Since his retirement from the NBA back in April, future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki has been trying to relax and briefly escape basketball. He’s spent the last few months traveling around Europe with his family.
In the back of his mind, Dirk knows that he’ll eventually return to the game. He continues to take advantage of opportunities to help push it forward, recently accepting a position as Global Ambassador for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.
Dirk’s own influence on growing the sport across the world cannot be understated. He was a champion and MVP with the Mavericks and had countless legendary performances in FIBA and Olympic tournaments. Amid his 20s, he’d go home every summer to play with the German national team. He was named MVP of the 2002 World Cup and still holds the record for the most points in a FIBA game (47 against Angola in 2006).
With his competing days behind him, Dirk sat down with SLAM out in Beijing to shed light on being a WC ambassador, changes to the League, his plans for the next chapter and more.
SLAM: Can you talk about your role as ambassador and why you wanted to be involved in the World Cup?
DN: Well, you know, I’m of course sad that my competing days are done. But I still want to help grow the game internationally. I’ve had great success in FIBA competitions and it’s always been fun competing at the highest level, so when they approached me to see if I wanted to do this, of course I was on board. Growing the game internationally, growing the game here in China—there are some amazing fans here—and we have some of the best athletes [here right now for the World Cup], so it should be a fun few weeks. Hopefully we can grow the sport even more.
SLAM: On your journey from Germany to the NBA, your big break was the 1998 Nike Hoop Summit [Dirk had 33 points and 14 rebounds and led the World Team to a win over USA]. Can you just describe that experience and how important that game was in launching your career?
DN: That game really put me on the map. Back in the day, we didn’t have Twitter or Instagram or all the social media stuff. Nobody knew who I was. I got invited to this game and it was a great experience for me. We got to go to the Final Four semifinals in the Alamodome which was an amazing, amazing experience. And I was able to play well in that game and all of a sudden had all this hype around me that I never had. Everybody said I was going to get drafted and I had like 40 college offers. It was an amazing time for me, a very exciting time. All of a sudden to be on the map in the U.S. That was amazing.
SLAM: When you think back on your career with the German national team, is there a specific moment that sticks out?
DN: It has to be the Olympic tournament in ’08, even though we didn’t make it out of the first round. Just to be there and I got to carry the flag in for my nation, got to lead my nation into the stadium—I’ll never forget that for the rest of my life. There were some other great tournaments: ’02 championships, ’05 European championships—of course, we got a medal there. But nothing tops the Beijing Olympics for me.
SLAM: How much bigger is basketball in Germany now compared to when you were a kid growing up there?
DN: It’s of course grown a lot. I think it shows in our national team—we have three NBA players on that team now. The game has gotten so much better, the league has gotten so much better in Germany, so it’s been fun to watch—not only in Germany, but the growth of the game [everywhere]. We have players from Africa, Australia, from all over the world that are having an impact in the NBA now. It’s been amazing to watch the game grow the last two decades and it’s still going to grow.
SLAM: Can you compare the NBA now to what it was when your career started? What are the major differences?
DN: The NBA when I first got there, every 4 or 5 was big and strong. They were rebounders and screen-setters. Then the NBA changed some of the rules—they brought in the back-down rule and put in the zone and the game changed. Now every big man has to be able to shoot—at least the 4s can all shoot threes now. The League has gotten smaller, faster, more skilled. Even some of the 5s now can pick-and-pop and stretch you to the three-point line. So, it’s been amazing to watch the skill level, especially from the bigs, get so much better from when I first got in the League.
SLAM: How do you envision the game continuing to evolve? Where does it go from here?
DN: That’s a good question because now we have Steph Curry pulling up from half-court and making every shot. I’m not really sure where this game is going to grow, if they’re going to put in a four-point shot or—I have no idea. But it’s been already amazing to see where guys are making shots from now and the athleticism. On Instagram and Twitter, you have videos from all these high school kids now jumping out of the gym and dunking. It’s hard to see where it can get even more athletic, more skilled, but I’m sure there are ways for it to grow even more.
SLAM: Have you given any serious thought to what the next chapter of your life will look like?
DN: Not really. We’ll see what the next chapter brings. I’m sure there will be opportunities. There’s going to hopefully be an opportunity to stay with the Mavericks who I’ve been with for a long, long time. Maybe have an impact there doing something that I love. But for now, I just want to step away from the game and enjoy my family who had to sacrifice so much and I want to travel and expose my kids to different languages and cultures and eventually I’ll come back to the game; but as of now, I’m going to just enjoy the family life.
SLAM: What’s the best advice you can give to young players coming up in the League?
DN: Well, I always try to see myself as a student of the game. It sounds silly, but never think that you’ve made it. Somebody else is working out in the gym. Always try to get better. Listen and learn. Watch your veterans. And just always, every summer, try to add something new to your game and never stay the same player. That’s how I always looked at it. I never wanted to be satisfied. I always wanted to be the best player I could be. It’s really all about hard work and putting the time in. To be consistently good for a long, long time takes a lot of work.
Alex Squadron is an Associate Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @asquad510.
Photos via FIBA and Getty.