Germany's qualifying berth for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was special in part because of the fleeting opportunity for Dirk Nowitzki. After more than a decade serving his home country's basketball program, Nowitzki had finally broken through to Olympic competition and was honored as Germany's flag-bearer for the opening ceremony.
Nowitzki savored the experience -- the preciousness of which was only reinforced by the fact that a return trip was not expected. Another four years' time would add more mileage to Nowitzki's odometer, bring added potential for injury and require another fortunate break to make the Olympic cut. And despite Nowitzki's best efforts, Germany failed to qualify in EuroBasket 2011, making it even more unlikely that the Mavericks' forward would ever play in the Games again.
But according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Nowitzki remains open to helping the German team qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics, provided there's a realistic opportunity:
"If I'm still healthy enough and we have a chance to qualify, then I'd consider it," Nowitzki told ESPN.com late Monday.
Nowitzki was responding to statements made earlier Monday by Germany coach Frank Menz, who told ESPN.com's Mark Woods after Germany's elimination from the EuroBasket tournament in Slovenia that the face of the Dallas Mavericks has left open the possibility of a national-team return if the squad continues to progress.
…Benz told Woods: "[Nowitzki] wants all the younger players to one day have a chance to play at an Olympic Games. He had that experience. He said: 'But that's 2016. I have three more NBA seasons [until then].'
"And he's not the youngest player. He has a family now. So we'll see. But he's always in touch. He follows what we do. He has a chance and -- if we have a good team -- we might see."
Given that Nowitzki would be 38 years old in 2016, this framing seems fair. Nowitzki's involvement is obviously conditional; he's recently married with a newborn child, and entering the latter stages of his career. But if the rest of the roster can continue to develop over the next three years, it makes sense that one more potential Olympic run would be tough for Nowitzki to refuse. Hawks rookie Dennis Schröder could be the most interesting component of that long-term outlook, but Robin Benzing (a 24-year-old shooter who led Germany in scoring during this year's EuroBasket tournament), former Thunder second-round pick Tibor Pleiss and Sixers big man Tim Ohlbrecht might also provide intriguing components for Olympic contention. But Nowitzki is still a long way from having to decide, and Germany is fresh off a strong showing at EuroBasket without Nowitzki, Schröder or Lakers center Chris Kaman. It's natural that both Nowitzki and German team officials might be optimistic about what lies ahead, but things could change dramatically by 2016 because of injury, arrested development or both.