Crocodile Nowitzki

This summer Dirk Nowitzki went down under to find himself. Can he now lead the Mavs to the promised land?

A basketball team was like a good jazz band, he told Nowitzki. Some players were virtuosos, and others were specialists, but to make good music they all had to know their parts and play them well. Sooner or later, everyone would have to step up and play a solo, and the others would fade into the background. He had Nowitzki learn to play the saxophone to reinforce this principle.

At times Geschwinder's training methods seemed bizarre, rooted in a bygone era, and in the same way that the Daniel LaRusso character questioned his mentor, Mr. Miyagi, in the 1984 movie The Karate Kid, Nowitzki sometimes was left scratching his head at the drills his coach came up with. To teach Nowitzki balance, for example, Geschwinder had him do walking handstands or ran him around like a wheelbarrow, with his hands on Nowitzki's ankles. To teach defense, he got a former fencing champion to demonstrate to Nowitzki that in fencing, as in all sports, good offense flows out of good defense. Over the years, his training regimen would include rowing, ballet, rollerblading and guitar lessons. To prepare Nowitzki for the added weight his frame would acquire, he made him wear a 22-pound vest as he practiced.

In the years since, Nowitzki's life had been consumed by basketball. As a player, he was nearly fully formed. But there was one final stage of development he had yet to complete. This was stage seven, as Geschwinder called it. It included "emotional intelligence" and "broadband literacy." And just as he had used jazz to teach the concept of teamwork and fencing to teach the importance of defense, he had come to Australia to teach his pupil this final lesson.

Tom Jenkins

Like nomads they roamed, across the flat and arid plains of the Central Basin, which extended from the Great Dividing Range to the Western Plateau. As they traveled they talked. In Geschwinder's mind, many of the so-called truths of America's sports culture were "bullshit." Take positive thinking, for example. "If you put a tightrope over a chasm and ask a man to walk across it who has never done it before, it doesn't matter how much positive thinking he does, he's going to fall."

Pressure isn't real, Geschwinder believed, just like time isn't real. Both are man-made constructs. The Aborigines, for example, didn't believe time was linear. They lived in a state called Dreamtime, in which all of time, the future and the past, was present, and as the two wandered, they also lost track of time. Outside of the cities, they had no cell phone reception, and so they had no idea that back in the United States the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers were both headed for the NBA Finals. Out here, what did those words mean? What did basketball mean? In all likelihood, the Aborigines had also played games, and those games were gone, just like the people who played them were.

What would come after basketball? Nowitzki wondered. He had enough money (he would make $16 million the next season alone), but money wasn't everything. "It helps," Geschwinder would say. "But it's not the point." Nowitzki wanted a family. He had never wanted to be married before 30, but 30 was approaching, and before long he would want to meet a woman and have kids. The Aborigines believed that the Elders bridged the past and the present, teaching important traditions and knowledge through "dreaming stories" about how the land was populated, how birds were given their colors and how sacred rocks and mountains were formed. They told these stories in song while performing the rote tasks of the day—walking down to the waterhole, or while grinding up seeds to make bread. One day, Nowitzki would also want to pass on the knowledge he had gained, whether it was about basketball or something else. He didn't want to stagnate intellectually, to just sit around and play PlayStation with the guys. When he got back to Dallas, he would take piano lessons. He would read good books, to find new ways of thinking, as Geschwinder described it.

They hiked the canyons and mountains of Central Australia, and then they flew back to Sydney, where they spent a few days washing clothes. Whenever they returned to the cities, their cell phones would be jammed with messages, some from friends who wanted to update them on how the NBA playoffs were going. But Nowitzki didn't want to know. They flew back out, to the Great Barrier Reef, and there, for three days, Nowitzki and Geschwinder went sailing, alone except for a cook and captain, taking occasional breaks to snorkel on the reef.

They flew to New Zealand and zigzagged around the country, stopping at geysers and a beach near a volcano. Then on to Tahiti, where they rented a house and did nothing but sleep, swim and doze on the beach. These were all three- to four-day loops, with Sydney as a stop-off in between. Finally, they went to Northern Australia, where they hiked near waterfalls and bathed in streams, even when signs warned them it was the wet season and crocodile danger was high. At times camping in the Outback, their campfires drew visitors. Sometimes these visitors were locals, and sometimes they were fellow tourists. Either way, they didn't recognize Nowitzki, which was just fine with him.

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