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NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki experienced an emotional moment Wednesday after what appeared to be his final game playing for the German national team. Shortly after Germany fell to Spain 77-76 in a second-round elimination game at EuroBasket 2015, the fans in Berlin cheered the greatest European player in basketball history as he acknowledged them with a few words and a tearful show of thanks. It was a touching scene worth watching again:
It also could have been a bit premature. A Friday report from the official EuroBasket website indicates that Nowitzki may opt to return to international play if Germany hosts a qualifier for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com has more:
“Well, I thought so,” Nowitzki told EuroBasket2015.org when asked if Thursday’s outing was his last with the national team. “But now, I’ve heard that there is a chance [for Germany] to get a wild card to host a pre-Olympic tournament. So, we’ll just have to wait to see, or come back together next summer and talk about it. But for me, in my head, at the end, that was it.”
Nowitzki certainly didn’t close the door on a possible return as an opportunity may still loom to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And after becoming the No. 2 all-time scorer in EuroBasket history earlier in the week, the NBA’s No. 7 all-time scorer may not be able to resist the urge to put his home country on his back yet again next summer. [...]
“I had said it before [EuroBasket 2015], if the tournament was anywhere else, I would not be there,” Nowitzki explained. “But since it was here in Germany and the fans have supported me for so long, my entire career, this was sort of a ‘thank you’ to them, for me to come and play one more time.
“If there is a slight chance to play next summer, if there is a pre-Olympic tournament here in Germany, then that’s for sure my last time playing.”
Based on Dirk's reasoning, it seems as if he would view a qualifier located in Germany as a sort of extension of the EuroBasket tournament. It also makes it clear that he wants to finish his international career in his home country rather than at the sport's biggest international tournament. After the cheers he got after Thursday's loss, that desire seems pretty understandable.
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Whether Germany earns the opportunity to host is another question. The new qualifying tournament system will involve a trio of tournaments around the world featuring 18 teams in total, with each winner taking one of the last three spots in the Olympics. Fifteen of the qualifier participants will be determined by their finish at their respective federation tournaments — EuroBasket hands automatic Olympic qualification to the finalists and qualifier tournament spots to the third- through seventh-place finishers. However, the other three qualifier tournament participants will be the host countries, which are picked based on a combination of vague factors. Given the presence of several notable players and a long history of hosting such tournaments, Germany could be chosen, which would open the door for Nowitzki's return. But it would take a lot of moving parts.
The good news is that Nowitzki's participation would not rob Thursday's moment of its special power. No matter if he suits up for his country again, Dirk received a fitting tribute to his contributions to German basketball. Chances are he'd get the same massive applause next summer, too.
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