Wednesday, October 5, 2022 Oct 5, 2022
72° F Dallas, TX
Basketball

From Germany With Love: A Dispatch From Dirk’s Second Jersey Retirement

Before he was Dallas', he was Germany's. And that love has never faded.
By |
Image
Dirk Nowitzki always prioritized playing for his country. On Thursday, Germany showed him the ultimate appreciation in return. Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

“MVP!  MVP!  MVP!”   

The chant rained down from the rafters in a packed arena as fans rose to their feet in unison to show love to the man who has shown them so much love back.   

The setting was different, though. This wasn’t happening in the American Airlines Center. It was in Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany, and the jersey going up was Dirk Nowitzki’s number 14, which he put on 153 times while representing his country. It was a strange feeling seeing a different fan base celebrate my Dirk, our Dirk, for a different set of accomplishments. Yes, Germany celebrated with us when the Mavs won the title in 2011. To that point, Mark Cuban told me that “it almost felt like a Mavs home game between all the Dirk jerseys and the Luka jerseys in the crowd.” (Doncic’s Slovenian team played right before the ceremony.) But this night was about what Dirk accomplished when he wore 14.    

As a Mavericks fan, I may have privately wished he didn’t always suit up for his home country every summer, hoping and praying he wouldn’t get hurt or wear himself out. But it all made sense when standing in that arena and seeing the outpouring of affection. This is who Dirk is, and neither he nor we should want it any other way. Jason Kidd summed it up well when he told me later that night, “It’s like you can feel the emotion 10 times more because this is their son. Dallas adopted him, but he’s their son.”

We saw that son grow into a man in Dallas, with all the growing pains that come with it. But I forgot about the fans who saw him leave. He came back every summer, and he put on number 14, and he played. After every long, grueling NBA season, he played. Winning bronze in the 2002 World Championships. Taking silver at EuroBasket 2005; Scoring 47 points at the 2006 World Championships. And, of course, leading Germany to the 2008 Olympics as the flag bearer in the Opening Ceremonies. This night, this celebration was an opportunity for the German fans to say thank you to the hometown kid who came back a man, but never forgot them.

There were pyrotechnics, videos, cheers, and speeches. My favorite part came at the end, and it choked me up. (Yes, I cried again.)  As the event was wrapping up, the German national team came onto the court for its game vs France. Dirk ran to the tunnel and enthusiastically high-fived each player as they ran past, passing the torch to the new generation, effectively telling them, “It’s your turn” as the fans went crazy. Later, as he celebrated well into the night with his German teammates from 2002, Dirk told me it was a spontaneous reaction. It was the perfect way to cap an amazing evening. And it was so Dirk.

As Mavs fans, we have our new generation as well. Luka came out after Slovenia had beaten Lithuania and watched the ceremony courtside with Cuban, Kidd, and the Mavericks contingent that flew over to celebrate Dirk. Luka undoubtedly was thinking ahead 20 years, looking to the day when he hopes there is an evening like this in Ljubljana. Luka is our new son. He has shown us that we may be in for another amazing ride, but the road can be bumpy. The Dirk-Luka relationship is real, and I am thrilled that Dirk is helping shepherd Luka through his own journey.   

I was thinking about why I get emotional at these events, whether back in January in Dallas when Dirk’s number 41 was retired or here in Cologne. We like to split into tribes, but sports (and specifically basketball for me) bring us together. It is one of the few times where 20,000 people can cheer for the same thing. It can bring grown men to tears and make them hug strangers over the bouncing of a ball. But it’s not just the bouncing ball; it’s the men who bounce it. I realized it wasn’t the way Dirk played that made me emotional. It’s how he made me feel and how he impacted me and the relationships in my life, just like he did with Zac Crain and his son. My brother and I bonded over Mavs basketball while watching hundreds of games together at Reunion Arena and the American Airlines Center. Through good times and celebrations, we always had those games. Through tough times and family tragedies, we always had those games. We had our Dirk. He brought us together as brothers. And once I became fortunate enough to get to know him, he made me a better person.  I saw his humility, his humor, his heart. If he can be that way, why can’t I?

This doesn’t just affect Zac and me, or just Mavs fans. This is what I learned in Cologne. Sitting a row behind me were a father and his son, who must have been 8 or 9 years old. The boy never saw Dirk suit up for his nation, but he cheered loudly nonetheless. The fandom and passion is passed from generation to generation, and shows the impact Dirk has made and will continue to make for the player he was and the man he is.    

Dirk is a global ambassador. For Dallas on the world stage. (He has been involved in trying to secure the 2026 World Cup Final for North Texas.) For Germany, FIBA and the game of basketball. And for all of us when we look up into the rafters years from now, whether in Dallas or in Germany.  We will smile and remember the man who wore that jersey and brought us together with his play and his vulnerability. In a world that has many reasons to split into factions and people who provoke those divisions, we all have been fortunate enough to ride this ride with someone who makes us feel better about ourselves and who brings us together. As fathers and sons. As brothers. As Mavs fans. As citizens of Dallas. And we shared the ride with the German people and now celebrate together the man who took us on that ride.

Dirk is ours. And he’s theirs. He is all of ours.  

41. 14. Forever. 

Author

Brian Dameris

Brian Dameris

View Profile
Brian Dameris writes about the Mavericks for StrongSide. He is the former Director of Basketball Development for the Dallas Mavericks…

Related Articles

Image
Football

What I’m Watching: Dallas Cowboys Playoff Football

Plus a big Southwest matchup and the start of the Wings' offseason
Image
Basketball

Watch Luka Doncic Do Luka Doncic Stuff

Woe to Clint Capela
By Tim Rogers
Image
Basketball

What I’m Watching: Take a Wild Guess

But there's more to this week than Dirk's jersey retirement.