On the morning of May 21, the ESPN crew working inside the TV truck on the loading dock at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City looked up at their monitors to behold an extraordinary sight.
They were there to merely test their cameras for the third game of the Dallas-OKC series that night, but their focus was now on a 65-year-old man with a gaunt face and humorless eyes, silver patches on the sides of his head, and freakishly long arms.
Holger Geschwindner took off his pants without any concern for who was watching, then pulled on his sweats, and when he was done he and Dirk Nowitzki began their workout.
Initially, it was a typical set of shooting drills. Overheads with each hand to warm up. Catch and shoot from mid-range. Right-to-left and left-to-right crossovers at each elbow. High-arc stuff from outer space.
“And then, it just got crazy,” said Bob Salmi, whose pals rolled cameras and captured it from every angle. “It was a 50-minute workout, and one of the most bizarre things I ever saw in basketball.”
Salmi, you might know, is the network’s “Coach in the Truck,” the kind of guy who helps make the talent sound smart. He’s been an NBA coach since the Riley Knicks (he was also an assistant in Dallas the year before Dirk himself arrived), but nowadays he just collects Emmy awards.
So workouts are not exactly foreign to him, and he showed us a tape of what he saw in OKC that morning. And it is, to say the least, unique.
Usually, coaches have one rule: Don’t practice what you don’t use in the game. It’s a waste of time that could be used on honing practical skills. But Geschwindner, a former physicist and ’72 West German Olympian who has been Dirk’s mentor for half his life, bends the rules to odd extremes.
The results are the kinds of shots you’ve seen Dirk hit throughout his brilliant postseason, and these shots will undoubtedly make the city of Miami curse his name nightly over the next two weeks.
Geschwindner had him doing stuff like this:
• A pirouette at the foul line, spinning 360 degrees off one shoulder and shooting; then reversing the spin and shooting. You get dizzy just watching it.
• One-footed jumpers — both right and left, both with leg extended and knee bent — from every mid-range angle, with or without glass. All of it is the kind of up-the-ladder stuff you pull out to finish a game of H-O-R-S-E.
• Something we’ll call the Groucho Marx: He’d take two long strides while still in a crouch, pick up a rolling ball, then shoot. Going both ways.
• The Eiffel Tower: Dirk spreads his legs as far as they can go (say, 2½ feet beyond his shoulder width), reach over to touch a foot with both hands, and then catch-and-shoot from that very awkward, open position. This is the one that makes every male shield his eyes.
There was more, but you get the idea.
And no, these are not the kind of snippets you’ll find on YouTube.
So if you wonder why Nowitzki can consistently hit his signature step-back — or what Tim Capstraw likes to call the “The Fat Joe Leanback Shot” — let’s be clear: That one is actually the easiest shot he has in his toolbox, and it’s the product of 17 years of these drills.
We had a discussion with Nowitzki about Geschwindner at the 2002 All-Star Game in Philly. He said that when he started playing at age 13, he played the perimeter even though he was the tallest guy on the youth team.
“But I had no shot, and even though I was taller than everybody, I played small forward because I moved well,” he said.
And then, at age 16, he met Geschwindner, “and Holger taught me how to shoot,” Nowitzki said. “So I was very lucky — I always met the right people in my life.”
They’ve been together ever since. And somewhere along the way, Holger taught him how to shoot while imitating a pretzel.
Like Salmi said, you have to see it to appreciate it, and one of these days, his network may air it. And these workouts explain how the 7-footer can go East to West, stop on a dime, and still find the right balance on his release better than anyone in the league. This is what separates Dirk from any jump shooter we’ve ever seen.
Very few people get to see these workouts, which means Geschwindner is alternately called a kook and a visionary. Hubie Brown, who brings a healthy skepticism to any discussion, was impressed when he watched part of one, however.
“This guy always made Dirk do things like handball, roller blading, gymnastic things,” The Godfather said. “Much of it was geared toward improving balance, and it’s because he knew he’d grow from 6-5 to 7 feet. So all this has been a part of his development for years. It’s an amazing thing to see.”
So now Dirk gets to test it on the NBA’s greatest stage, starting with Game 1 Tuesday night at Miami. He’s already pummeled Portland, humiliated the Lakers, and toyed with OKC.
We have doubts that Miami can be beaten four times, but we also know this: You can’t throw a conventional double-team at Nowitzki, because he’s not a guy you can smother or wall off like Derrick Rose. How quickly Miami figures that out will determine how long this series lasts.
It’s the first thing we’ll watch for. Just don’t discount the possibility that Holger will devise a countermove.