If we are to make a list of the most overlooked players ever to play in the NBA, former Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki would be up there. In fact, the Milwaukee Bucks, the team that drafted him in 1998, was the first to reckon “German Jesus” won’t bring in anything else than height and a couple of jump shots, so they traded him right away on draft day. Simply put, Dirk was stereotyped as a "soft European player."
Taking the good with the bad
Over time, Nowitzki improved and blossomed into a lethal offensive stretch power forward. He brought what NBA fans once expected from the then-highly touted European big Arvydas Sabonis to reality – a do-it-all big man.
However, the road to success was no walk in the park for Nowitzki. He had to endure being criticized by fans and his co-NBA players and, above all, being labeled “soft.”
“I think it’s normal,” Nowitzki told Yahoo Sports of being stereotyped as soft. “There weren’t that many European players in the league when I first came…I was skinny. I was a jump shooter as a seven footer. So automatically, that’s perceived as soft…I do remember those stereotypes at the beginning, like I’d be guarding somebody on the wing in front of the opposing bench and all I hear from the bench, like, ‘Go at him, he’s soft!’”
Despite the negativity, Nowitzki remained unfazed. He learned to take the good with the bad and didn’t let the “soft” tag halt his progress. Instead, Dirk let himself be fueled by it positively. And, as we all know, it did him well.
“It motivated me to fill up my body, get stronger, and get a little better on defense and compete a little harder,” he continued.
In his third year in the league, Nowitzki broke out. He played all 82 games for the Mavs and logged then career-best 21.8 points per outing. The following year, Dirk took off and earned his first All-Star appearance. He spent the next 10 consecutive seasons as an All-Star and copped an NBA title in the process.
What’s even more interesting, Nowitzki took the” soft” label away from his name without trying to be tough.
“I never really changed into a tough, physical player,” Nowitzki concluded. “I mean, I like to think I was mentally tough, but it’s not like I was out there elbowing cats on the rebound. It’s just not my style.”
Looking back, Nowitzki was never the most athletic player of his generation, but we can all agree that he was far from “soft” either.