Marco Belinelli discovered success at a time in the NBA — very similar to now — when the landscape of active players born outside the United States was good and plentiful. Athletes were using their platform to help grow the game of basketball on a global scale. As a result of shared growth and accomplishments, some operated on a first-name basis: Peja. Manu. Dirk.
Belinelli took time to reflect on his years spent playing internationally with those three and a few others. It was there where he and his teammates — ahead of everyone not following international basketball — realized Nowitzki’s talent and potential.
In a January article for The Players’ Tribune, Belinelli recalled a game against the German national team from more than a decade ago. The former San Antonio Spurs veteran and current 76ers guard switched onto Nowitzki and, well, one is listed at 6-foot-5 while the other towers around seven feet tall.
“In 2005 or 2006, I played my first game for Italy against the German national team,” Belinelli reminisced. “Everyone knew Dirk could shoot, so when I switched onto him, I pressed up as much as I could to prevent him from getting a shot up. He was only a couple years older than me, I thought I could meet his energy level and stop him.
But it was impossible.
He drove right past me. He could move like a point guard, and he was so tall that I couldn’t block his shot. What he was doing didn’t look real. He changed basketball in so many ways. Me and my teammates were so amazed by the way he moved, how easily he got baskets. When he came to the NBA, we all knew he would be a big deal even before everyone in the NBA did.”
The NBA journeyman continued heaping praises onto former veterans such as Hedo Turkoglu and Peja Stojakovic, including a tale of a three-point contest between Belinelli and Stojakovic with unpromising results for the younger during their shared stint in New Orleans.
None of the praises, however, were more empowering than the near-afterthought of a line that Belinelli respectfully inserted at the end of his critique for the lone member of the group with an NBA MVP.
“Dirk is one of the five best players of all time, in my opinion,” Belinelli continued. “He is amazing.”
Yes, Marco. He is. Thanks for sharing.
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