It’s Dirk Week here at The Sports Fan Journal. For no reason in particular, we thought we should take some time to show our appreciation for one of the NBA’s most underappreciated superstars. At some point in his next four games, Dirk will join one of the most exclusive clubs in all of sports, the 30,000-point club, cementing him as one of the greatest players in league history. It’s not just Dirk’s game that we love, it’s everything about his storied career on and off the floor. So this week, we’ll remember the ups, the downs and everything in-between. Happy Dirk Week, y’all.
Monday: An Open Letter Apology To Dirk Nowitzki
Tuesday: June 2, 2011 – The Night Dirk Won Me Over
Wednesday: An Appreciation of the One-Legged Fadeaway
Thursday: Dwyane Wade and Being Assertive Enough
Friday: Dirk Is Bad At Soccer, Good At Life
Dirk, at 7-feet tall, did a pretty good impression of a tree on the soccer field. His efforts in the game involved a lot of standing and launching his one shot at goal well over the fence and into the bleachers. The fans erupted, more supportive applause than Bronx cheer. We were in the Lower East Side, after all.
Dirk Nowitzki sucks at soccer. This isn’t meant to put him down, because Dirk knows he sucks at soccer. He grew up in Fussball-mad Germany, where he—probably—enjoyed an ugly duckling existence only to find out his swan thrived on the blacktop making 15-foot fadeaways. Kicking a ball is something else entirely.
Some master both. Steve Nash can be counted among them. The lifelong Spurs fan (Tottenham not San Antonio) would show off his footy skills by juggling basketballs with his feet when they went out of bounds during games. His brother Martin played professional soccer, and Nash, already a part-owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS, recently purchased an ownership stake in Spanish club Real Mallorca. He is aggressively pro soccer, so much so that he launched the Showdown in Chinatown to promote his foundation while getting his soccer fix.
Nash finally got around to inviting Dirk to his annual New York City charity pickup game in 2014 with conspicuous timing. Not only was it a World Cup summer but the United States Men’s National Team was set to take on eventual champions Germany in its final group match with a berth in the knockout stage on the line. That game would take place a day after Nash’s Showdown. And so, the host played to the American crowd by bringing in the most famous, tallest, soccer-challenged German athlete he knew.
Dirk waltzed onto the Sarah B. Roosevelt Park turf to more cheers than boo’s, fully embracing his role. If there’s one thing Dirk’s mastered as much as the one-legged fadeaway, it’s a refreshing self-awareness. See his Halloween costumes. See his brilliant one-liner in “Like Mike.” See his willingness to dive head on into his wife’s culture. When you’re seven feet tall and talented, there’s no hiding anywhere—might as well make the most of the spotlight. Dirk has certainly done that. He enjoys being Dirk more than anything, without the narcissism that has defined other one-name athletes.
So it was on this brutally hot June Wednesday that Dirk set out to fulfill his friend and former teammate’s wishes. Show them how bad you are, Dirk. It’s all in good fun. The only way to do that would be to try. And Dirk tried—well, maybe only a little. Mostly he stood. The few times he attempted any skill he did so with the grace of a giraffe chasing a bouncy ball. When he wasn’t standing, he was sitting on the bench. His one real jump into action ended with a shot that landed somewhere near Jason Clinkscales’ doorstep in Harlem.
For his efforts, Dirk was named the game’s Most Valuable Player (Kobe stans will still argue it’s his second least-deserved MVP Trophy).
“I’m the worst player here!” Dirk declared upon receiving the award, although it was far from true. That distinction went to Wilson Chandler, who batted down the only pass that came his way with his hand.
But Dirk earned that hardware. His display of range—in terms acting if not athletic—reinforced what we tend to overlook when it comes to Dirk: he’s wonderfully charismatic. He’s awesome when he’s awesome, as he was in the 2011 NBA Finals; he’s awesome when he’s awful (See above). You don’t hand trophies, ceremonial or not, to people who lack charisma. Nor do you devote an entire week of articles to them.
Dirk sucks at soccer in a way that only he can—with the panache of a beloved figure. No matter how bad he looks, we are always laughing with Dirk, never at him.
Philadelphia born. Raised in God’s country aka Duluth, Minnesota. Give me a frozen pond and an open pitch and I’ll be happy. Follow me on twitter @noclassfriday