Gil LeBreton

Dirk’s injuries make German headlines, but same grim story here

There it was for the entire world to read:

Basketball-Superstar Dirk Nowitzki hat Zweifel daran genährt, dass er nach der laufenden Saison wie angedacht tatsächlich noch eine weitere in der nordamerikanischen Profiliga NBA dranhängt.

Translation: This season may be Dirk’s last.

More to the verbatim point, the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki has “nourished doubts” about returning at the end of this season, “if it does not work great and hurts everywhere.”

In other words, ja, according to the German tabloid Bild, Nowitzki’s sore Achilles tendon continues to be a concern. A career-threatening concern.

But we Amerikaners already knew that, of course. The Mavericks’ 6-19 record does not lie.

Dirk has played in only five of the team’s 25 games, and there is no timetable for his return.

So why the German newspaper’s Sturm und Drang?

To be honest, local media folks loathe things like this. When an out-of-town, out-of-the-hemisphere media outlet turns a local sports celebrity into a headline, we are compelled to respond, not so much to debunk the headline but rather to place it into the broader local perspective.

Scoops can happen, however.

In the summer of 2002, the Texas Rangers were having one of those Sturm und Drung seasons of their own. Though manager Jerry Narron’s everyday lineup boasted five players whose career credentials would, at the least, merit Hall of Fame discussion, the Rangers were on their way to 90 defeats and finishing 31 games behind.

Prominent among the disappointments was Korean pitcher Chan Ho Park, who had signed with the franchise as a free agent for $65 million, but lapsed into June with a sore back and an 8.12 ERA.

When questioned by the Texas media, Park had shrugged off all excuses and any notion of trouble.

Until I arrived in Park’s native Korea for that summer’s World Cup, in fact, I thought the pitcher was just another Rangers free agent signing bust. But a taxi driver, speaking in halting English, noticed my World Cup media credential and that I came from Texas.

“Texas — Park Chan Ho!” the driver said, using Park’s proper Korean name.

“Texas,” he continued, shaking his head. “Pitching coach. No good!”

Apparently, it seems, that while Chan Ho was no-commenting his slow start to the English-speaking Texas media, he was ripping into then-pitching coach Oscar Acosta to the writers back in Seoul.

Acosta, whose my-way-or-the-tollway style had unsettled both his bosses and staffs before, was fired by the end of the month. Narron cited “differences in philosophy” and “problems in communication.”

The German tabloid, Bild, didn’t do anything wrong on the Nowitzki story. It appeared to simply be updating its readers on the sporting status of a popular native son. But it made for good click-bait on both sides of the pond.

And Bild, as I recall, certainly knows click-bait. Mixing bold headlines and supermarket tabloid-type come-hithers, Bild is also infamous for running photos of topless women on its front page.

Of course it saw Dirk’s Achilles tendon as fair game.

As Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Wednesday, “Until he says hasta la vista to me, I’ve got him playing another five years.”

It was Cuban’s way of saying Nowitzki, 38, won’t be retiring until he actually retires.

As for Dirk’s return to the team’s lineup, coach Rick Carlisle chose his words carefully and said, “We’re moving toward some ultimate good news at some point, but I don’t know when that is.”

As Carlisle put it, “The needle is inching.”

Mavericks fans, for now, will have to be content with that uncertain prognosis. If anything, it again shows that Nowitzki’s remarkable 19-year career is in its final stages, and maybe final months or even weeks.

He will be missed here as much as any professional athlete not named Staubach or Aikman.

For now, as Nowitzki himself said, a contract is a contract, and he plans to honor this one to the end of the 2017-18 season.

Providing, of course, he doesn’t start “hurting everywhere.”

We’ll need no translation for that.

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