Nowitzki first European to be named NBA MVP

DALLAS (TICKER) —Growing up in Germany, Dirk Nowitzki used to stay up late at night to watch NBA games and wonder if he could ever play on that level.

On Tuesday, Nowitzki reached the highest possible level of basketball as he was named Most Valuable Player, becoming the first European to win the prestigious award.

The superstar forward of the Dallas Mavericks outpolled good friend Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns, who had won the last two years.

“I’m still speechless about it,” Nowitzki said at a news conference at the American Airlines Center. “When I first started playing this game at 13, 14, I was the biggest fan of this league. I would never have thought I could have played in this league.”

Nowitzki watched a lot of games involving the Chicago Bulls, who won six NBA titles in the 1990s. Unlike many fans, he was not awestruck by superstar Michael Jordan but took an interest in the versatile Scottie Pippen.

“I was a huge fan of Pippen,” he said. “He was a great all-around player. That was always my goal - to be an all-around player.”

A perennial All-Star, Nowitzki rounded out his game in his ninth season, averaging 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and a career-high 3.4 assists. He was the only NBA player to shoot at least 50 percent from the field (.502), 40 percent from the arc (.416) and 90 percent from the line (.904).

“I’ve been calling him MVP all year,” Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. “I call him MVP in practice. I call him MVP in film sessions.”

“It’s a testament to his hard work,” said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who began crying while talking about his franchise player. “You don’t have to encourage him to get into the gym. You have to lock him out. … He’s relentless.”

Nowitzki finished no lower than 13th in scoring, rebounding, field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage. More important, he led the Mavericks to a 67-15 mark, which matched the fourth-most wins in NBA history.

Nowitzki placed no lower than third on all 129 ballots from members of the media. He received 83 first-place votes and 1,138 points in balloting tabulated on a 10-7-5-3-1 basis.

Nash also was no lower than third on every ballot and received 44 first-place votes and 1,013 points. The point guard was denied his third straight MVP award, a feat achieved only by Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird.

Nowitzki joins Canada native Nash, Tim Duncan of the Virgin Islands (2002, 2003) and Hakeem Olajuwon of Nigeria (1994) as the only foreign-born players to win MVP.

Commissioner David Stern called Nowitzki, “the iconic elite athlete from Europe who has not only learned to play our game but has mastered it.”

It was a bittersweet day for Nowitzki, who would much rather have been accepting the Maurice Podoloff Trophy from Stern before a playoff game rather than at a scheduled gathering.

Balloting was completed before the playoffs, where Dallas suffered a stunning loss to Golden State in the first round in one of the biggest upsets in postseason history.

Nowitzki averaged just 19.7 points on 38 percent shooting and and shouldered much of the blame for failing to take charge. Tuesday’s honor made him the first MVP to fail to advance past the opening round since Moses Malone with Houston in 1982.

“It’s still a little hard for me to be happy because of the way the season ended,” he said. “But this is an award for the regular season and I’m very proud. I think 67 games is a very, very special season. I’ll try to look at it this way.”

Nash has the Suns very much alive in the postseason, even after four games of their Western Conference semifinal series against Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs. This season, he averaged 18.6 points, a league-best 11.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds, leading the Suns to a 61-21 mark.

Scoring champion Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was the only other player to receive a first-place vote, collecting two and finishing third with 521 points. A total of 16 players received votes, with Duncan fourth (286 points) followed by Cleveland’s LeBron James (183) and Houston’s Tracy McGrady (110).

When Nowitzki was drafted in 1998, he had doubts about his ability to succeed in the league. He admitted one of his big dreams was to “play in the All-Star Game once.”

A six-time All-Star whose name is now permanently etched among the game’s all-time greats, Nowitzki has a different dream.

“More than anything now, I want to win a championship,” he said.

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Updated Tuesday, May 15, 2007