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The Producers (Made in Germany)

July 1, 2011
by

Dirk Nowitzki is all the rage right now, and deservedly so. After 13 prolific seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, he’s just finished a remarkable post-season run with a cohort of players even older and more ragged than he, and has completely overturned his prior reputation as a bit too wavering in important moments.

But nicht so schnell! This isn’t one of those fanblogs where we just talk about how great some guy is. No, we’re going farther here, and rightly so, because too much time has passed since Dirk’s fellow German Detlef Schrempf received proper fanfare. Schrempf actually began playing in Dallas, where Nowitzki has spent his entire career, but the comparisons can be extended beyond that.

Don't forget!

I’ve been a purveyor of gross generalizations in the past, but when Germany enters the conversation, cliches clutter my mind, so it was hard to choose the right direction to go with this topic.

War and violence? It’s a bit tired as a German association, and war is far too lightly exploited as a parallel to sports. War is hell. Sports inspire blogging. Big difference.

David Hasselhoff? He’s American. Seriously, look it up. Beer? Meh. Sausages? Doesn’t quite ring true for tall, lanky basketball players. I think we can do better. So with proper respect to the land where I once Autobahn’d a rental Mercedes to the speed of sound (the sound was the chassis groaning), let’s talk about Dirk Nowitzki and Detlef Schrempf in terms of notable German inventions.

The Diesel Engine

  1. Known for unparalleled efficiency, diesel engines convert up to 45% of fuel energy into mechanical energy, nearly half-again better than a gasoline engine. Dirk Nowitzki is #15 all-time (23.73) in player efficiency rating, and even led the NBA in back-to-back seasons in the mid 2000s. Just a few weeks ago, against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he scored 48 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the field and a perfect 24-for-24 night at the free throw line. Allow me to reiterate that: he released the ball 39 times that night, and 36 of those shots went in.

    Efficient cargo delivery.

    Not too far behind, Detlef Schrempf is #25 all-time in offensive rating, including a league-leading 127.0 in the 1994-95 season, meaning he averaged 1.27 points per possession that ended with the ball in his hands.

  2. No electrical ignition system allows for superior reliability and durability. Herr Schrempf played productively long into his career, averaging 15 points in 35 minutes per game at age 36, something even Michael Jordan can’t claim (MJ didn’t play at age 36, so you can call my claim a technicality, but you can’t call it false). Dirk is currently 32 years old, and has certainly endured a heavy burden in terms of playing time, and though his efficiency has dropped since his peak in the mid-2000s, his true shooting percentage and offensive rating have not.
  3. Diesel fuel burns, but does not explode. When was the last time either of these guys lost his temper? Okay, I remember tense playoff moments, and maybe a few words with officials, but were there any Sheed-style meltdowns that stole momentum from his team? Any Dwight Howard brink-of-suspension technical foul counts? Nope.
  4. Diesel engines can take turbo-charging pressure without any natural limit, constrained only by the strength of engine components. Dirk’s playoff-only player efficiency rating is even better than in the regular season, at #7 all-time (24.75).

Aspirin

  1. Aspirin is ubiquitous, available anywhere and everywhere, just like a dagger three-point shot from either of ze Germans. Moreover, it’s been used for everything, even when not recommended, kind of like a lanky, tall, sharp-shooting forward in basketball.
  2. Aspirin is universally recognizable by name. Don’t see the connection? Tell me about all the non-NBA players you know with the last name Nowitzki or Schrempf. How about Dirk or Detlef? Both players are recognizable by single names, and what’s more, that’s true of both their first and last names. Write that off as a result of unusual names, but even Yao isn’t known also as Ming.
  3. Bland, bland, bland. Nobody ever remembered an awesome aspirin commercial, just like I couldn’t tell you a single product or company that either of these guys endorsed. Oh wait, Dirk doesn’t even have an agent!
  4. Aspirin was stripped of trademark status in the USA, France, England, and Russia as part of World War I reparations in the Treaty of Versailles. Unrelated, actually, but a nice piece of trivia.

The Zeppelin

  1. Zeppelins are supremely misunderstood. The Hindenburg’s fiery disaster will forever be the popular image of zeppelin transportation, and for much of his career, Dirk Nowitzki was known for hitting the wall with catastrophic force in the playoffs. He’s soft, critics cried. He can’t put together a complete post-season, they shouted. When the Mavericks won 67 games in 2006-07 but lost to the Warriors in the first round, Schadenfreude became a bubble commodity. But it was a classic case of ignoring persistent success and focusing on an unforeseen (and unforgettable) tragedy.

    Couldn't get it done in the clutch!

    And Detlef? I need to mention that when doing quick research to refresh my knowledge of his stats, search results for a song titled Detlef Schrempf” by Band of Horses came before anything about his basketball career. How? It’s hard to complain about immortality, but I weep for a generation that might know his name as a song title rather than the promise of an on-court Luftwaffe.

  2. Zeppelin transportation is very fuel-efficient. In the spirit of efficiency, I won’t repeat the absurd efficiency stats I’ve already mentioned above.
  3. The downside of a zeppelin’s design was its vulnerability in war. It was slow, large, and difficult to maneuver, an easy target for any enemy, and an simple comparison to the somewhat clumsy, plodding style of these two. Similarly, Dirk and Detlef may have been at their weakest on defense. Simply put, neither is known as a dominating stopper.
  4. Without need for a runway, zeppelins can land in just about any open clearing. Sure, they need space, but such versatility in landing makes them a suitable fit just about anywhere. Detlef Schrempf was that kind of player – in city after city, he made no demands and instead shaped his game around the team, contributing timely shooting and filling the void as a third scorer. Nowitzki was without question much more than a role player, but has never been a demanding star in his years as a professional. He has often relied on a dynamic point guard (Steve Nash, Devin Harris, and Jason Kidd are separate but unequal examples) to set the tone of the offense, and allowed the ball to come to him as it may, deftly and promptly delivering it to the basket thereafter.

I’m not claiming the German basketballers were unique – rather I’m saying they had a lot in common, and more than just questionable combinations of consonants in their last names (“mpf” and “tzk”, seriously?).

So who’s next? With Nowitzki actually the only active German in the NBA, it’s hard to say (Chris Kaman is American, so stop writing that in the comments – STOP IT), but both fine Herren have developed a solid prototype for the German professional basketball player, and we’ll just have to hope that a young meister grows into the role by the time Dirk Nowitzki sinks his last off-balance fadeaway jumper.

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