Today at 18h30 Central European time, Dirk Nowitzki and his German national team will play their qualifying game for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. And this will be the last chance for a whole German generation of basketball players to qualify for the Olympic Games.
I speak of a generation that has given unexpected success to a country where basketball is far from a national cause. The team core is still built around the players that started their international career together with Dirk Nowitzki at the end of the 1990s in which the 2.13m-tall player led his team to 7th place in the European U-22 Championship with an overtime win over Siskauskas Lithuania. It was also during that summer when David Stern proclaimed the following words:
In 1999, Germany reached a proper 7th place at Eurobasket, and the roster already featured the names of Ademola Okulaja and Patrick Femerling. The first big bang on the European scene came in 2001 in the Turkish Eurobasket; Germany reached the semifinals only to make a most memorable error in the game against Turkey, something that still remains in the minds of all German basketball fans. With a few seconds to go and a three-point advantage, the German team did not foul Hedo Turkoglu, who instead hit a three pointer to send the game into overtime, a game Turkey would win. During this tournament, Nowitzki’s former teammate from Würzburg, Robert Garrett, joined the team for the first time and is still the Dallas Maverick’s roommate today.
2002 marked probably the greatest success for the Nowitzki generation when they earned a bronze medal at the Indianapolis World Championships by beating New Zealand (another team still living off their glorious generation) in the third-place game.
In 2003, a foot injury stopped the forward progress of Germany in the FIFA world rankings, but an incredible performance of Dirk in the 2005 semifinals gave the generation around Garrett, Femerling, Mithat Demirel, Pascal Roller, Marko Pesic and Ademola Okulaja another medal. And everybody remembers the crazy game winner by Dirk in the semis against Jorge Garbajosa:
In the 2007 Spanish Eurobasket, Germany managed to reach the 5th place and qualify herewith for the Olympic qualification tournament in Athens. Tonight at 18h30 CET, Dirk and his whole group of friends try to go for the ultimate challenge: Playing in the Olympics. Against a Puerto Rico team that has beat Germany in the preparation tournament in Bamberg a few weeks ago, Nowitzki has to go for it all, and Germany managed to do everything for it by even recruiting Chris Kaman. We will see tonight if Dirk can fulfill his dream and travel to China in August.