On Thursday evening at The Wild Detectives, Thomas Pletzinger and I will have a good long talk about Dirk Nowitzki. It’s been a long time coming.
For the German writer, it comes after spending seven years with the Dallas Mavericks icon, riding with him in vans to commercial shoots in Slovenia and watching him sweat his way into shape for yet another season in some random German gym. Sitting in the dugout with Nowitzki at his annual charity baseball game and talking to the future Hall of Famer through the inch-thick glass of a hyperbaric chamber. Seven years off and on at the elbow and somewhere near inside the mind of the best European basketball player ever.
The result is The Great Nowitzki: Basketball and the Meaning of Life, published in Germany in August 2019, a few months after Dirk announced his retirement from the NBA. It was translated into English and released in the United States by W.W. Norton in March, which is why Pletzinger will be in town this week.
The Great Nowitzki is not only the definitive biography of the basketball legend, but it also serves as a mini biography of his coach/mentor/friend Holger Geschwindner. During his seven years of reporting the book, Pletzinger naturally spent plenty of time with Geschwindner, since his life (and story) is inextricable from that of his famous protégé. The writer was able to go inside the duo’s famous training sessions and observe, and what he witnessed explains much about the game and Nowitzki’s approach to it. I learned a surprising amount, especially considering I’ve spent a large portion of the past two decades thinking about Dirk.
Most of those thoughts went into my own book, I See You Big German: What Dirk Nowitzki Means to Dallas (and Me), published by La Reunion/Deep Vellum last year. I See You Big German was never meant to the detailed biography that The Great Nowitzki is, but rather a complement to it. I say this even though I read it only after Pletzinger gave me an advance copy when I met him in January, when he came to Dallas for Dirk’s jersey retirement ceremony.
The truth is, I See You Big German exists in part because The Great Nowitzki does. Deep Vellum publisher Will Evans knows Pletzinger (because Evans knows everyone) and wanted to get the rights for the U.S. translation of The Great Nowitzki for his publishing house.
He knew he wouldn’t be able to afford it, W.W. Norton picked up their exclusive option [edited because I misremembered this] but Evans still wanted a Dirk book for Deep Vellum, and that book had to have a different take, something a bit more personal. That, of course, led to I See You Big German, which I have described as “a memoir about Dirk Nowitzki,” since a not insignificant amount of the book is about me and my relationship with my now 18-year-old son.
When I met Pletzinger, he told me it was funny that, despite our wildly different approaches, we ended up going to some of the places in what we wrote—not just about Dirk, of course, but life in general. How we see things. That’s one of the topics I plan to discuss with Pletzinger at The Wild Detectives Thursday evening. It’s a ticketed event—admission gets you a copy of The Great Nowitzki—and I can promise you it’ll be worth your time and money. All I’ll say is we have a surprise or two in store.