Giant on the move
Finally, to live the Olympic dream
You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel for Dirk Nowitzki. After 12 years of spending his summer holidays playing basketball for Germany in the hope of one day making it to the Olympics, the Dallas Mavericks forward led his country into the tournament when they got third place — and the last ticket to Beijing — in a qualifying tournament on Sunday in Athens.
Nowitzki cried tears of joy after Germany beat Puerto Rico 96-82 in the match for third place after they had lost to Croatia on Saturday night. He buried his face in a towel while walking off the court after scoring 32 points and cried and then sat in the locker-room and wept some more as journalists watched and waited for the chance to talk to him. “I needed to be alone for a bit at first,” Nowitzki said later.
He may be one of the richest sportsmen ever in Germany, earning many millions of dollars each year. But his tears of happiness were a moving reminder that there is something larger at stake. Even if basketball isn’t a very big sport in Germany — far behind not only soccer but also ranking below motor racing, handball and even water polo on many sports pages — Nowitzki’s emotion-filled achievement was the big story on Monday. ”A dream has really come true,” Nowitzki said. “I still can’t believe it. It’s an incredible feeling because we’ve all waited so long for it. I’m so happy and so proud. I was really tired at the end and a bit emotional. I just came unglued.”
But Nowitzki and his teammates were all smiles again on Monday. They went to German Olympic headquarters to pick up some team uniforms for the Opening Ceremony but had a hard time finding suits that would fit. “I heard the shot putters were here before us and snatched away all the suits in our size,” Nowitzki said. “Now some of us are going to have to run around Beijing with a bare midriff.”
Germany has had one of the world’s top 10 basketball teams for years, in no small part due to Nowitzki. They won the bronze medal at the 2002 world championships in Indianapolis, second at the 2005 European championships and fourth in Europe in 2001. But they always came up tantalisingly short in the pre-Olympic years in the qualifying for Sydney and Athens. But Nowitzki never gave up dreaming about walking into an Olympic stadium for the Opening Ceremony, even after Germany failed once again to qualify in 2007. The tickets they collected on Sunday in Athens were their very last chance for Germany’s first Olympic qualification since 1992.
“I’ve been watching the Olympics on TV ever since I can remember,” Nowitzki said in a recent interview in Berlin after a tune-up match against Poland. “The Opening Ceremony, the Olympic flame, the whole thing just fascinates me.” With Nowitzki now bound for Beijing, the whole thing fascinates me even more.
Pix from top: Nowitzki (R) tries to score against Puerto Rico’s Alex Falcon during their FIBA Olympic qualifying basketball game in Athens. And Nowitzki hugs Demond Greene next to Robert Garrett (2nd L). Photos by Yiorgos Karahalis.