Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said Monday from Germany that the ankle sprain he suffered in a weekend exhibition game should not affect his participation in next month's European Championships.
"I'm OK," Nowitzki told ESPN.com. "It swelled up a little bit, but it's not that bad. I can already walk on my own two feet again."
With a laugh, Nowitzki added: "I have a little experience with the ankles."
Nowitzki has missed a handful of games the past two seasons because of similar ankle sprains. An MRI exam after Sunday's sprain revealed no bone or ligament damage.
While Nowitzki is unlikely to play in Germany's two remaining warmup games for the European Championships, he has big plans for the tournament itself, which opens Sept. 5 in Sweden. Nowitzki considers it a lifelong goal to lead his country to Olympic qualification, and Germany will have to have a strong showing at the Eurobasket to claim one of the three remaining European spots for the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. Greece (as host nation) and Serbia-Montenegro (as last summer's World Championship winner) have already qualified.
Even a minor injury, however, is enough to rattle the Mavericks, who lost Nowitzki to a knee sprain for the final three games of their Western Conference finals series against San Antonio. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been the league's most outspoken critic regarding the risks to teams paying the guaranteed contracts of players who compete internationally in the off-season.
Dallas has four such players: Nowitzki, Canada's Steve Nash, Mexico's Eduardo Najera and France's Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Germany's national basketball federation has spent nearly $400,000 the past two summers to secure the additional insurance required to cover Nowitzki.
"I'm proud of our guys for wanting to represent their countries, but it goes against every business rule I know," Cuban said recently. "You don't put your employees in a situation that might prevent them from doing their jobs, or that could end their careers.
"Reggie Miller was a perfect example last year. Reggie has so much heart and patriotism, like all of our (American) guys, and he went out there after he had hurt his ankle. It (eventually) kept him from being able to play some games for the Pacers. Is that fair for the Pacers and their fans? They, of course, have to decide that, but I don't think so. But the reality is that, because of the FIBA-NBA deal, I have no say in the matter."
Cuban was referring to the NBA's agreement with FIBA, the sport's international governing body. The agreement specifies that NBA teams can't prevent their players from participating in international competitions during the offseason as long as the player is willing and the country in question secures what the league deems "adequate" insurance.
Before the ankle setback, Nowitzki said that the knee injury is no longer affecting him. To prepare for national-team duty, he had been training daily for a month with long-time tutor Holger Geschwindner.