‘They couldn’t stop him’ – The oral history of Dirk Nowitzki’s 1998 Nike Hoop Summit

Editor’s word: This story initially revealed on April 3, 2019. On Wednesday night time, the Dallas Mavericks will retire Dirk Nowitzki’s No. 41 jersey after their sport in opposition to the Golden State Warriors (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Before stepping foot on American soil, 19-12 months-previous Dirk Nowitzki performed on a second-division staff in his German hometown of Wurzburg that sometimes canceled practices to work on a farm owned by a teammate.

Sure, Nowitzki had managed to play his manner onto the radar of some NBA groups and school applications. But he was removed from a phenom.

That all modified through the 1998 Nike Hoop Summit in San Antonio’s Freeman Coliseum, when the lanky child, who was so unheralded that his surname was misspelled “Nowitzski” repeatedly on the ESPN broadcast, blew up for 33 factors and 14 rebounds to steer the World staff to an upset over the U.S. in a matchup in opposition to future NBA stars.

More than twenty years later, with Nowitzki calling it quits after a legendary 21-season NBA profession, we have a look again by the eyes of those that witnessed the massive German’s introduction to America and world-class basketball.

‘Ahh, we’ll simply sneak out.’

Never thoughts dealing with world-class competitors for the primary time. Just getting out of Germany was a problem for Nowitzki on account of unlucky timing. The Wurzburg X-Rays have been within the center of the playoffs with an opportunity to be promoted to the primary division for the primary time, placing Nowitzki within the uncomfortable dilemma of having to determine between loyalty to his hometown staff and chasing his private dream.

Dirk Nowitzki: I used to be invited [to the Hoop Summit] I feel the 12 months earlier than, possibly even two years earlier than. It’s all the time a foul time, as a result of at the moment [the Wurzburg X-Rays] have been in relegation to get moved up. Our dream was with the house staff to go to the primary division, get promoted, and we fell quick yearly. That 12 months, once more, we have been within the promotion zone and we had massive video games.

Holger Geschwindner, Nowitzki’s longtime mentor after which X-Rays assistant coach: We performed actually a dangerous sport [leaving Germany]. We had been a second-division staff and Dirk was a prime man.

Nowitzki: So Holger got here out to me and stated, “Hey, I think that’s a really, really good opportunity to measure yourself against some of the best in the world at your age.” I used to be like, “Are you crazy? This is what we dreamed for, what we played for the last couple of years.”

Geschwindner: I knew one factor for certain: The Hoop Summit was the one likelihood to carry out on the worldwide excessive degree as a result of we had no thought how [good] he actually was.

Nowitzki: So we needed to ask permission from the Army, as a result of I used to be nonetheless within the Army, and I do not suppose you may journey out of the nation except you ask and it is for a giant match or one thing. We had permission to go. Then we variety of needed to ask the staff. But Holger was variety of like, “Ahhh, we’ll just sneak out.” So I performed the sport Sunday night time, and I feel Monday morning we flew out of Frankfurt with out actually telling anybody. Holger might need talked to a supervisor or one thing, however I did not say something. So we snuck out.

Geschwindner: [Nowitzki’s] dad didn’t know. I talked to the mother, and she or he stated, “You have to tell his dad.” The subsequent morning I got here in and stated, “Did you tell him?” [Nowitzki] stated, “I will tell him now.” I stated, “Listen, we have to drive two hours from Wurzburg to [the airport in] Frankfurt. We do not go onto the plane if he does not know.”

Donnie Nelson, then Mavericks and World staff assistant coach; former Mavs president and GM: They have been trying haggard after they lastly received to Dallas. What was alleged to be a two-leg journey had become one thing like 4 legs. I used to be an assistant coach, so my job was to fetch espresso and get Germans after they arrived. I met them within the foyer of [Reunion Tower], and Holger was sporting the identical denims he is had since 1973 and nonetheless wears at present. And, of course, the flannel shirt and leather-based jacket I’m certain he nonetheless has.

‘My concern was that he was too good of a child to be a killer’

The World staff had already practiced a pair of instances in Dallas by the point Nowitzki arrived. It didn’t take the German lengthy to make a robust impression.

Donnie Nelson: I had solely seen [Nowitzki] on unhealthy, grainy tape. So much of worldwide gamers tended to shrink six inches on the flight over. I checked out him and stated, “Wow. He didn’t shrink.”

Geschwindner: On Wednesday afternoon, [the World team] had a scrimmage sport the place they determined who of these guys would go to the San Antonio sport. We needed to actually get severe. The key factor was to get him within the first 5.

Nowitzki: In [Don Nelson’s] workplace you can peek by the blinds [and see the practice court]. I suppose he did that, which I did not know on the time. Apparently, they actually favored what they noticed.

Don Nelson, former Mavericks head coach and GM: Actually, Donnie received the staff to work out the week earlier than they went right down to San Antonio on the YMCA in Dallas, the one downtown. It was closed, of course, to anyone besides Donnie and I.

Donnie Nelson: You might inform [Dirk had] good footwork, handwork, might shoot it. We went by simply intrasquad stuff.

Don Nelson: He was one of probably the most gifted younger gamers I’d ever seen, and moreover all that, the man was 7 toes tall. I imply, he was simply an unimaginable basketball participant!

George Raveling, former Nike director of worldwide basketball: I knew extra about Dirk than most individuals as a result of of my relationship with Holger, so he had already painted the image for me mentally. Then after I noticed the image hanging up within the Louvre, I used to be like, “Wow!” All these things that Holger was telling me began to manifest in Dirk’s play.

Donnie Nelson: My concern was that he was too good of a child to be a killer. He’s such a sort, massive-hearted man. Most of the fellows that go into these boards are guys that will simply as quickly rip your coronary heart out and present it to you. He did not strike me as that sort of human being, so my concern was, “Is he tough enough?” He definitely had the work ethic — you can inform.

Nowitzki: At the time, I used to be variety of a much less swag man. I’m a little bit nervous and undecided if that is going to work and the way good the youngsters are going to be. So I wasn’t certain what to anticipate.

Don Nelson: We made a dedication after just a few practices that we’d conceal him the easiest way we might from anyone seeing him. We dedicated to drafting him with no matter decide we had. We couldn’t persuade him to not play in that sport.

Donnie Nelson: I feel we noticed the true tiger come out in San Antonio.

‘They’re going to blow them out. This is not even going to be a sport.’

The U.S. staff was thought-about heavy favorites coming into the sport on March 29, 1998. The Americans jumped out to an early 9-level lead, overwhelming the worldwide gamers with their quickness and athleticism — they tallied a document 20 steals for the sport — and inflicting concern that the sport would not be aggressive.

Geschwindner: The sport in these days was on the Saturday between the Final Four.

Dan Shulman, ESPN play-by-play announcer: I keep in mind understanding extra in regards to the American youngsters than the World staff, and I keep in mind pondering, “Boy, this team’s stacked.” I keep in mind some measurement on it. Stromile Swift was on the staff. Rashard Lewis was on the staff. Al Harrington was on the staff. And these have been severe massive-identify guys popping out of highschool.

Geschwindner: The solely factor we talked with Dirk over was, “They cannot get the courage out of you. If you get the ball, drive to the basket. Try to dunk it. If they smash you down, keep going.”

Nowitzki: I knew all of these guys are clearly some of the perfect that we’ve on the planet at this age, so there was a respect degree, however in Germany I’d by no means heard of any of their names.

Donnie Nelson: The first half of the sport, the U.S. got here out and placed on this killer full-courtroom press, and let’s simply say that our frontcourt was quite a bit higher than our backcourt. And I feel possibly in all the first half, my recollection is we received the ball over half courtroom a complete of 10 instances. We have been in bother!

Shulman: The U.S. received off to a sizzling begin. I keep in mind us pondering, “They’re going to blow them out. This isn’t even going to be a game.”

Nowitzki: I figured they have been going to be tremendous-athletic. I figured they have been going to press us the entire sport and we have been going to show the ball over 100 instances.

Raveling: Alessandro Gamba was teaching the staff, and he was a legendary worldwide coach from Italy. They’re in all probability about 10 minutes into the sport and there is a timeout. I’m sitting proper by their bench on the scorer’s desk, and he comes over and he whispers in my ear, “George, who in the eff is that guy sitting behind the bench telling me how to coach my team?” I knew he was speaking about Holger. He stated, “I need you to get his ass out from behind my bench and stop trying to coach my team.” So Dirk had two head coaches, and probably the most acquainted voice was Holger’s.

Donnie Nelson: Of course, going into halftime, we regarded like we have been going to get drilled by 100, and Dirk made his personal adjustment going into the third quarter.

Shulman: Then the thin child from Germany began fouling all people out of the sport. About six U.S. guys fouled out of the sport.

Donnie Nelson: After the primary couple of possessions have been like the primary half, Dirk was in after they put the press again on by the highest of the important thing, so then he begins going up over half courtroom and tall as an oak tree. The poor man taking the ball out was 5-10, simply making an attempt to get the ball in, after which he sees a German oak. And he is like, “Oh, thank goodness,” and simply throws it up there.

Nowitzki: We truly held up OK.

‘We did not know the best way to guard him. We had by no means seen him earlier than.’

Nowitzki dominated the second half, scoring 19 factors after the break. He completed with 33 factors and 14 rebounds within the World staff’s 104-99 win, setting Hoop Summit information that will stand for greater than a decade.

Shulman: The World made a comeback, and Dirk was the rationale, as a result of they couldn’t stop him, whether or not he was taking pictures from the skin or shot pretend and driving.

Donnie Nelson: Dirk does nothing lower than the very factor that Holger taught him for years. That is, catch the ball, coast-to-coast like a guard, shoot 3s.

Darius Songaila, World staff ahead who performed eight NBA seasons: It was like that sport was created for him to point out off to the entire world what he was succesful of.

Al Harrington, U.S. staff ahead who performed 16 NBA seasons: He was simply spectacular. Seeing a tall, lanky white child that you just by no means heard of coming on the market with all that talent was simply superb. He simply shocked us.

Raveling: I feel he mesmerized the gamers on the opposite staff, as a result of he was doing issues that they’d by no means seen a giant man do. They did not suppose he might shoot that far out, and Dirk was energetic dealing with the ball. This was his coming-out, so-known as social gathering.

Donnie Nelson: A 6-11 man taking the ball, throwing it left and proper, taking pictures 3s, and we ended up making a sport out of it. That’s while you actually noticed the true Dirk popping out.

Don Nelson: Oh, the talents. I couldn’t name him a fantastic passer as a result of the sport was really easy to attain for him. He simply dominated. The sport was really easy for him, and he was so fluid.

Songaila: Obviously he ended up with ridiculous numbers, so after the sport there was quite a bit of hype that the man was going to be a very good participant. I do not suppose anyone thought that he was going to be that good.

Harrington: What actually pissed me off about that day was that they gained the sport. I do not know the way we misplaced that sport.

Nowitzki: We hung in there and ended up stealing the sport on the finish. It was the primary time the World staff had gained. We have been hyped! We have been hyped within the locker room! That was good instances.

Harrington: We did not know the best way to guard him. We had by no means seen him earlier than. I hadn’t heard of him till through the sport. I had by no means heard of him, however I knew about him after the sport. That’s what’s up.

Shulman: At the top of the night time, all we have been speaking about was Nowitzki, who I feel I known as “No-WIT-ski” then as a result of we did not even know [the proper pronunciation]. He was an unknown at the start of the sport, and he was the primary attraction by the top.



A younger Dirk Nowitzki particulars how his World staff defeated the USA staff on the 1998 Nike Hoop Summit.

‘I knew all people was going to wish to have him’

Nowitzki’s Hoop Summit efficiency established his standing as a rising star in NBA circles — he turned the No. 9 total decide two and a half months later — however he did not fairly return dwelling to Germany as a conquering hero.

Donnie Nelson: That was actually the primary unveiling, when Dirk did it in opposition to world-class expertise and athleticism in that age group on a giant stage. There was each staff in spades that was there that noticed all the identical stuff that we did. That was when it was, “Holy cow, this can be a pretty good player.”

Geschwindner: After the sport, we needed to fly instantly dwelling. I assumed I might be sensible, and I received the newspaper from San Antonio within the airport. “International team beats U.S. boys” or no matter. I assumed it could be kind of an excuse coming dwelling.

Nowitzki: The staff was variety of pissed. But they ended up profitable the sport that I missed. Then I used to be in a position to play the next sport, and we gained that. And that 12 months we truly received promoted.

Geschwindner: They killed us [in Germany]. They killed us badly. Dirk was not on the [Wurzburg X-Rays] sport. The boys gained it anyway, but it surely would not matter. They have been actually mad. I used to be the man that misleads children. They actually killed us. The press killed us in Germany.

Nowitzki: I feel probably the most pissed was one of our international gamers, as a result of he had a promotion bonus in his contract. It was a pleasant sum of cash, I feel, on the time for us enjoying over there. So he is mainly saying, “You’re playing with my money.”

Donnie Nelson: That [Hoop Summit] was actually, in quite a bit of respects, Dirk’s “American Idol,” the basketball model, the place he crushed it. After that sport, Dirk’s life received much more difficult in a great way.

Raveling: The man who actually foresaw all of this was Donnie Nelson. He was extra sure than anyone that Dirk was going to be a celebrity, so he went to work doing his due diligence to verify the Mavericks received him.

Don Nelson: I knew all people was going to wish to have him work out and do the circuit [before the draft]. That’s when Donnie and I discovered a strategy to variety of have him disappear in Donnie’s basement. [Laughs.] It simply so occurred Donnie had a little bit cot down there.

Nowitzki: Through Holger and listening to from worldwide brokers, I used to be the speak of NBA circles and scouts. That got here out of nowhere to me. I suppose I did not understand how massive that sport was and what it meant till I got here again dwelling and all these brokers got here as much as me and have been like, “Hey, you’re projected in the lottery now.” I used to be like, “What?! That’s insane.”

Don Nelson: I knew then he’d be an All-Star for a lot of, a few years. I knew he had the talents to be one of the perfect. He fulfilled all these goals and plenty of, many extra.

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