Today's European NBA Draft prospects and current players have so much to thank Dallas Mavericks' forward Dirk Nowitzki for.
He is one of the best known European players to ever grace the NBA's hardcourt. He has become an icon of basketball on European shores, he likely stands atop the list of best Europeans to ever play the game and has carved out a career which may be impossible to replicate.
Nowitzki alone has amassed an NBA Championship, an NBA Finals MVP award, been selected to thirteen NBA All-Star teams and twelve All-NBA teams.
Denver Nuggets power forward Nikola Jokic recently told GiveMeSport: "European people did not have the chance to play here. If you look at European players, we have a lot of really good players over the years. Look at Dirk Nowitzki, look at Tony Parker. We had really good players but they just did not have the chance in the past to play here."
And he's right, the number of European players in the NBA has grown over time but before these players there had never been a group who had made the impact they have.
Sure, there was the likes of Detlef Schrempf, Drazen Petrovic, Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac but there was never a group of generation-defining players all plying their trade in the prime of their careers. Dirk, alongside Pau Gasol and Tony Parker were more than likely inspired by these players but they never changed the way European draft prospects were viewed like the Mavericks legend and Co have.
When Nowitzki entered the 1998 NBA Draft he was considered too skinny, people didn't think he could crash the boards against bigger bodies, however, he has proven them wrong. At 7'0" tall Dirk possessed a skill set that hadn't been seen before, he was a great shooter and could stretch the floor (in an era which did not necessarily have the same reliance on stretching the floor).
He took perceived flaws and turned them into positives, he has been the mainstay on a perennial playoff contender for eighteen seasons. Almost every season since Nowitzki was drafted each and every European 'big' has been compared to Dirk, their games have been dissected and put up against Dirk. Whilst unfair it happens.
He took perceived flaws and turned them into positives, he has been the mainstay on a perennial playoff contender for eighteen seasons. Almost every year since Nowitzki was drafted each and every European 'big' has been compared to him, their games have been dissected and put up against Dirk. Whilst unfair, it happens.
Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets and Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks are two of the more recent guys to have the Nowitzki comparison thrown at them. Whilst only in their rookie seasons, they are living up to the hype associated with being a European big and living in Dirk's shadow.
Porzingis is a Rookie of the Year candidate, Jokic will likely make the All-NBA Rookie first team alongside the Latvian. They space the floor like Dirk, they play tough inside defence like Dirk and they can shoot the three like him, although not to the same level.
Dirk's legacy and impact will last forever, he's the highest scoring 'international' player in NBA history and will continue to inspire generations of European prospects. In the upcoming draft you will hear the name Dragan Bender, he's another guy who will face the comparison and he'll likely be a top five pick.
Before Dirk this wouldn't happen, you wouldn't have seen so many teams trying to find this generational talent in Europe. Now they do, now teams are actively trying to pursue this type of stretch four.