Dirk Nowitzki: ”The World Cup is basketball on the highest level”

MANILA (Philippines) – Dirk Nowitzki had a legendary career in FIBA competitions, one that saw him earn MVP honors at the 2002 FIBA Basketball World Cup and EuroBasket 2005.

Since retiring as a basketball player in 2019, Nowitzki has remained fully committed himself to the sport he loves, including serving as Global Ambassador for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019, Chairman of the FIBA Players’ Commission and FIBA Central Board member.

Nowitzki was a Global Ambassador for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China

In Manila for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Draw presented by Wanda, Nowitzki has spoken exclusively to fiba.basketball about the 32-team tournament an much more.

“I’m happy to be here,” he said. “The World Cup is our biggest event that we have in FIBA basketball and it’s always so well organized, it’s basketball on the highest level, great countries competing.”

Nowitzki led Germany to third place at the 2002 World Cup and was named the MVP of the event after averaging a tournament-best 24 points per game, as well as 8.2 rebounds. Four years later in Japan, Nowitzki’s 23.2 points per game was second only to Yao Ming’s 25.3. At that event, he erupted for 47 points in a triple overtime victory against Angola.

At the 2006 World Cup in Japan, Nowitzki and Germany went up against LeBron James and USA

“I always had a blast playing a couple of World Cups,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having a great event here in Asia.

“There are so many basketball fans here. It’s a basketball crazy country and this will be a fantastic basketball atmosphere for everybody involved so we’re looking forward to a great draw ceremony here tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll get some great groups and have a great tournament.”

Amazing players have graced the World Cup stage since the very first one in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since Nowitzki scooped the honor, Pau Gasol (2006), Kevin Durant (2010), Kyrie Irving (2014) and Ricky Rubio (2019) have been named World Cup MVPs. Who might it be after the Final is played in Manila on September 10?

“It’s always the same kind of guys, the NBA superstars if they all come, Luka (Doncic), Giannis (Antetokounmpo), (Nikola) Jokic. They all played at the EuroBasket last year which talent wise was an amazing tournament and turnout (by fans),” Nowitzki said.

“Hopefully we’ll have the same here at the World Cup, basketball on the highest level. We’ll see who the US team brings. You never know. We’ll see who’s available, who is healthy but to me they will always be the favorite, no matter who they have because of the talent pool they have. It’ll be fun to watch.”

If one talks about the evolution of the game the past 25 years or so, Nowitzki’s name figures prominently.

“The game has changed,” he said. “When I came in, there were a lot of 4s (power forwards) and 5s (centers) close to the basket, rebounding and muscling, and then I was part of the change, the early 2000s, when the game became more of a movement game again, less holding, less fouling.”

Indeed, taller and bigger players were able to show off their amazing talent.

“They got rid of the hand checks in the NBA and that really helped me and all the European skilled big men,” Nowitzki said. “They could play facing the basket, they could shoot, bring the ball up.

“And I think that’s something that we’ve seen the last 20 years, the big men getting more and more skilled.”

Nowitzki marvels at the play of today’s stars.

“Kevin Durant is basically a 7-ft two-guard, handing the ball and shooting the ball,” he said. “Where the game has gone the past 20 years has been so much fun to watch. It’s crazy with the skill level, now. You watch Steph Curry cross half court and shoot the ball. It’s just wild. I don’t think any of us could have imagined that the game would grow as much as it has the last 20 years.”

And now, the basketball world is getting a look at the generational talent of France, Victor Wembanyama.

Nowitzki said of the 19-year-old Wembanyama: “It’s scary how talented the kid is.”

“You always think you’ve seen it all and then Wembanyama comes around, a 7-5 guy,” Nowitzki said.

“I watched a highlight the other day and he shot a step-back from three, and then (got) a put-back. I mean, who does that? You got to be skilled, you got to be quick to the ball. You got to be long. It’s scary how talented this kid is.

“So long, the skill level, can dribble, can shoot. Hopefully he can stay healthy. That’s the only thing that can hold him back. I think everything else, I’ve heard he’s got the work ethic, he’s a smart kid, he wants to be great, he’s putting in the work and we’re all here to support him and see his full potential. We’re all rooting for him. Hopefully his body holds up. Scary talent.”

There is also incredible talent surfacing in Germany. Franz Wagner, for example, was among the best players at FIBA EuroBasket 2022 and helped Germany reach the podium.

Nowitzki was a constant presence at the EuroBasket in Cologne and Berlin, helping promote the tournament and raise the sport’s profile in Germany. He gave so much as a player and it clearly remains important to Nowitzki that he continues to do so.

“It’s been an honor,” he said. “The Germany Federation (DBB) has supported me since I was like 14 years old. I started with junior teams, then the ‘A’ team, I got to travel across the world.

Germany honored Nowitzki at EuroBasket 2022 by retiring his No. 14 national team jersey

“I think German basketball and the federation allowed me to do some incredible stuff that I’d never dreamed of as a kid, so I feel like there’s been a loyalty between the two of us. Any time I told them , if I can help and we can grow the game in Germany, I’m of course willing to help.

“I have to say the EuroBasket was well organized but also the turnout, so many fans showed up. It was literally like a summer fest, so amazing.”

Nowitzki was in Manila to hear the exciting news that the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2026 had been awarded to Germany.

“If we can repeat that (EuroBasket 2022 hosting success) for the women’s and have a lot of fans come out, a lot of girls get inspired by the World Cup,” he said.

“Sydney put on a great World Cup for the women (in 2022) so hopefully Germany can repeat that, show that women can play this game at the highest level. Hopefully we can showcase that and have a great tournament.”