The Full Nowitzki
In a new documentary, the Dallas Mavericks’ star power forward reveals the man behind the uniform.
In the fall of last year, a documentary about Dallas Maverick Dirk Nowitzki became an unlikely success in his home country of Germany, prompting Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who also co-owns a film distribution company, to bring the movie here. This month, Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot will be released in select Dallas theaters and, nationally, through video on demand. For Mavericks fans, it provides an intimate look at a player who rarely pulls back the curtain on his personal life. For non–sports fans, it’s a fascinating tale about the rise of the most influential German in Texas since Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels set up shop on Matagorda Bay.
Paul Knight: How did the documentary happen?
Dirk Nowitzki: Holger [Geschwindner], who I’ve been working with for twenty years, is always working on something. He’s like my coach, my agent—he helps me with everything. I’m not sure if it was always in the back of his mind to make a film or if he got approached by that crew, but I had this commercial shoot in Majorca for a German sponsor, and all of a sudden, these guys are there and they had cameras, and Holger was like, “Hey, these guys are here and want to talk to you.” I was completely shocked.
PK: You seem like a low-key kind of guy who doesn’t care about the celebrity side of things. Did you have to be talked into doing it?
DN: I had to sleep over it a few nights—I’m not a big fan of reality TV or having cameras in my face 24/7. I think what I liked in the end was that they spread the filming out for almost two years. They weren’t nonstop in my face for a couple months. They came by, we filmed a little bit for a week, I took them bowling, or we did some event, or we went to the games. They’d fly around the country and interview other guys for the documentary, fly back to Germany to interview my parents and stuff, and then they would come back a couple months later and we’d film a little more, or they’d interview my wife. I never felt I was too crowded by cameras. Plus, usually you film a documentary like this once your career is over, but the good thing is, they filmed with this super-special camera during games, so there’s unbelievable slo-mo footage. If we had done this after I retired, we couldn’t have done that.
It’s a fun little movie. Everybody seems to enjoy it who’s seen it. Last summer when I got home [to Germany], I had to promote it. I had an interview here, a live show here, and then the whole week in Cologne [the site of premiere] was a mess. That part I didn’t enjoy as much. I probably wouldn’t do a movie again, but it’s a project I’ll always look back on and be proud of.
PK: Did you know it was going to be released here in the States?
DN: We basically only did a German version, because we thought it would stay in Germany. But then a lot of Mavs guys came in September to the premiere—Mark was nice enough to give [them] the Mavs plane, so employees that I’ve worked with for fifteen years came over, some of my teammates came over, and everyone really seemed to enjoy it. So we figured there might be a market in the U.S.—so we did the U.S. version where the Germans are gonna speak German with English subtitles, and then the other way around. We’ll see if people like it here. In Germany it went okay. It was in theaters for a few weeks, and for documentaries, it was right at the top, for sellers.
PK: Holger is sort of the film’s second star.
DN: No, he’s actually the first star. If you only watch the first twenty or thirty minutes, you’ll figure the movie is about him. But he’s definitely part of my career, a part worth telling. I would never be at this spot if it wasn’t for him. He saw me play when I was fifteen or sixteen, and he told me, “You don’t have a lot of skills, but I can teach you. I can see you being a very good player.”
PK: When you were working with him back then, other guys would go to the weight room after practice and you’d go drink beer. Holger called the next day’s practice “alcohol evaporation training.”
DN: To him, it was all about fun. He didn’t want to kill the fun too early, be too professional. When you’re a teenager, you’re moody, girls come into play, you want to go to parties with your friends. “Do you want to come to the gym and work today? If not, go do something else. Go rowing, go dancing, go see your friends.” There were times we partied a little bit and had to get the alcohol out the next day, but if you don’t drink too much, it’s perfect.
PK: He would also obsess over the physics, the math, the science of a basketball shot. Did you develop the famous one-foot fadeaway back then?
DN: No, he never liked it, because it was really off balance; it was a hard shot. But I had to develop it because, as I’ve gotten older, all the pounding gets harder on your body. So I created a shot that’s easy for me, where I can lean back, create some separation from the defender, and still get the ball up. It came out of nowhere, and then it became my go-to move.
PK: Is the game still fun for you?
DN: To compete in games is still fun, but sometimes the training gets a little old. If I play 30 or 35 minutes one night, and the next morning we have to practice for an hour and a half? That’s not the most fun anymore. You have to motivate yourself every day to go into the gym and lift, go run on a hill, go run on a treadmill, go sprint in the gym. That gets harder as I get older.
PK: It can’t help that your teammates change each year.
DN: That’s part of the business. When I first got into the league, Steve [Nash] and Mike [Finley] were my best friends, and basically the whole time I was thinking we were going to play together for the rest of our careers, grow old together, and then retire together. The next thing you know, Steve is out of here and a year later Fin is gone. You just deal with it. You just want good players and good teammates. Sometimes it’s hard to find them.
PK: Why didn’t things work out with Rajon Rondo [a point guard who had a short-lived stint with the Mavericks this season]?
DN: It was a hard fit, sometimes with Coach [Rick Carlisle]. And with the guys around him, and the style we played, it wasn’t a good fit. I still like Rondo, as a guy. We had a great time. He’s a funny dude. It just didn’t work out, and both sides moved on.
[Team owner Mark Cuban walks into the room, wearing an old-school Mavericks polo shirt.]
DN: I like the shirt.
Mark Cuban: Is all that photo equipment out there for you?
DN: I did a photo shoot. It’s for my movie!
MC: Coooool. My kid’s been watching Like Mike [a 2002 basketball movie that features a guest appearance from Nowitzki, Nash, and Finley] about fifty times. You know, a five-year-old has to watch the same movie fifty times in a row.
DN: Sure. [Cuban and Nowitzki briefly discuss a private matter and then Cuban exits.]
PK: Have you ever thought about leaving Dallas to finish out with another team?
DN: A little in 2010, the first time I was a free agent. But I didn’t want to go anywhere else. This was my place, my home for so long, and Mark has been loyal to me, the fans are great here, and I decided to stay. The next year, we won the championship.
PK: How close are you with Cuban? Do you have a relationship outside of basketball?
DN: I don’t think a lot of owners would go to their player’s bachelor party, and Mark went to mine a few years ago. So we’re probably as close as there is in this league. We text all the time, we go out together sometimes. I always found you can approach him about anything.
PK: Does he come to you for basketball input?
DN: We talk during the season, we talk before big deals. I was in the draft room a couple years ago, I was trying to see how they make decisions in the war room. That was interesting for me to see. Maybe after my career is over, I’ll stick around for the Mavs, and find something interesting to do, where I can help. But that’s down the line.
PK: You have two years left on your contract.
DN: We had an 82-game season. I played 77 games. That’s really good at my age. I’m about to turn 37 and I played almost every game. I had a couple stretches that weren’t great; I wasn’t happy, I had a little slump going. But I still feel I can play at a high level for two years and then we’ll go from there.
PK: How long will you keep playing?
DN: We’ll look at it year by year. I want to finish this contract, which has two more years on it, and by then I’ll be 39. It’s hard, close to 40, to play at a high level, but I’ll have to see how my body feels. Maybe after my career is over, I’ll stick around for the Mavs and find something interesting to do.
PK: You have a newborn son. How big of a change is that?
DN: I was already settled down when we had our daughter. I was 35 then. She’s almost two—she’s walking, trying to talk three different languages, it’s a blast. My son was born right before the playoffs, at the end of March. We had the son, and the next day we played the Spurs. I barely had any sleep. I’m basically on their schedule now.
PK: Do you want to raise your family here?
DN: We’ll definitely stay, at least part-time. If it gets too hot, we might do some traveling, just like we do now. I’ve been here as long as I was in Germany, so this is my new home. We’ll always have a base here.