By Cathrin Gilbert
Her hair is tied up in a loose ponytail and she is wearing a baggy, green shirt. He gets some cheese and cold cuts from the enormous refrigerator to make sandwiches. They are intimate and affectionate with each other, and she rubs her head against his stomach. He envelopes her with his long arms and pulls her gently to his body. She savors the moment. He seems a little shy, as if sensed that someone were watching.
Half a year later, Dirk Nowitzki is sitting in his father's office in Würzburg. The season is over, and so is his relationship, and he is taking a break from his life as a professional basketball player in the NBA. The sun is shining over the vineyards of Lower Franconia, but the office is dimly lit. Nowitzki's parents own a house painting business. His father's master craftsman certificate and photos of the famous son are hanging on the wall. Nowitzki's companion, who arranged the meeting, comments favorably on the neutral environment here, in an industrial area of Würzburg. Too much privacy, he says, isn't the right thing at the moment.
Nowitzki tugs at his lower lip as his eyes dart around the room. Occasionally he drops one of his hands onto the leather of his chair. A trace of nonchalance certainly isn't a bad thing at this moment. His cheeks are tanned and his hair is blonder than usual. He just returned from a vacation in Crete the day before the meeting.
'I Felt Nothing at All'
He wishes he could have holed up there forever, he says.
Seven weeks ago, his mentor, Holger Geschwindner, explained to him that his personal life had been a farce for the past year. The woman he had hugged so affectionately in his kitchen in Preston Hollow, an exclusive residential area in Dallas, was a swindler, a gold-digger.
When he saw the documents that had been compiled by a detective, Nowitzki was filled with rage. At some point, he says, all he wanted to do was kick the nearest wall.
Was everything bogus? All lies?
For years, there had been a warrant out for the arrest of his fiancée, whom he had intended to marry on July 18 of this year, on multiple charges of fraud and document forgery. During those years, she had changed her identity again and again. She introduced herself to Nowitzki as Christian Trevino and told him she was originally from Brazil. When he took her home for Christmas, she told his parents that they could call her "Crissy." Nowitzki was apparently just another of her gold-digging victims, and he will probably never find out whether she may have loved him all the same.
Crystal Ann Taylor -- the name on her police record -- is not from South America, but from Saint Louis -- from the west bank of the Mississippi River, not the Amazon. She and Nowitzki lived together for a year, after having known each other for several years. She was the one who tried to initiate the romantic relationship, and when she had finally gained his trust, she had someone videotape the couple -- she and her trophy -- in his kitchen.
Nowitzki says that the worst of it is that the whole world can now pry, uninvited, into his personal life. Crystal Taylor's friend sold the video made in his kitchen to the press, and it landed in YouTube. Nowitzki says he is furious, and feels "somehow helpless, as well."
The NBA Stage
Two years ago Dirk Nowitzki, 31, became the first European to win the NBA's Most Valuable Player award. Last season, he earned more than $18 million (13 million) playing for the Dallas Mavericks. Throughout his career, he has earned an estimated 100 million ($140 million), both as a player and from advertisements. He is one of the most successful German athletes ever.
After doing his utmost to protect his private life, Nowitzki must now look on as he is paraded through the tabloids. Nowitzki, the master of silence, now believes that it's better to talk.
Are you disappointed? "Of course. I think I'm disappointed by myself, most of all." Are you afraid?
"A little. I ask myself how I'll ever be able to trust anyone again," he says. And as if it could make things more bearable, he forces himself to smile, and says: "Well, at least I'm not the first to fall for this sort of thing."
To understand this story, it is necessary to look at the stage on which Nowitzki has performed for the past 11 years -- the stage of the NBA, the world's most glamorous professional sports league. It is important to understand the role that Nowitzki, the boy from Würzburg, plays in this enterprise, which earns annual revenues of $3.5 billion (2.5 billion). The NBA is, in essence, a large corporation, one that specifies the kind of clothing its employees should wear after leaving the basketball arena, and what kind of music it doesn't want them to listen to in the locker room.
An Unknown Star
Nowitzki owes his fame and success to his mentor. Geschwindner was the captain of the German national basketball team in the 1970s. Nowitzki was 16 when he met Geschwindner for the first time. At the dinner table that evening, he told his parents that he had met a guy who said he wanted to be his trainer.
Three years later, Nowitzki and his private trainer flew to San Antonio, Texas, where he took part in a demonstration game on the World Junior Select Team, and was hailed as the "German Wunderkind." The Dallas Mavericks signed Nowitzki three months later.
Within three years Geschwindner had shaped Nowitzki into an NBA athlete. Today, Nowitzki says that he wasn't aware at the time of just how great the human challenges would turn out to be.
Dirk seemed like a shy child at first, says Steve Nash, a teammate who would become his best friend in Dallas during the next six years, and who describes himself as Nowitzki's brother today. It was an incredibly audacious thing to do, he says, making the jump from Würzburg directly to the NBA, where European players were considered soft and un-cool.
Nowitzki was convinced at the time that he could focus on his dream in the NBA. "I couldn't have cared less about what the others thought about me," he says today. A friend from Würzburg remembers that they used to refer to all the trappings of being an NBA player as just a show. All the money Dirk was earning, he says, was mainly compensation for putting up with everything.
Mike Bantom's office is on Fifth Avenue in New York, a stone's throw from Central Park. He has hands the size of bear paws. He is sitting at his desk on the 15th floor of a building where the NBA rents a total of six floors. Despite his dark suit pants and striped shirt, he doesn't seem like a businessman.
All Kinds of Dangers
As the NBA's senior vice president of player development, Bantom is responsible for introducing new players into the league. For this job, says Bantom, you have to have experienced the rarefied air of the league firsthand. "Believe me, there are all kinds of dangers waiting for these guys" -- the kinds of dangers he explains to the rookies during a new player camp that lasts several days before the beginning of each new season.
Nowitzki, who also attended the rookie camp when he joined the NBA, says that the rookies were told how to use a knife, a fork and a condom, and that they were warned about people who would try to use them to make money. "Whether financial manager, chauffeur, housekeeper, friend or girlfriend," says Bantom, the new players were told to scrutinize everyone they met. According to Bantom, Dirk was not the kind of player who had to be told that too much alcohol and sex could have consequences. "As far as the pressure is concerned, that's something the guys have to learn to deal with on their own."
Bantom spent too much time as an NBA player himself not to be familiar with the business and the temptations. "Magic" Johnson once said that he had slept with "several hundred" groupies before a doctor told him that he was HIV positive. Five years ago, Kobe Bryant was on trial for allegedly raping a 19-year-old woman. Prosecutors dropped the charges a year later.
Bantom says that NBA players have lived the American dream. Many are from poor, inner-city neighborhoods -- and suddenly they are earning millions in their first season. It is difficult to protect them, says Bantom, and even the young guys from Europe, who are typically ridiculed in rookie camp because of their strange accents and clothing, need to be warned. "The situation with that woman makes me feel really bad for Dirk," says Bantom.
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