Nowitzki is first European to be named MVP

DALLAS -- As a teenager in Germany, Dirk Nowitzki stayed up
late to watch the NBA finals and got up early to watch All-Star
games. He worked on his shot every day and came home to a room with
a poster of Scottie Pippen on the wall.

Barely 20 when he was drafted, Nowitzki wasn't sure he was ready
for the NBA. Even after his rookie season, he wondered "if I had
it, if I was going to make it in this league."

"I just kept on working, kept learning, kept my confidence up
as much as I could," he said.

Nowitzki smiled as he shared those memories Tuesday, standing a
few feet from an NBA MVP trophy with his name etched into it.

Having long since conquered his doubts, Nowitzki put a permanent
stamp on his career by winning this award -- the first for a
European, for someone who didn't go to high school or college in
the United States, and for a member of the Dallas Mavericks.

It also was the rare instance of the honor going to a player who
couldn't get his team out of the playoffs' first round, but
commissioner David Stern, Dallas coach Avery Johnson and Mavericks
owner Mark Cuban did their best to keep the focus on the things
Nowitzki did right this season and throughout his nine-year career.

Stern praised Nowitzki as "an iconic, elite athlete from Europe
who has not only learned to play our game, he's mastered it."
Cuban became emotional talking about his star player's work ethic
and desire.

"You don't have to encourage him to get into the gym, he's the
guy you have to lock out," Cuban said. "He's not the guy who you
wonder if he cares, he's the guy who hurts so much when things
don't go the way you want. That's what makes him an MVP. He's an
example ... that you don't have to fit a certain role, a certain
model, but if you work hard enough and care enough, anything is

About the only person dragging the mood down was Nowitzki.

"Even when I heard I was MVP, I was sad to watch all these
playoff games and know that we're not a part of it," Nowitzki
said. "It's heartbreaking still to me. I was trying to be positive
and be really happy, but it's going to take a while for it to
really sink in."

Nowitzki led the Mavericks to 67 wins, a total eclipsed by only
five teams in NBA history. He was the team's top scorer (24.6
points per game) and rebounder (8.9 per game), and averaged a
career-high 3.4 assists. He also was the only player in the league
to shoot better than 50 percent from the field, 40 percent on
3-pointers and 90 percent on free throws.

He was listed first on 83 of the 129 ballots, garnering a total
of 1,138 points, to end the two-year MVP reign of his close friend
and former teammate Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns.

"I'm extremely proud of him and happy for him," Nash said. "I
think it's really well-deserved. Hopefully he gets a chance to
enjoy it regardless of their playoff outcome, because he had a
phenomenal year and he really deserves it."

Nash finished second with 1,013 points and 44 first-place votes.
He could have joined Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell
as the only players to be named MVP in three straight years.

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers got the remaining two
first-place votes. San Antonio's Tim Duncan was fourth and
Cleveland's LeBron James was fifth.

The vote was based on regular-season play, with ballots due
before the playoffs started. The result might have been different,
otherwise, because of how poorly Nowitzki played in Dallas'
first-round elimination by Golden State, one of the biggest upsets
in NBA history.

Stern dismissed the idea of Nowitzki's victory prompting a
change in voting to include some or all of the playoffs. It's worth
noting that five of the previous seven MVPs did not lead their team
to the championship; however, it had been 25 years (Houston's Moses
Malone in 1981-82) since an MVP failed to win a single playoff

"It happens," Stern said. "The beauty of sports is you take
nothing for granted. Obviously Dirk was disappointed with the way
the season ended, but he should feel quite good about his place in
history for the season he led the Mavs to."

Nowitzki takes a lot of pride in how far he's come in his
career. He thanked his first coach, current Warriors coach Don
Nelson, for daring to "have a 7-footer dribble up the ball and
shoot 3-pointers" and credited Johnson for helping round out his
game during the last two years.

"Once you're at this stage, I think everything that you've put
into it comes through your mind -- all the hard work, all the hours
you put in," he said. "It's just very fulfilling."

Nowitzki started playing basketball when he was 13. A few years
later, he began working with Holger Geschwindner, the captain of
West Germany's 1972 Olympic team. Their plan to get him into the
NBA was creating a 7-footer who could shoot 3s.

Once they succeeded, they kept tinkering, adding skills every
year. Even after turning Nowitzki into an All-Star and now an MVP,
they're still building. He leaves Wednesday for about a month of
traveling, then he'll head back into the basketball laboratory.

"I still feel like there's a lot I can pick up," said
Nowitzki, who turns 29 next month.

The one thing he can't change for at least a year is his growing
reputation for playoff failure.

"I understand there are a lot of stars in history and present
who are great players and never really won a championship. As of
now, I'm in that category," Nowitzki said. "The only good thing
is ... I feel like I'm in the prime of my career. Hopefully I've
got a lot of great postseason runs left."