bookmark_borderThe Great Nowitzki

After Showboat by Roland Lazenby, The Great Nowitzki is the second book on this blog that I have read in my native language, German, rather than English. With the biography about Kobe, I had criticized this version somewhat, as the translation was poor in some places. There was no such problem here, as the author Thomas Pletzinger is German, just like Dirk Nowitzki, so I read the book in the original. I assume that the American translators know more about basketball and that the English translation is therefore just as good as the original.

The Great Nowitzki

It’s clear from the title and the paragraph above what this book is about. It’s about none other than Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki. However, The Great Nowitzki is not a typical biography, even if it does briefly cover Dirk’s childhood and youth. The focus here is on his NBA career. And on three points in particular: The playoffs and NBA finals in 2011, the game in which he completed the 30000 points and his last home game against Phoenix as well as his last NBA game ever in San Antonio.

Author Thomas Pletzinger used to be a basketball player himself and was not unsuccessful in his youth. He never made it as a professional, though. But his love of basketball remained. He then became a journalist and author. So he can write and understands basketball. Pletzinger also briefly inserts his own story and dreams as a basketball player at some points. I’ve read one or two reviews that criticized this. Personally, I had no problem with that at all. Quite the opposite. It conveys very well to the reader that the topic is very important to the author. In my opinion, this love of the sport came across very well in this book.

Pletzinger was originally supposed to write an article about Nowitzki for a magazine. This then developed into the idea for a book. Over the years, Pletzinger repeatedly spent time in Dallas and with Nowitzki (and also with Nowitzki’s coach, mentor and friend Holger Geschwindner). If you watch the clips of Dirk’s 30000 point game, you can recognize the author in the stands. He is bald and sits next to Geschwindner and Donnie Nelson.

The main purpose of this book was to answer the question of what Nowitzki means to the Mavericks and the city of Dallas. This has been achieved very well. His importance to the franchise and the city can hardly be overstated. There is an anecdote told here about when Dirk went to watch a Dallas Cowboys game. He drove into the parking lot and asked an employee where there were still free parking spaces. He replied “In this city, you can park everywhere, son”.

Otherwise, as I said, it’s mostly about the championship, the 30,000 points and the last two games in the NBA. It’s great for Mavericks and Dirk fans to relive those times in their mind’s eye. But I’m sure other NBA fans will also like this book because it’s really well written.

Although it’s one of my favorite basketball books, I didn’t include it in my list of Top 10 NBA books. Even though such a list is of course never objective, I am not neutral about this book. Dirk Nowitzki is my favorite player of all time, so naturally there is some emotion involved. But even if it doesn’t appear on this list, I can only recommend it.

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bookmark_borderThe Soul Of Basketball

“The Soul of Basketball” by NBA journalist Ian Thomsen was published in 2018 and tells the story of the 2010-11 season. For a German basketball fan like me, this season is of course a very special one, as Dirk Nowitzki finally lead his Dallas Mavericks to the long-awaited title. But the book is more than just the story of a single NBA year, and doesn’t just focus on the beaming winner from Dallas and the Miami Heat, who lost in the Finals.

The Soul of Basketball

The cover of the book shows LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Doc Rivers and Dirk Nowitzki. And these four people are also four of the main characters in the book, though far from the only ones. Thomsen divides the book into different narrative threads: LeBron James’ move to the Miami Heat and the first season of the “Big Three” (LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) in Miami, the Dallas Mavericks’ path to a title, Kobe Bryant’s attempt to win his sixth title and Phil Jackson’s final season as coach of the Lakers, the dreams of another title and the problems of the aging Boston Celtics, the San Antonio Spurs’ philosophy around Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan, the NBA’s road to the lockout before the 2011-12 season, the lives of NBA referees, and some other smaller stories.

The book begins with the hot topic of the summer of 2010, the free agency of LeBron James and “The Decision”, when he announced his move to the Miami Heat live on TV. The author, like many others, criticizes the way this happened. Especially the TV show, not informing the Cleveland Cavaliers in advance and the introduction of the “Big Three” to Miami, where some phrases were uttered that did not make the Heat rise in the popularity scale among NBA fans outside Miami. It’s a bit of a shame that LeBron wasn’t available for an interview for this book to give his perspective. But the following people have their say: Pat Riley, Larry Bird, Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, Isiah Thomas, Joey Crawford, Holger Geschwindner (Nowitzki’s coach and mentor) and many others. Especially Bird, Doc and Crawford provide some laughs. A little tip on the side: If you have a problem with swearing, you might not want to read this book.

Ian Thomsen starts with “The Decision” but goes back in time again and again to explain how this and that happened. For example, there is a detailed description of how the Spurs became five-time champions under Gregg Popovich, how Dirk Nowitzki rose from a completely unknown German to an NBA superstar, but (until the season described in this book) kept failing with the Mavericks. How he and Geschwindner train together and what Geschwindner’s philosophy is. How the other “Big Three” of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came together to help the Celtics win their first title since the Larry Bird era. How Kobe and Shaq won three titles together, then fell out, how Kobe had to deal with mediocre Lakers teams until he was finally joined by another star in Pau Gasol and won two more titles.

At the end, of course, Thomsen describes the NBA Finals between Dallas and Miami. As a Dirk fan, I can only say that he has succeeded very well. The atmosphere at that time is described very well and many fond memories come up again. The subtitle of the book is “The epic showdown between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk that saved the NBA”. I dare not judge whether this season saved the NBA. But it was definitely an extremely eventful and very important season for many characters. The book is very well written and is not afraid to express controversial opinions.

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