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.
"At first I felt nothing at all," says Nowitzki. The conversation with Geschwindner lasted four hours. But Nowitzki still doesn't understand what happened.
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.
Seeking Custody of an Unborn Child
It took Nowitzki a year to condition his body to handle the pace and toughness in the American league. He soon split up with his German girlfriend of many years, Sybille, avoided parties and even limited visits with his parents to the summer break and Christmas. He had no time for a personal life.
Steve Nash says that he is glad he could eventually convince his friend to get out more. It wasn't that they did anything illegal, he says. They just went to movies and listened to rock 'n' roll and hip-hop, nothing the other players weren't doing. "He had to experience something else besides all that pressure once in a while."
The NBA is a show. Millions of dollars are at stake, and the show is about muscles and tattoos, toughness and testosterone, in a world inhabited by Hollywood stars sitting on the sidelines, a world of fuzzy distinctions between groupies and fans. But this show is organized like a machine, one in which an athlete either functions or fails. There is tremendous pressure to succeed, and the fame and constant public scrutiny make it difficult for athletes to keep their lives private.
The tension between the two worlds, between the glamour and the pressure, can become enormous, forcing players to perform a constant balancing act between discipline and self-indulgence. Nowitzki seemed to have found the right balance. He celebrated his triumphs with his friend Nash. And whenever he would begin to stagnate as a player, Geschwindner would fly in and train his student until the follow-through on his shots was just right. It was Geschwindner who caught Nowitzki when he was on the verge of falling.
A Mentor and a Cheerleader
Today, Geschwindner lives in a castle in the Bavarian town of Peulendorf. As a student, he lived in an abandoned factory and drove his Porsche to protest marches. Geschwindner has a reputation for being difficult and extreme. He says things like: People who share emotion lose a part of themselves. He would occasionally bring his student books by Nietzsche or Joseph Conrad. Nowitzki stuck with him when Geschwindner was arrested on charges of tax evasion, and he paid more than €15 million ($21 million) in bail money to secure Geschwindner's release from custody. Geschwindner is Nowitzki's mentor, coach and therapist. He watches over and monitors his protégé. Friends say that at some point he was not only in control of Nowitzki's training and his game, but of his life, as well.
The Mavericks star was in a relationship with a cheerleader for a year and a half, but at some point the woman gave him an ultimatum: marry her or split up. He opted for the second choice -- on Geschwindner's advice. The aggrieved dancer went to Hollywood to try her hand at acting.
Nowitzki says that he always enjoyed not having to worry about anything. Even as a child, his mother, Helga, made all of his decisions for him, protecting her chicks like a mother hen. Nowadays, says Nowitzki, he wonders whether it was such a good idea to have taken so little responsibility.
Every morning, he would drive out of the garage of his $6 million (€4.3 million) mansion -- not far from where former President George W. Bush's neighborhood now lives -- in his $130,000 (€93,000) Mercedes AMG, and drive to the Mavericks' parking garage. In the evening, he would drive home again. Perhaps this is the only path a gifted athlete can take if he hopes to remain successful. Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher chose the same path. Perhaps it is simply the easiest path. At any rate, it isn't dangerous, because by staying out of the limelight, a player is able to avoid the critics, even as he loses his ability to recognize danger and to make emotional decisions.
In 2006, Nowitzki had already been playing in the NBA for seven years. Professional players last an average of four-and-a-half years. At 27, he almost singlehandedly led the Mavericks into the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. A game and a half separated Nowitzki from the championship. The Mavericks pulled ahead, with two wins and no losses under their belt and in the third game, they were 13 points ahead with six minutes to go. But they went on to lose the game and the Finals.
Searching for Something
"I felt extremely empty in the ensuing few months," says Nowitzki. Even then, as he still does today, he kept asking himself the same question: Why me? And why did it have to happen shortly before the finish line?
Even winning the NBA's Most Valuable Player award a year later couldn't make the 2006 Finals failure any better.
Nowitzki was alone in his moment of defeat. Steve Nash had moved to Phoenix, and Nowitzki didn't have a girlfriend at the time. But the show went on, together with the self-indulgence and temptations. Nowitzki was searching for something, and what he found was a woman who called herself Christian Trevino.
Beaumont is a city in Texas, somewhere between Houston and the Gulf of Mexico. There are no streets without a Baptist church, no houses without American flags prominently displayed and no women without pink sunglasses.
A summer day, 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). At the Jefferson County Jail, the prisoners awaiting trial are kept in large holding cells, the men on the right and the women on the left. This is where Christian Trevino, whose real name is probably Crystal Taylor, is incarcerated. When we ask to see her, we are told that she no longer wants to talk. According to her mother, she plans to write her autobiography, partly to pay for her high legal fees.
Randy Stevens is a detective in Beaumont. They call him the "Crime Stopper." He has been dealing with the Taylor case for the last four years. It's the craziest story he has ever heard, says Stevens. It began when he was contacted by a dentist who had been waiting for months to be paid about $10,000 (€7,140) for working on Taylor's teeth. She was apparently still living in Woodlands, north of Houston, at the time, says Stevens. He tried to meet her there four times, but was unsuccessful. He notified a special government agency in Nashville, Tennessee, and then added the case to his files, complete with Taylor's mug shot. If he hadn't seen a report on television about the NBA star and his mysterious fiancée in early May, he would never have found Taylor. "Her tactics were simply too professional," says the Crime Stopper.
Fugitive in His House
When he questioned Taylor, says Stevens, she was nervous, began to cry and fed him a series of contradictory stories. "I didn't believe a word she said," says Stevens. Once she has served her sentence in Beaumont, he says, she will face her next conviction in St. Louis.
Since she was arrested on May 6, 2009, Nowitzki has not had any contact with Crystal Taylor. He has also not set foot in his house, where the police arrested her at 11 a.m., despite her attempt to escape through a window. He has been too concerned that he could be accused of having harbored a fugitive in his house.
A 2.13-meter (7-foot) cardboard figure is set up in the Nowitzki family painting business in Würzburg. The father has dressed the figure with one of his son's jerseys and a pair of his shorts. Nowitzki speaks quietly, saying that he knew nothing about his fiancée's past. He never tolerated any criticism of his girlfriend, even though his family was not pleased with his choice. His father called the relationship a lapse of taste. But he didn't care, says Nowitzki: "I loved her."
Applying for Custody
A friend who visited Nowitzki in Dallas in February says that Dirk seemed happier than he had been throughout his entire 11 years in the United States, and that he exuded a feeling of freedom. On the way home, the friend sent Nowitzki a text message: If this is the woman for you, you should go through with it. Perhaps, says the friend, Dirk was also proud of the fact that he had finally gained control over his own life, and that he had found his own way, despite all the drama in the world of professional basketball.
A prenuptial agreement was to be drawn up this February. The attorneys needed Christian Trevino's birth certificate to complete the paperwork, but she kept finding new excuses for not being able to provide it. In April, Geschwindner hired a private detective.
The Texas dentist was apparently not the only one Crystal Taylor had cheated. She forged checks in St. Louis and allegedly continued to do so during her five years on probation. Investigators have uncovered 16 names she apparently used as aliases.
Nowitzki is sitting in his father's leather chair, wearing shorts but no shoes. He isn't quite sure what will happen next. He is still considering whether to play for Germany at the European championship in Poland in September. When he flies back to Dallas in September, Nowitzki will have to find a new life. He would probably be better off forgetting everything else.
His fiancée has announced, from prison, that she is pregnant. The detective doesn't know if it's true. According to Stevens, Taylor hasn't taken a pregnancy test here in Beaumont. Nowitzki doesn't know either. But he has applied for custody, just to be on the safe side.