One of the mandatory stops when visiting Florence is to see Michelangelo’s David. It is a marble masterpiece. Early in his life, Omri Amrany studied in Pietrasanta, Italy, where Michelangelo had worked centuries earlier. Amrany has since parlayed his artistic talent into a vocation as, among other things, a highly sought-after sculptor of sports stars. Most recently, he was tasked with making a statue of a Dallas legend. Unveiled on Christmas Day, the statue will be a lasting testament to Dirk Nowitzki, the man so many in this city hold dear.
Amrany pushed for the statue to be made of white bronze, a relatively new look in the sports genre. In his mind, it comes closest to replicating the “look and spiritual feel” of marble, the material associated with the classics and a material he learned to use so many years ago.
That’s fitting for a member of Dallas royalty.
Amrany came to the United States from Israel with his wife, Julie, in 1989. As he tried to make a name for himself in the art world, he showed his work in numerous galleries around the country. He labeled those ventures unsuccessful.
Then Michael Jordan came along.
Living in Chicago, Amrany heard a commission was being offered for the design of a statue commemorating Jordan’s remarkable career, and in three days he put together and submitted some sketches for consideration. His life would never be the same. Unveiled in 1994, “The Spirit” captures Jordan flying through the air over an outstretched arm, legs spread wide. The legs form a triangle with the base, an homage to the famous triangle offense Jordan perfected under coach Phil Jackson. It is one of the most famous and recognizable sports sculptures in the country. Like that, Amrany became the go-to guy to immortalize the greats. He sees sports as “a vehicle to extend the human spirit.” His goal is to “symbolize the spirit of the athlete more than the physicality.”
From Shaq hanging on the rim to Magic Johnson making a no-look pass to Vince Lombardi stalking the sideline to Bob Cousy whipping a signature behind-the-back pass, Amrany has shown how sports and its stars can be enlightened through art. “Art is a strategic reflection of values,” Amrany says.
Now it’s Dallas’ turn. With Dirk. No athlete in this city is valued more.
The Dirk endeavor started in the spring of 2019 with an email to Mark Cuban, after Cuban had promised at Dirk’s final home game that he would get “the biggest, most bad-ass statue ever.” Amrany had never forgotten that and says he “started bugging [Cuban] over the phone and emails” until one came back saying, “I’ll call you when I’m ready.”
Such a project starts wide and then narrows. Amrany sought to capture the essence of Nowitzki, not simply replicate a photo. He wanted to look into Dirk’s soul and illustrate “what kind of mindset, spiritual dedication, strength and regimenting yourself beyond just the physicality” that he brought to his craft.
It’s no secret the one-legged fadeaway is the perfect encapsulation of Dirk as a player. The challenge was in depicting that image in a unique way. The details would be important. Amrany knew he had to talk to Holger Geschwindner. More than just Dirk’s coach, he has been a mentor to and a friend of Dirk for the past 25 years. “We started to bug Holger, and he didn’t stop talking,” Amrany says with a laugh. “So it helped a lot.”
Amrany learned what made the fadeaway move so special and began formulating how to craft what has been described as “The Perfect Shot.” Holger taught him that a launch trajectory angle of 47 to 50 degrees was important to optimize the shot while the simultaneous momentum of movement away from the defender makes the shot unguardable. “At the same time, find the balance to shoot the ball in a precise effect,” Amrany says. “Represent the time in a frozen form of bronze.” The objective was to “create some form of art that represents even a glimpse of that.”
He did a lot of listening along the way, because he saw the project as the city’s as much as it was his. “We didn’t see it as going down Olympus and telling Dallas what needs to be done, but climbing into the Dallas Olympus and asking Dallas and becoming a team,” Amrany says.
Ideas came from everywhere. The unique base with the accordion effect launching Dirk into the air? Amrany says the genesis for that came from Dirk’s wife, Jessica, who worked in the art world for many years.
Dirk, as you might suspect, was involved “every step of the way.” In fact, Amrany says, “He was more involved than many other players I work with.” Even in the final weeks of production, Dirk and Holger traveled to Chicago and met with Amrany in the foundry for hours, going over every last detail. There were changes up to the last minute, some obvious, some not so. Amrany says 14 changes were incorporated into the statue from the model that was revealed at Dirk’s jersey retirement last January, all representative of the teamwork that went into the project. The most notable? Switching from three basketballs to one.
From the email to Cuban to the unveiling was a three-and-a-half-year process. He was excited to show off his work, but Amrany didn’t make the statue just for Dirk. It’s for all Mavs fans. As he puts it, “everybody for the next 500 years.” To that end, asked what he would be doing when the statue is unveiled, he replies, “Looking at the people. Looking at their eyes and searching for the wishes that they have.”
The statue, standing 23 feet tall, doesn’t have an official name, but asked what he would call it, Amrany says matter-of-factly, “The Fadeaway.” But he wasn’t just talking in the basketball sense. The name also applies to life. Because as Dirk has faded away from the court, his next chapter is just beginning. Amrany talked of how Dirk is now faced with how “suddenly you really start your life, how you fade away, how you build your real life, who you are, how you become you.” The early indication is that Dirk knows who he is: husband, father, philanthropist, and ambassador for this city he calls home.
As that next chapter unfolds, I will be excited to stand on Nowitzki Way and look at “The Fadeaway,” Dallas’s David, and smile, remembering the player who sang so off-key on that balcony in 2011 with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in hand. And remembering the man who brought Mavs fans together and changed the fortunes of a franchise with his shot and his heart.