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After bowing out of international duty for the past four summers, Dirk Nowitzki surprised some back in June by announcing that he'd return to the German men's national basketball team for Eurobasket 2015, due in large part to the fact that his home nation would be playing host to the European tournament, with games held in the capital city of Berlin. Despite the 37-year-old's best efforts, though, his bid for a second crack at an Olympic medal ended Thursday.
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Germany was eliminated from the running for a spot in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil on Thursday after a dramatic 77-76 loss to Spain. The Germans roared back from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit behind strong play from rising star point guard Dennis Schröder of the Atlanta Hawks. But although he'd carried Germany back into the fray with a game-high 26 points, seven assists and six rebounds, Schröder came up agonizingly short in an attempt to push the game to overtime, missing the last of three free throws he earned with just under four seconds remaining in regulation — his only miss in eight trips to the line on Thursday:
The Chicago Bulls' Pau Gasol (16 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks in 33 minutes) corralled Schröder's miss and Spain ragged out the final few seconds to hold onto the win, leaving Schröder, his teammates and the hometown fans stunned. The loss dropped Germany to 1-4 in the preliminary round, eliminating them from the competition and — as this is widely expected to be Nowitzki's final tournament with the German national team — likely ending the international career of one of the greatest players in European hoops history.
After a postgame interview about the defeat, Nowitzki — who scored 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds, but turned the ball over five times in 29 1/2 minutes as Germany played its fifth game in six days — strode back across the home court and promptly received a hero's ovation from the Berlin faithful. The full-throat appreciation clearly touched Nowitzki, who has competed for the national team since 1997, leading Germany to a bronze medal in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and a silver medal in Eurobasket 2005 (winning MVP honors in both tournaments) and just its fifth-ever Olympic appearance in 2008:
After the game, Nowitzki took to Twitter to reply to his fans' expression of gratitude with one of his own:
If, as expected, Nowitzki does retire from competition for Germany — Deutsche Welle suggests he "could be tempted to extend his international career" should Germany again "be awarded host status for an Olympic qualification event" next summer — he will do as the second-leading scorer in Eurobasket history, trailing only Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, who earlier this week became the top scorer in the tournament's annals with his work for the French national team.
More than that lofty status in the European record books, though, Nowitzki seemed to relish the opportunity to not only don his nation's colors once again, but to do so in front of his countrymen one more time.
"You know, to me, it was the big deal that the tournament, or at least the first round, is in Germany," Nowitzki said back in June. "I think I’ve never had a home European championship or world championship at home. This means a lot to our country and to the basketball world in our country. Berlin is an amazing basketball city already over the last 10, 15 or 20 years, so this should be fun."
The outcomes might not have been as much fun as he'd hoped, but if nothing else, Nowitzki did cap his comeback with an emotional moment that he'll surely never forget.
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