From Our Archives: "Crocodile Nowitzki"

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Last night I finally had the chance to read the new issue of Rolling Stone, which happens to feature a feature by former Observer-er Jesse Hyde, who decamped for his native Utah a couple of years back. The story's a good one: "America's Most Twisted Crime Family: Inside a Mormon cult's secret empire -- and the boys who dared to defy it." Right in his wheelhouse. Joe Bob says check it out.

But, funny thing. I was just reading this piece on Deadspin: "Stay Soft, Dirk Nowitzki." Luke O'Brien offers a lengthy look at the naysayers who long insisted the eventual MVP of the 2011 NBA Finals wasn't tough enough to lead his team to the Promised Land like the German Moses he's become. Loads of links and lots of stats, a thorough history-of. Then I get toward the bottom only to discover a lengthy excerpt from this November 2007 Observer cover story written by none other than Jesse Hyde.

It's about how Dirk went to the Australian Outback to find himself, to reinvent himself, to learn from and then just as quickly forget the crushing blows of the '06 Finals and the 67-win season that followed only to end with a one-and-done against Golden State. Wrote Jesse:

For the first time in his career, Nowitzki did not spend the summer retooling some aspect of his game. Instead, he went on a five-week trip to Australia to clear his head. He slept in youth hostels, he dozed on the beach reading German novels and he let his hair and beard grow long. He drifted out at sea for days. He slept in a car for a week. For Nowitzki, it was a journey of self-discovery -- similar to the traditional walkabout Aborigines take in their 16th year as a rite of passage -- a time to consider where he had been and where he was going.

Sitting there in front of the fire, with nothing but the stars of the Southern Hemisphere above him, Nowitzki's mind raced through the past several months. The 67-win season. The promise of a championship. Then finally, walking off the court at Golden State, his opponents celebrating their improbable victory as confetti fell around them.

How strange it had been, seeing his former coach, Don Nelson, on the other side of the court. Nellie, who had traded up to draft him, who had proclaimed him Rookie of the Year, who had stood by him even as Mavericks fans booed that first year, now pacing the opposing sideline, exploiting the weaknesses of his one-time protégé.

And it had worked. Somehow it had taken Nowitzki out of his game. After one loss, he threw a trash can against a wall in frustration, but when it was finally over, all he wanted to do was disappear. On the flight home, he asked a team official if he could leave Dallas as soon as possible, but after checking in with the NBA, he was told no -- he would have to stick around for another week or so. He could guess why. It was a poorly kept secret that he would win the MVP trophy.

Thanks for the memory-jog, Deadspin. Let's have a parade.

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