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Nowtizki's quiet leadership has Mavs blossoming

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  • Nowtizki's quiet leadership has Mavs blossoming

    From CNN/SI: Link to Article

    Follow me: Nowtizki's quiet leadership has Mavs blossoming

    Do you think Dirk Nowitzki cared that he attempted only 11 shots in Game 2 or was outscored 27-21 by teammate Josh Howard? Like Tim Duncan, Nowitzki cares less about stats than he does the final score -- in this case a 113-91 victory for the Mavericks, earning them a 1-1 split in San Antonio and home court advantage as the series moves to Dallas for Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal on Saturday.

    "I guess we're kind of similar,'' Nowitzki said when I asked him about Duncan before the series began. "He doesn't care about the recognition, he just wants to help the team win, and that's what I love about him. If I help the team win and I don't have to do a single interview after the game about what I did out there, that's great, I love that. So I guess we're kind of similar.''

    The Mavericks are positioned to upset the Spurs because of their team chemistry, and much of the credit for the way the players relate to one another can be traced to Nowitzki's leadership. For years he was criticized as being too passive and quiet to be a leader, but that analysis was missing a larger strength in Nowitzki's personality that is now on display: Because he doesn't force his personality on others, his teammates are able to express themselves. Instead of demanding that they defer to him, Nowitzki encourages their growth.

    "We all love him because he's this humble guy [who] on the court you're confident he'll do what it takes to win," says team president Donnie Nelson. "But off the court, sitting down and having a coffee with him, he's so disarmingly genuine and down-to-earth.''

    "I know all the teams I've ever been on -- if it was the [German] national team or here -- we always had a great chemistry,'' Nowitzki said. "I don't know if it's necessarily because I'm not a big head like that. I don't know the reason. But I love to have fun. Basketball is still a sport and you're supposed to have fun doing what you love. That was always my approach. I never try to make teammates uncomfortable out there or even in the locker room. I always try to joke and make our times good, and that's about all I can do.''

    Though international talent continues to immigrate to the world's richest basketball league, Nelson points out that none of the top Europeans has emerged as a dominant NBA personality. Nowitzki became a leader without allowing his behavior to be mottled, managed or exploited. "Dirk has grown, he's matured, but he hasn't changed, and I think the thing I respect the most about him is that fact,'' says Nelson, one of the NBA's experts on international basketball. "Imagine if you took an American soccer player and put him in Germany. What do you think it would take for that guy to earn a similar position of respect, not just from his team but of the entire soccer community in that country?''

    The same obstacles remain in front of Nowitzki in this country. "If you were to take Dirk today and put him on another NBA team, in some respects he might have to start from scratch,'' Nelson says. "Now you can't say that of Kevin Garnett, for example. If Kevin Garnett goes to another team, he automatically becomes a leader of that team. But with Dirk, there are definitely some cultural things involved, and I think your average Joe in the American locker room doesn't have much knowledge of -- or maybe respect for -- where Dirk has come from. I think a lot of guys in the league would initially say, 'He's a nice player, but I'm not going to follow him.'"

    Even if Nowitzki is able to lead Dallas past the Spurs this month, he would probably still find himself at least another year away from winning a title because his team is so young, and waiting for him in the Finals would be Detroit's Rasheed Wallace, the one big man capable of defending Nowitzki on the perimeter. But if it happens someday, it will be viewed around the world as a breakthrough moment that a skinny German could arrive in Dallas as a 20-year-old and work his way up to the leadership of a championship team in the NBA. It will be a big story everywhere but here.

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