Dirk Nowitzki Talks Gracing the Cover of ‘NBA 2K22’

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Nowitzki is on the cover of NBA 2K22 on the game’s premium NBA 75th-anniversary edition, joining fellow legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Durant.

“I’m thrilled,” says Nowitzki. “To be on the cover with Kevin Durant, who I personally know and respect a lot, and of course Kareem, who back in the day with his skyhook obviously completely changed the game and had a weapon that nobody’s ever seen, it’s a huge honor.”

The Mavericks star played 21 seasons for the franchise. He helped bring home their first NBA championship in 2011, when the Mavs shocked the Heat, who were led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

“We started playing our best basketball at the right time of the year, and that was in the playoffs, so we had an amazing run there,” says Nowitzki, reflecting on a playoff run that also included victories against the Trailblazers, Lakers and Thunder. “It was just a magical run for us, for the city of Dallas. This year it’s 10 years already, which is crazy to think. To bring something to a city that had never had a basketball championship, that was an incredible feeling. I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life.”

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En route to winning the Finals MVP, Nowitzki led his Mavs past Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, who were the league’s defending champs, as well as Miami, which was the franchise that had defeated him five years before in the 2006 Finals.

“Everybody knows that I’m a huge Kobe Bryant fan, and of course I was devastated to see what happened with the accident he had,” says Nowitzki. “I always thought he was the best player that I’ve ever played against. And of course, Dwyane Wade, I have huge respect for. We retired together. He beat me in 2006 in the Finals. I was able to beat him in 2011.”

A future Hall of Famer, Nowitzki is the greatest European player in the history of the NBA, and he makes a compelling argument for the top European basketball player ever. Now an adviser for the Mavs and ambassador of next year’s FIBA EuroBasket tournament, Nowitzki has played an integral role in the global expansion of basketball.

“Leaving Germany in the ’98–99 season, I didn’t know what to expect,” says Nowitzki. “Not really knowing that I could make it in this league, not knowing whether I was good enough, strong enough, skilled enough, and then to be on the cover of the Legends 2K game, it’s been an amazing ride. I’m so happy that it worked out that way and I got to stay in Dallas my entire career.

“The game has gotten more global over the last 20 years, and it’s been fun to watch. I think the game is in great hands. There are so many great young stars out there that are going to carry this league for a long time. There’s great European stars that are fun to watch, with Luka [Dončić] and Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and [Nikola] Jokić and many, many more. It’s just fun to watch how skilled the game is now.”

As a seven-footer, Nowitzki’s jump shooting allowed him to spread the floor. He also flourished in the low post with incredible footwork and passing, as well as possessed a rare type of ballhandling skill that most bigs in the NBA do not. He was a prolific scorer, and his highest average for points per game was 26.6, which took place in the 2005–06 season. When asked how many points he could score in today’s NBA if he were in his prime, Nowitzki smiled at the mere idea of it.

“I think my game would fit perfectly with what we’re doing now, with everybody spread,” says Nowitzki. “You can pick and roll, pick and pop. There’s always three at least, sometimes four shooters, sometimes even five shooters on the court. The Mavericks start a line up with [Kristaps] Porziņģis at the five, so they have the entire court spread.”

Despite retiring from the NBA, Nowitzki still remains intensely passionate about the game, including its present, past and future. He discussed his collection of favorite players currently active, which naturally includes Dončić, the centerpiece of the Mavs.

“Luka is so special to watch because he’s so fun,” says Nowitzki. “I think sometimes he doesn’t even know what he’s going to do next. I mean, I watched a playoff game this year where he dribbles up and he shoots a one-legged three-pointer, which is unbelievable, and he makes it. This kid just has a special gift to make exciting plays. The kid is only, what, 22 now, and he’s already playing at an unbelievable level. He was basically an MVP candidate the last two years already, made all-NBA first team again this year. So, I mean he still has a long career ahead of him.

“He’s an amazing player, a great all-around player already at his age, how he sees the floor, shoots, reads the pick and roll, how he posts up on little, smaller guards. He’s got the full package already at age 22. And that’s very scary, so he’ll be around, hopefully in Mavs land, for the rest of his career. Hopefully he can win an MVP, and hopefully he can bring another championship to Dallas. That’ll be the ultimate goal. I still of course love watching Kevin Durant when he’s healthy. A freak seven-foot guy who can dribble, can shoot from anywhere, can score from anywhere. There’s a lot of great players that I still love watching.”

A teenager in the 1990s, Nowitzki became enamored with Michael Jordan and the Bulls, a team that left a global impact on the game. When asked to share his Mount Rushmore of NBA players, Nowitzki began with Jordan.

“Michael Jordan was always my number one idol,” says Nowitzki. “Then it gets super tough. I mean, you know Magic [Johnson] is on there, Larry Bird. I’m a guy that’s obviously old-school. I think LeBron has a case to be on that Mount Rushmore, with his body of work, his championships, and he’s still going. Big man Shaq [O’Neal] obviously has a great case. So does Kobe. That is tough.”

Nowitzki also discussed the basketball pioneers from Europe that came before him, paving a path that helped lead to his unforgettable career.

“I love watching Detlef Schrempf,” says Nowitzki. “Of course, Dražen Petrović. I love Toni Kukoč, of course. [Arvydas] Sabonis in his prime. I mean, there’s so many great international players. And Pau Gasol, who played basically at the same time as I played. There are so many great international players, I’m probably forgetting a few now. I have huge respect for Oscar Schmidt, and I know he never really played in the NBA, but what an international player and career he had.

“The goal is to always make our sport grow. Get new young players to come up, get new talent all over the world. There’s just so much raw talent in every country that hopefully we can utilize and bring to the sport of basketball. I’m still trying to be there for the game of basketball. I work a little bit with FIBA. I’m the chairman of the players commission there, so trying to still help the game, still trying to improve the game, still trying to engage younger fans and get new talent, so it’s all about giving back. The game has given me a tremendous living, a tremendous career, and a great life. So, any way that I can obviously give back and see the next stars come up, that’ll be amazing to watch.”

This summer is a unique time for basketball fans. Usually, the basketball highlight of July is free agency, but this year it features the NBA Finals, where the Suns lead the Bucks, two games to one, in their best-of-seven series, as well as even more basketball at the Summer Olympics, where the United States seeks to shake off a rocky exhibition start and extend its reign of dominance by winning the men’s tournament for a fourth straight games.

“The U.S. has to be the heavy favorite,” says Nowitzki. “They have the best players. But you know, it’s going to be a different Olympics this year. With no fans able to travel in and sort of in the bubble, I think it’s going to be a different experience, but it’s still going to be great to represent your country and play at the highest level there is in our sport, so we’ll see what country at the end will take home gold.

“There are always surprises bound to happen. Basketball has gotten more global, the teams have gotten better all over the world, so there’s some great basketball nations now that have great teams and great generations coming up, so who knows. You can’t always pick the winner before the tournament even starts. That’s the fun thing about competition. So hopefully there’s going to be some upsets here and there and some fun games, and it’ll hopefully be a great Olympic Games.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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