Dirk Nowitzki to play in front of home fans this summer

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By FIBA Europe

German basketball fans held their collective breath on Thursday morning and then exhaled satisfied as legend Dirk Nowitzki confirmed his decision to play for the national team at EuroBasket 2015.

Nowitzki, who turns 37 on 19 June, took to the stage at a press conference of German Basketball Federation (DBB) sponsor ING-DiBa in Frankfurt and announced he had finally made up his mind on the issue thousands of Germans had asked him about throughout the year.

“I’ve chosen to be in Berlin,” the legendary German forward said to sighs of relief from everyone in attendance.

“I’ve had the whole month of May and used it to gain some distance and enjoy family time.

“Of course, I also have consulted the matter with my wife.

“But a EuroBasket in our home country is a huge thing and I look forward to it, I thought it would be a great way to conclude my national team career.”

Nowitzki had initially retired from national team duty following EuroBasket 2011, marking the end of a 15-year-long service in a German jersey.

But when Germany were awarded last year the task of hosting Group B of EuroBasket 2015 in Berlin, everybody assumed that the prospect of playing in front of home fans for the first time in his career would prove irresistible to Dirk and the big return could actually materialise in September.

On Thursday, they were proven right.

“If it [the EuroBasket] was anywhere else, at the age of 37, it probably wouldt have been a no-go for me.

“But when I heard that EuroBasket would be played in Berlin, a great basketball city, it was something I had dreamt about.

“Like every year, the DBB let me take my decision after the NBA season and, in the end, the national team was lucky that we [Dallas Mavericks] lost so early,” Dirk added with his trademark self-deprecating humour.

Dallas went out of the NBΑ play-offs already in the first round, to eventual Western Conference finalists Houston Rockets.

Nowitzki none the less concluded his 17th straight NBA campaign by rising to seventh place on the NBA’s all-time scorers’ list and adding another NBA All-Star appearance, as he averaged an amazing -for a player of any age- 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.

The German legend will join the national team training camp in mid-August and could make his reappearance in a Germany uniform in the warm-up game against Croatia on 16 August, or at the ERGO Supercup in Hamburg between 21 and 23 August, at the latest.

“I will sit down and talk with coach [Chris] Fleming about the next steps,” Nowitzki explained.

“When I was young, I needed two to three games to fit in the team.

“But when you get older, you need longer to get in the rhythm.”

Fleming, as everyone on the German team, was ecstatic with the news.

“It’s so great that Dirk will support us,” the American tactician said.

“We do not need to talk about his quality as a player on the court, but I cannot emphasize enough how important his presence will be to our younger players.”

Germany will go up against Spain, Serbia, Turkey, Italy and Iceland in what is poised to be an amazingly competitive group in Berlin.

Nowitzki none the less did not appear in any way intimated by the opposition.

“Our minimal goal is to reach the Final Phase in France,” he said.

“Of course we have some strong teams in our group, but if you want to be among the best, you have to beat the best.

“With the support of the home crowd in Berlin, we need to make the top four teams [in the group] and advance.

“I hope that we will grow as a team fast and, most importantly, play strong defensively and on the boards.

“Offensively we have good shooters and don’t need to worry.”

German fans meanwhile, are already hoping that Dirk can lead the nation to another EuroBasket final, like he did in 2005.

Nowitzki had averaged a tournament double-double of 26.1 points and 10.6 rebounds to lead his nation to that silver medal in Belgrade and was proclaimed MVP.

His other podium finish at a major tournament with Germany had come at the 2002 World Championship, where he averaged 24 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 assists to steer Germany to the bronze medal.