COLOGNE, Germany — Nearly 18,000 people in Lanxess Arena on Thursday night alternated between craning their necks to see the highlights, speech text and video displays on the jumbotron hanging from the ceiling and looking down toward the man at the center of the spotlight on the court.
Dirk Nowitzki has never been one dimensional.
Neither was the retirement ceremony for his No. 14 German national team jersey.
Nine months after the Mavericks immortalized their best player’s No. 41 jersey in the American Airlines Center rafters with an elaborate ceremony, the German national team did the same for his FIBA threads, bringing dignitaries, a Dallas crew and thousands of adoring fans together to recognize Nowitzki’s greatness on and off the court.
Amid an elaborate stadium light show and pyrotechnic fireworks, Nowitzki officially became the first German player to receive the honor, and one of just a handful in international basketball history.
“Your successes and records are legendary,” President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, via translation, in his speech to Nowitzki. “Even three years after your retirement, you are every bit the hero you were back then. People respect you and look up to you.”
Thought Nowitzki had a large posse of supporters in Dallas during his final home game theatrics and jersey ceremony in January?
This was no different.
Owner Mark Cuban loaded several Mavericks leaders in his plane for a four-day trip to Cologne, specially for Nowitzki’s honor, in addition to supporting current Mavericks star Luka Doncic with Slovenia.
Coach and championship teammate Jason Kidd, general manager Nico Harrison, assistant general manager and former teammate Michael Finley, director of player health and performance Casey Smith and vice president of basketball communications Scott Tomlin came with Cuban.
Former assistant and Orlando Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley was there, too.
So were Nowitzki’s parents, his wife, Jessica, most of his 2002 World Cup teammates, and Doncic — who changed into a sweatshirt a few minutes after powering Slovenia’s EuroBasket-opening win over Lithuania.
Arena cameras often panned to Doncic during the second Nowitzki jersey retirement he’s watched up-close in the last nine months, this one including speeches by Steinmeier, FIBA president Hamane Niang and president of the German basketball Ingo Weiss.
Nowtizki sat in the corner of the court closest to his jersey, but most of the nearly sold-out crowd stood throughout the 15-minute technical and sentimental production.
Arena lights flashed “MVP” and “14″ across the court, and a video montage showcased big-time buckets, seminal moments and signature facial expressions from his 153 games with the national team from 1997 to 2015, including silver at the 2005 EuroBasket, bronze at the 2002 World Cup and Beijing Olympic qualification in 2008.
Highlights from the Mavericks’ 2011 championship and his star-studded final home game in April 2019 made it, too.
In speeches translated to English on the jumbotron, all acknowledged Nowitzki’s generous spirit and extensive charity involvement through the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation to benefit children’s health, wellbeing and education.
“Thousands of kids started playing basketball thanks to you,” Niang said, via translation.
Nowitzki finished what he joked was “I think the last” of his jersey retirements by hugging each of the current German players as they jogged onto the court to warm-up for their ensuing game against France.
Then Nowitzki hugged each of the French players, too.
And he signed so many autographs while leaving the floor that he said he started to sweat.