• Dirk Nowitzki, who entered the NBA at the tender age of 20, is now entering his 20th year in the league. How did he do it?
By Jon Wertheim
September 15, 2017

Dirk Nowitzki's name has been synonymous with the Dallas Mavericks for 19 NBA seasons. Over the years, he's logged a lot of miles, playing deep into the postseason, committing to his national team and working hard to improve his craft in the summer.

In the latest Beyond the Baseline podcast with Jon Wertheim, Nowitzki talked a little tennis, looked back on his journey and discussed his preparation for year No. 20. 

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Jon Wertheim: What is the offseason like for you both physically but also spiritually? What is the summer like, what is this off time like for a basketball player? 

Dirk Nowitzki: We didn’t make the playoffs last season unfortunately, so literally my last game was almost mid-April. The offseason is pretty long, we are very fortunate in basketball. I know the tennis guys have the shortest offseason ever. We have a few months.

When you’re in your 20's you basically take a few weeks off and I was right back in the gym, I was working out in Germany, then I was playing national team every summer from year 20-30, so over 10 years basically every summer I played. And then once I turned 30 and got a little older, I didn’t play for national team every summer anymore. That meant I had more time. We have three kids now so I get to spend a lot of time with them in the summer, we do travel a lot now since my wife and I are both from Europe, born and raised, so we go back home to Germany and Sweden, went to Africa this summer for a few weeks. Wifey has some ties there. 

We were on the road for a good six or seven weeks and had a good time, and I’m trying to get back in it, which is harder as you get older. I turned 39 this summer and just working my way back the last two weeks hasn’t been easy. I’ve been going hard six days a week the last three weeks, just trying to get back into game shape and get ready for camp.

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Wertheim: So 39 years old a generation ago, with the exception of Kareem, it’s unheard of. In tennis it’s the same. What do you think it is? Is it the technology? Is it the training? Is it the money that gives you incentive not to retire?

Nowitzki: It might be a complete package of all of that. I’m not sure they play for money, I’m sure they’ve made enough throughout their careers. I think it’s some of the training, I think the knowledge we have now we didn’t have 20 years ago. How much of a difference the training, the weight room, the stretching, the nutrition is a big part.

So I think that’s a major part for sure and guys are able to compete for a longer time, and you see some of the older players in the NBA still able to play efficient. And obviously you’re losing a step, but I think you’re able to make it up by experience and just keeping your body sill in good shape, and you’re able to play until your late 30's these days. I don’t think it’s anything abnormal anymore.

Wertheim: Did you ever know your body better than you know it now?

Nowitzki: In your 20's you don’t know anything. We used to have cheeseburgers before games and had no problems and went out there and played. And as you get older and older, I think you learn more about your body and say, ‘Ok, this is not good. Too much sugar during the season hurts my feet.’ Just little things that are crazy, so you’re trying to just eat as clean as you can and listen to your body.

The last couple years I haven’t really played back-to-backs. Last year for the first time I had an Achilles problem so I missed two months. It’s unfortunate but it’s something you deal with everyday, you get a routine, you do your stretching, you do your strengthening, you get some shots up and then you kind of see how you feel from day to day and make the decision. Is today the day we push? When should we pull back a little bit? And I’m sure it’s the same with Roger and all these guys. It’s constant conversation with your trainers and your weight coach to get ready for the next tournament in their case or the next game in our case.

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Wertheim: We were talking about how it’s the same way you guys say listen, ‘I might not play 82 games, I’ll tell you that right now.’ The same way Roger took off the clay season. If that’s going to prolong Federer’s career, if that’s going to prolong your career…

Nowitzki: Yeah, I only played 82 maybe a couple times in my career early on. It’s hard to be ready every night and I actually used to be proud of playing 82, but little things happen all the time, especially once you’re older. We want to be a playoffs team, always have, so you don’t wan to burn yourself out during the regular season. You want to go into the playoffs feeling pretty fresh. In Roger’s case, it made sense. He played a fantastic season this year.

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