By Renard Teipelke
In the night from Sunday to Monday history was made. The Dallas Mavericks won the prestigious NBA finals against Miami Heat in the sixth game. NBA? Well, this acronym stands for “National Basketball Association,” i.e. the world-famous basketball league of the United States. Why was it historic? Because with Dallas Mavericks’ team captain Dirk Nowitzki, the first and only German basketball player in NBA’s history won the trophy. He was elected the most valuable player of the finals and made essential contributions to his team’s success over the course of the season and even more during the playoff elimination games. Besides the finals’ success, Nowitzki has played in the most competitive basketball league of the world for more than a decade, disappointingly lost the 2006 finals with the Dallas Mavericks against Miami Heat, and was already mocked as “No-Win-zki” as he was one of the great players in NBA’s history who played multiple playoff elimination games without eventually reaching/winning the finals.
But now, Dirk – as US-Americans call him in their highest form of admiration for a sportsman – has become the best European player in NBA’s history – and even one of the best players overall. The win of the NBA finals has changed the perception of Nowitzki, though his qualities were already respected before: often scoring the most points in a game, often being one of the most valuable players in a season, … Nowitzki has become something larger than just a good player: for American basketball fans, he is the incarnation of a perfect player and the ideal representative of German virtues – in short: he is a brand.
It is actually funny how precisely Nowitzki fits the stereotype of a German (sportsman, businessman, …). He is a perfectionist, he always puts his team above himself, he is down to earth (despite having earned more than 140 million US-dollars), his loyalty for his team and home city of Dallas is unquestionable (for over 12 years!), he has an incredible determination, he has a surprisingly moderate lifestyle, he stands for fair play, …
One might ask now, why I am listing all these characteristics, since his brand quality has already been understood by US-Americans and is more than obvious!? Because his fellow countrymen do not get it! For sure, there is a large minority, maybe even a small majority, of Germans who could recognize him on pictures or even just by name. He also plays in a bank commercial on German television. But his persona in the US or abroad in general is ‘hyper gigantic’ in comparison to his admiration or at least recognition in Germany.
Maybe, this tells us something about brands. It is nothing new that brands have an internal and external impact: Brands for a country can work in the country itself as well as abroad. Since the effectiveness of a brand depends, amongst others, on its reputation and appreciation by people, a country brand is strongest if the country’s people as well as foreigners perceive this brand as representative, reliable, or valuable. Nowitzki definitely is the personification of ‘the German brand’ in the US and for all people interested in basketball all over the world. In Germany, he does not play a comparable role. His brand potential is barely tapped. This is unfortunate because Germans have really more than only one reason to be proud of him and to see Nowitzki as a brand that markets German virtues, norms and values in their best light. Furthermore, Nowitzki is a very natural brand – not artificially designed as many other brands advertising the good sides of a country. US-Americans have already moved to “Dirkules” while Germans instead of “Dirk” still call him “Nowitzki” – neutral, reserved, formal…also very German.