The greatness of Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki(notes) has been one of the two or three biggest stories of the playoffs along with LeBron James'(notes) late-game dominance and Kevin Durant's(notes) backpack. For a player with Dirk's former reputation as a choke artist, it's been a time for everyone to recognize and appreciate his considerable talents and accomplishments, especially after the epic performance in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
As Dallas Morning News business writer Cheryl Hall noted in a recent article , "Nearly two-thirds of American consumers still don't recognize the Mavericks' superstar forward, even after Nowitzki's stellar performance in the Western Conference playoffs, according to consumer feedback compiled by the Marketing Arm for The Dallas Morning News." [...]
The most staggering figure found out from the study, however, is that Nowitzki isn't even the most recognized player on his own team. That honor would go point guard Jason Kidd(notes). "Nowitzki is practically invisible compared to Miami Heat superstar LeBron James, who is recognized by eight of 10 consumers," Hall noted in her article. "Even Mavericks teammate Jason Kidd scores higher, with nearly half of consumers knowing who he is."
This news is pretty surprising, especially considering Dirk has been the best player on the Mavs for more than a decade, won two NBA Finals games in 2006, and earned the league's MVP award in 2007. However, Dallas' 2006 run coincided with the growing legend of Dwyane Wade(notes), and Dirk's MVP season was somewhat tainted by the Mavericks' first-round upset at the hands of the "We Believe" Golden State Warriors. So while Nowitzki has been a major NBA figure, he's been overshadowed when he had the greatest chance of being exposed to a mainstream audience.
Plus, while the Morning News article notes that Nowitzki has opted not to do any major endorsements, there's also something to the idea that companies may not want a really tall German dude to hawk their products. Like it or not, some American consumers are xenophobic, and Wade and LeBron James have built-in appeal just by virtue of not having weird accents. Dirk has a likable personality, but he's foreign. Those are the breaks sometimes.
More generally, though, this story serves as a helpful reminder that the concerns of basketball fans (e.g. Dirk's legacy, his clutch stats, his mic-grabbing technique in postgame press conferences) don't actually matter to most Americans. For them, the NBA counts for a few weeks in early June, and Shaquille O'Neal(notes) is still one of the best players in the league even though he retired Wednesday. It's a weird concept to face for someone who inhales the sport for the entire year, but it's the truth.