first two, three days after the LA series, they let us relax a bit – just watching some film and seeing what we could do better and some weight room work and some light shooting. And then when it got closer to playing games again, we increased the intensity of practice, playing practice games with running clock and time outs and everything so that we didn’t lose our game rhythm. And I think that was very, very important. The coaches really put together a good plan. And we were top fit when the Oklahoma City series started.

Let’s talk about the series against the Big Three – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The whole U.S. was supporting Dallas except for Miami. Did you realize that at all?

Nowitzki: No, unfortunately not. (Cheers from the crowd). When the playoffs start you are so concentrated and focused. Other than practice, I hardly left my house in the two months. It was always crazy how many people supported us. And the critics always had us as the underdogs. We even were supposed to lose against Portland. So I think that helped a bit to motivate the team – and it was pretty clear that we weren’t the favorite against Miami.

What kind of role did it have for you and Jason Terry that you always had 2006 and looking back at losing the NBA Finals to Miami? What that the extra kick, that that wouldn’t happen again?

Nowitzki: I can’t speak for Jet (Terry), but it was a very, very important experience for me back then that I went through that. It was a huge disappointment but it made me stronger. In life you have to go through a lot – highs and lows. And the lows only make you stronger. And that was a huge setback. (Claps from crowd). But that motivated me even more to get back to the Finals. It was a hard road and I put in a lot of work. I think it made me a better finisher in the fourth quarter and really be there when it counted for the team. That wasn’t the case in the Finals (from 2006) so I think I learned a lot and Jet as well. And in the fourth quarter when we were leading by quite a bit, Jet came over to me and said ‘Remember 2006.’ That was super and we brought it home. (Cheers from crowd)

Where was LeBron James in the fourth quarters?

Nowitzki: I think our defense stood well. Dallas and defense didn’t always go so well together over the past 13 years of my career. But I think Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood really helped us a lot in the defense. And if you look at our entire playoff run, we were always good in the fourth quarter and also stood really well. The games that we came back from big deficits was always due to the defense and that allowed us to play quicker and give Kidd the ball. We always played the best that way – standing strong in the back and playing free and passing on offense. Kidd did a great job on LeBron. (Shawn) Marion was great on defense. DeShawn Stevenson is one of our best wing defenders. I just think we always tried to have fresh bodies on him and make him work hard for everything.

I would like to ask about two stories from the Finals. I really can hardly ask it, but did you ever think about not playing when you had the fever?
Nowitzki: No, no. Of course not. This is the NBA Finals. I would have had to have been on my death bed. Otherwise I would have somehow got out there. The night before that was tough. I knew that we trailed 2-1 and that was the biggest game of the series. If we lose that one, it’s 3-1 and the series is all but over. I really worried about it, didn’t sleep at all, had a fever. But the next day I got some medicine and I felt a bit better for the game than I expected. I sweat a bit before the game and felt that I would somehow make it through. I figured it wouldn’t be great but maybe looking back on the series it helped us. The others could see that I wasn’t doing too good – even before Game 3. I wasn’t talking much and hardly moving. And the team really carried me the rest of the series. Important was getting JJ Barea into the starting line-up. He really turned the momentum of the whole series. We needed someone in the starting lineup to go into the zone and score. And after Game 3 he really played phenomenally. But I never really thought about not playing.

Of course there was the Chicago Bulls-Utah Jazz series where Michael Jordan had a bad case of food poisoning. In the game he scored something like 42 points and needed an infusion afterwards. Your situation reminded me a bit about that.

Nowitzki: Yeah the journalists asked me after the game if that was Jordan-like and of course I asked them if they watched the right game. I was actually pretty bad in the game. The team really carried me and I hit an important basket in the end.

And then there was the not-so-funny video of LeBron James and Wade making fun of you and hinting that you were faking being sick. That was a big issue in the U.S. You are considered more of a quiet guy. Did that bother you a bit? Or did you not even care about it?

Nowitzki: Yeah a little bit of both. When you’re in the Finals you only concentrate on the games and not what is going on elsewhere. But yeah, I wasn’t happy about that, of course. In my 13 years I never faked anything – never an illness or injury. So in that regard, I don’t need to be accused of anything. (Cheers from the crowd).

And then you win the trophy and even are named as the MVP of the Finals. That’s pretty heavy stuff. Do you still remember what you were thinking then or is it just like a dream?

Nowitzki: Everything just flowed together. After the game, I went directly to the locker room – just like in Athens (when Germany qualified for the 2008 Olympics). That was a similar event. After so much hard work, all the emotions just came out, I just ran to the locker room and loads of PR people ran after me and said ‘You can’t do that. We have to trophy presentation.’ I just said ‘I don’t want it.’ (Laughs and cheers from the crowd) I can remember I went back into the shower and put a towel to my face and said they should give it to someone else. And that after a few minutes it was okay again and I was able to come back out. Everything was crazy. First the trophy, then the MVP trophy being handed over by Bill Russell, who is the biggest champion of all time with 11 rings. That was just unbelievable. And then the whole night celebrating in the stadium until 1 a.m. taking pictures with the trophy and doing interviews. And then we took the trophy into the club, which is even crazier in Miami.

But you know where the trophy is?

Nowitzki: I was scared of a bit as well. But Cuban just marched into the club with the trophy and handed it over to everyone like it was a piece of wood. But luckily we had two security guards with us and they watched out for the trophy and it was still there at the end of the night.

Back to you leaving for the locker room, are you a sensible guy? How does that come about?
Nowitzki: I don’t really know either. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a sensitive guy. I don’t know. If you put so much work into something and then you are at the top and you have reached your goal, then so much goes through your head – all the work you did, all the frog jumps in the gym in Rattelsdorf. And that it was all worth it in the end. So I needed a couple moments to get myself back together. Not as long as I needed back then in Athens. Just a couple minutes and then it was okay.

One of the comparisons you get now is with Larry Bird. Now it’s gotten so far that Larry Bird, the Legend, said it’s an honor to be compared to someone like Dirk Nowitzki.

Nowitzki: It’s kind of strange feeling to hear that. I don’t see myself on the same level as Larry Bird. I think he’s one of the greatest players to play this game. He has three rings so I don’t think I should be compared to him. We’re both big and we both can shoot the ball well from the outside. That’s where the comparison comes from.

Many American journalists said you changed the game. A 7-footer who understands the game so well, can shoot, has creativity in his shot seldom seen before. How do you deal with that – that you changed the game in the best basketball league in the world?

Nowitzki: It’s amazing. But over the past 13 years I was lucky that I came into the NBA just when it started to change. Before then, there was a lot of one-on-one. Charles Barkley would dribble 20 times under the basket and then finally make a layup. The sport just changed over the last few years. It got quicker. There was less one-on-one, more team basketball. More ball movement, more passing, cutting. Really old school. And my game just fit in as a big man who could run, who could move, can shoot from the outside, and dribble a little bit.

And after the big goal has finally been achieved, I assume you won’t just sit back and relax. That’s not your personality.

Nowitzki: Not really. But I need to shut down for a couple weeks. The playoffs were pretty tough – every day going to the limit for two months. I think I need to get away and get some peace and quiet from everything and then the motivation will slowly come back. But at the moment I am beat and need vacation.

How is the finger?
Nowitzki: I still need to keep it straight for a couple weeks. That was a very strange situation. It was Game 1 and I just wanted to hit the ball out of Bosh’s hands – like I have done thousands of times before. And then on offense I look down at my hand and my finger wouldn’t straighten out. I tore a tendon at the tip and it kind of hung down. The offense kept going and I just looked at my finger and thought, what is wrong here. I ran over to the physiotherapist and he taped it up. After the game we x-rayed it but it was okay, I wasn’t so hindered. It was a good thing that it was my left hand. So it really didn’t impact my shot.

There is still a chance that we see you crying in the locker room again – this time qualified for the London Olympics (Cheers from the crowd and chants of ‘Dirk Nowitzki!’)
Nowitzki: Thanks, thanks. I think I would like to be back again (a very loud scream of ‘Yeah!!!’ from the crowd). I sat out the last two years, which I think really did me good this year so that I could really play a long time. The rest is still open. The past two years I have said that if we’re talking about the Olympic Games that I would like to be there. Beijing was such a great experience even though we didn’t play that well sports-wise. But the Opening Ceremony with the flag and leading the whole nation into the stadium, that’s a day I will never forget. Now we have a lot of new people in the national team. I have really followed it the past two years. A lot of the so-called old guard retired from the national team after the Olympic Games. I have said the past two years that I would like to make it possible for the youngsters to experience al the hype of being in the Olympic Village. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can’t duplicate that at world championships or European championships – the feeling. The plan the past two years has been that I would play in Lithuania. Unfortunately I had to play until mid-June. Now I just want to take a vacation and then we can make a decision that is representative for both sides.

I mean after vacation you would also have to be in the right form if you went to Lithuania, right?

Nowitzki: Yeah, one thing is clear, I have a target on my back. Everyone wants to give me their best, not like 2006 when we were at the NBA Finals and then the World Championship in Japan and I was really only 50-60 percent fit after really just starting a couple weeks before hand. And I think both sides don’t need that. I don’t need to even show up if I am that non-fit. I don’t think the games are the problem, but the training sessions that really would start in mid-July. We have to see if there is enough motivation, but I think so.

What does it mean to you that newspapers are asking if you’re one of the greatest German sports figures of all time? What does it mean for the sport? How can it impact it?
Nowitzki: I think we all know that Germany is a football (soccer) country. That will never change. And then there are a couple of sports which are trying to establish themselves after that. Handball has a very good Bundesliga and tennis is back on the rise again. And some other sports including basketball. Back in 2005 when we won the silver medal at the European Championship, I think there was a bit of hype. And I think we need to use this hype again to gain some more new talent for our sport. And hopefully bringing in young new people into the national team.

Is it more of a burden or pleasure that you are an ambassador for this sport – more than anyone before you? How is that?

Nowitzki: That hasn’t changed at all. It was always so that when I come everyone is crazy and the place is packed. Sure, that’s a nice feeling, of course a bit of pressure as well to play the best basketball possible. But we are all athletes, so it’s also a nice feeling.

We will forgive you for saying that nothing has changed. But the way the media is presenting this and who they are comparing you to in German sports (Franz Beckenbauer, Boris Becker, Michael Schumacher), that has never happened before. And it was surprising as well. I asked myself where were they all the previous 12 years of you being in the NBA? (clapping from the crowd) And now, all of this at once. Did that surprise you at all?

Nowitzki: Unfortunately I have to admit that I didn’t see any of the German media during the playoff run. In the United States, when you had a day off I would watch what the other players were doing and they talked about Dirk having a great game. I thought that I had played that way before as well. In 2006 when we reached the Finals I had an unbelievable run. Unfortunately we lost in the end. But it was kind of strange that everyone jumped on the Dirk train.

Every German television station now is probably asking when can you come to us. Will we have the Media-Nowitzki now? Or will Dirk Nowitzki remain the way he’s always been – concentrating more on what’s important for him?

Nowitzki: After 13 years you learn that you can’t satisfy everybody. That wouldn’t work. I would be traveling around Germany every day and signing autographs and then going to TV stations. I wouldn’t have a life any more. You learn from the beginning to be able to say no. But I think we will find a good mix – that I can concentrate on training when it starts back up. I think I will do a couple things with DiBa – here a photo shoot, here a couple interviews. But I cannot be traveling around day for day from one media to the next. We will do a couple of big things where we reach a big audience. Now I just have to take vacation and then concentrate on training.

Another issue is the NBA lockout. It looks pretty certain. There is plenty of speculation – Bayern Munich, Alba Berlin, Würzburg, Bamberg. They are all dreaming of having Dirk Nowitzki with their club. That’s not so easy is it.

Nowitzki: No, it’s not that easy. Back then, my first season was also a strike season. The difference was that back then I had not yet signed my rookie contract. So I was without a contract, which allowed me to play and practice in Würzburg and get some experience and mainly stay fit. So when it started back up in the States I was top fit and ready. This year is different. I have a contract for three more years. I don’t even know how it would work contractually. But we can worry about that when we see that the strike will last longer than we think. If it looks like the whole season will be lost, then we will have to do something. I am 33 years and I cannot just sit out a year and then play at the highest level. So, we have to look around to see about options. But that is all a long way off. I think both sides – the players union and the NBA – have come closer, so I hear. But you can only hope that the normal practice starts in October and the season starts in November.

Other journalists:
There were wonderful pictures of the victory celebrations with you and your girlfriend. How big of an impact did she have on this success and how welcome did she feel in Franconia when she was here?

Nowitzki:Are you from the Neue Revue? (Laughs and cheers)

Only from the Bunte.

Nowitzki: Even worse.
No, it’s going well. I’m not someone who talks a lot about my private life. Of course the support was there. She was also there for tough times during the season. So she was important.

What goals do you still have?
Nowitzki: I still have goals on the court for sure. I think when you get a distance we are so competitive that we always want to be the best. If you are the best team, you want to remain the best team. Repeating would be a dream.

Everything went really well with the victory celebrations and parade until you guys had to dance. What happened?

Nowitzki: I think they played the wrong song … No, I don’t know. I don’t think Cardinal is really the dancing type. He’s more the strong man. Marion likes to do that an did a pretty good job.

A sports question, should there not be a lockout, Rodrigue Beaubois underwent a foot operation. Tyson is a free agent. Do you have a chance to defend the title?

Nowitzki: I think we need to wait and see when the strike is over. We have a lot of free agents, unfortunately. We would like to keep Tyson. He was our absolute anchor on defense. Caron Butler is a free agent who missed the whole season after January. But he played really well for us. That was a big setback for us. Roddy had surgery but I think he will be back. Stevenson is a free agent. Stojakovic, Cardinal. There are quite a few. I hope we can keep a few of them. JJ Barea is also a free agent. It would be important to keep him. But that depends on the negotiations after the strike. It’s utopian to think that we can keep them all because basketball is too much of a business. But I hope that we can keep most of them and have a strong team next season.

As connected to your homeland as you are, are you disappointed that you couldn’t bring the NBA championship trophy to Würzburg And where is the MVP trophy at the moment?
Nowitzki: I would have liked to have brought the MVP trophy, but I had to send it to New York and have my name engraved in it. And then it will be sent here. Unfortunately it’s not here yet. As far as the big trophy, Cuban hasn’t let it out of his hands since we won it. There are pictures on the internet that he has the thing with him on the toilet. He brings it into every club. He is just super proud of it. So I don’t think any player has gotten a hold of it yet. In the NHL, it’s so that every winner gets the trophy for a couple days to bring to their home city. But that tradition is not the case in basketball.

The Mavericks did not draft anybody in the 2011 NBA Draft but acquired Rudy Fernandez by trade. Your thoughts on that.

Nowitzki: Rudy is about 25 or 26 and he would fit very well into our team. He’s very explosive up front, moves a lot, which we like. He can shoot from the outside but also drive to the hoop. I think he can help us next year. I think we will have a good mix of young and old.

What impact will your success have on the city of Würzburg? Will we have a flood of American tourists?

Nowitzki:It wouldn’t be bad. (Cheers from crowd) But it happened a couple times that some people said they went through Würzburg to see where I am from. I hope that will bring something to Würzburg.

For the case that you would have to look for a club in Europe, would you look for a stronger league like Spain or would you rather stay in the homeland?

Nowitzki: I think that’s in the future. Everything is possible. In the back of my mind I still think the NBA season will be played, that they will agree. Both sides – the union and the NBA – see that the NBA is on the way up again. The Finals were watched by more people than in the past five or six years. I think both want to use that hype and will agree. And if they don’t agree, then we can still look around.

What do you think about maybe financing a little bit with the Würzburg team? Any help would be great.

Nowitzki: I followed the fact that Würzburg were promoted. It’s a big thing. My father even was on board the train down to Munich for the big game against Bayern Munich. It’s a good thing, and I can identify myself with the youth project you have. We can certainly meet up, but first I need some vacation.

You sent Phil Jackson into retirement, did he say anything to you afterwards?

Nowitzki:No, somehow I got pulled in all sorts of directions after the victory and I couldn’t shake Phil’s hand. But all of the Lakers congratulated me – Kobe, Pau, and all the others. But unfortunately I couldn’t meet up with Phil.

Who was your biggest basketball idol?

Nowitzki: When I started it was the 1990s and the Bulls began winning everything. It was the time of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman later. And I was a huge Chicago Bulls fans. I had loads of Bulls posters in my room – also Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley. I was a huge NBA fan, especially Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Barkley has always said really nice things about me – also during these playoffs. And that’s an honor for me because he was one of greatest for me. When I started I wore the number 11 because I wore that in handball and my father wore it in handball. But when Charles Barkley wore number 14 at the Olympic Games in 1992, I switched to number 14. And that turned to number 41 (Nowitzki wears number 14 when he plays for the German national team). But I had the number 14 because of Charles Barkley.

Would you ever consider another NBA team other than Dallas?

Nowitzki: Not anymore. That was the confirmation that I will spend the rest of my NBA career with Dallas. The only thing possible would have been had I not won the title after three or four more years that I would have looked around and tried to see where I could go to latch on and win a title – like many have done. I saved myself from that. And now I will end my career in Dallas.

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And here is the speech on the balcony:

I am speechless. I would have never thought that something like this is possible in Würzburg. I would like to thank all the fans that supported me over the past 13 years and also before that here in Würzburg. It’s been a great time. And this is the absolute high point with the championship in the end. I am totally speechless. I would like to thank the city and all the fans that supported me – cheering – it was a career with a few lows and some highs and you were there with me in every difficult defeat I had to deal with and helped get me pumped back up. And I want to thank you for that.

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1 Comment

  1. dallasite says:

    great post, thanks!