No conversation about basketball would be complete in Germany without mentioning the ‘German Wunderkind’. The 36-year-old Wurzburg native is the best German basketball player of all time and one of the sport’s best exponents, having played in the NBA for Dallas Mavericks since 1998. In 2011 he became the first, and to date only, German to win the NBA championship and was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) for his part in the Mavericks’ finals campaign that season.
Despite this success, Nowitzki’s sporting interests extend beyond the industry in which he has made his name. The 6"10 power forward is also a keen football fan. He tweeted his excitement while watching every Germany match at last summer’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, while his wife’s two brothers play the beautiful game professionally in England. What’s more, in June 2013 he hosted a benefit match on behalf of his foundation with world champion goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, giving Dirkules a prime opportunity to showcase his skills with a ball at his feet.
FIFA.com: Last year you organised a benefit match with Manuel Neuer on behalf of your foundation. How did you meet the Germany goalkeeper?
Dirk Nowitzki: Manu’s a great guy. We met on the eve of the Team Up For Kids match and got on really well. Unfortunately I haven’t personally managed to score against him. When I converted my penalty, Ralf Fahrmann [current Schalke 04 goalkeeper – editor’s note] was in goal and he helped me out by giving me a little tip.
What are the aims of your foundation and what projects are you running?
My foundation enables me to stand up for socially disadvantaged children. We want to use sport to open up different ways of life for the kids we work with. Our projects encourage social participation for children and young people through sport and exercise. You can get a good idea of the work the foundation does on our website: http://www.dirk-nowitzki-stiftung.org/
Returning to Manuel Neuer. In a few days, the FIFA Ballon d’Or award will be presented to the world’s best footballer over the past year. Who do you think is most deserving of this accolade and who's your favourite to win?
Manu played magnificently at the World Cup and completely deserves the award in my opinion.
After winning the NBA title in 2011, you were named MVP for the finals. This achievement is perhaps comparable to winning the FIFA Ballon d’Or in football. What does it mean to win an award like that, both as an athlete and as a participant in a team sport?
For me, it’s a great honour to be recognised as an individual, but it’s more important to help your team achieve success.
You tweeted during almost every one of Germany’s games at the 2014 World Cup. Are you a big football fan?
I’m very interested in football and I follow the big tournaments as closely as I can, while cheering on our national team.
Do you also have a favourite club?
I don’t have a favourite club as such, but it’s been amazing to watch what Bayern have achieved over the past few years.
Where did you watch the 2014 World Cup finals and what did you do once the Final finished? I watched the World Cup here in Dallas and wore my Germany shirt for every match. Then for the Final I was in Wurzburg, where I watched the game with my wife and parents. When Mario Gotze scored to give us that 1-0 lead I jumped off the couch.
Do you maintain or have you ever had any contact with any of the world champions? Toni Kroos, for example, has expressed his support for the Mavericks on several occasions…
I keep in touch with Manu, Poldi and Mats Hummels. We text each other regularly and I congratulated them after their World Cup win, of course.
The USA caught a proper case of football fever during the World Cup. What was your experience of this and do you think it will continue? Is there still any sign of this boom in America?
The football boom here was great, with plenty of public viewings and live broadcasts of every match. But there’s been less talk of football here since then, and I’m not sure if attendances have risen in the MLS as a result.
Do you follow the Bundesliga from the USA?
I’m a keen follower of football so I keep an eye on the Bundesliga in the media. I also watch a lot of international football, as both of my wife’s brothers play professionally in England. I try to get to one or two matches whenever I’m in Germany.
Both basketball and football are team sports that more or less involve getting a ball into a net. Are there any other similarities between the two sports?
As I realised at the benefit match last year, the distances the players cover in football are much greater...! [laughs]
How satisfied are you with Dallas Mavericks’ season so far? What do you think the team can achieve this time around, and how has the side improved compared with last year?
I’m pleased with the way we’ve started the season. Our new arrivals are a great fit and have settled in well. Chandler Parsons is a fantastic player who moves exceptionally well off the ball and shoots well from outside the area. I’m particularly pleased that Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea have returned to Dallas. We won the championship together and we’ll always have that in common. Our target is to make it to the Western play-offs – and we’ll see what happens after that.