‘The Great Nowitzki: Basketball and the Meaning of Life’ by Thomas Pletzinger (2022)

For any basketball fan, Dirk Nowitzki, the former 2007 NBA MVP and 2011 NBA Champion needs no introduction. It is not an exaggeration to call him a basketball revolutionary, a 7 footer who played like a guard and a man who helped make the sport more variable, creative and smarter.

Pletzinger, a German novelist and sportswriter, traveled with the Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki for seven years, seeking the secret of his success and longevity. Most interestingly he spent this time with Nowitzki in the later years of his career – the period between his 2011 NBA title and his 2019 eventual retirement after a remarkable 25 years as a Dallas Maverick.

As a result, like a normal biography, the early years of Nowitzki’s career are told through the memories of the vast number of people Pletzinger spoke to. However, at no point does this feel like a typical biography as the time Pletzinger spends with the player himself and his personal coach Holger Geschwinder, leads to an openness that is both refreshing and rare.

Central to Nowitzki’s career, and his life since turning 15, is the fascinating figure of Geschwinder. Described alternatively as a shooting coach, master coach, manager, psychologist, janitor, clairvoyant, consultant and friend, Geschwinder was the mentor who helped Nowitkzi turn his potential into world beating talent. Together player and coach identified the importance of sacrifice, discipline, and to work without compromise with the book capturing their legendary personal workouts to hone Nowitzki’s body and shooting. It’s impossible to do justice to their relationship without capturing the minutiae of their dynamic as Pletzinger so excellently does.

Trailer for ‘Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot’ a 2014 feature length documentary on Nowitzki’s career (available free on Roku in the USA)

The strongest parts of the book are those which capture Pletzinger’s personal interaction with Nowitzki and the surrounding ‘Dirkmania’. They capture Nowitzki’s life, his personality, his way of carrying himself in an intimate manner denied most biographers. They also cover the most interesting part of any player’s career, those post peak years when Nowitzki is both an active player and a legend. As Pletzinger says, the book is his ‘quest to find the significance of Nowitzki… [his] attempt to make sense of Dirk Nowitzki’. The Nowitzki he ultimately finds is remarkable for his ordinariness while living, and making the sacrifices required to live, an extraordinary life.

This is a special book. A really great read that captures the uniqueness of Nowitzki, his impact on basketball & Dallas and the sacrifice & dedication required to play at the top level for so long. It works not just as biography but as a story of sporting fame and fandom. Of the symbiotic relationship between a superstar and his city, country and the broad range of people touched by his feats of sporting greatness. Comparison’s to The Breaks of the Game, David Halberstam’s masterpiece of sport’s writing are valid in how engrossing, engaging and special this book is – and there is no greater praise I can give a book than that.

The book was published in German a couple of years ago shortly after Nowitzki’s final game. However the translation has been done very carefully – Pletzinger describes it as a ‘cultural translation’ with parts being edited, added and removed to suit the intended US audience. It is clearly a successful approach from how readable the book is.

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