Dirk Nowitzki looked a bit drained after the game. His team, the Dallas Mavericks, had just lost 87-104 against the Atlanta Hawks. The German basketball star had scored only four points last Thursday.
“Man, Dennis was really good today,” the 36-year-old player said as he sat down on the bench in the locker room.
Dennis Schroder is a point guard with the Atlanta Hawks. He has outperformed Mr. Nowitzki in their past two encounters on the court. “I don’t know why but he’s at the top of his game when he plays against us,” Mr. Nowitzki said.
Mr. Schroder has made it no secret that he’s particularly motivated when he competes against his fellow German.
With a dyed blond strand in his otherwise black, curly hair, Mr. Schröder, who also likes to wear flashing outfits, couldn’t be more different than Mr. Nowitzki.
Dirk Nowitzki is a towering 2.13 meters, or 7 feet, tall. A giant figure on and off the court, he ranks seventh in the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Mr. Schroder, by comparison, is 1.85 meters, or about 6.1 feet tall. He has a different build and an equally different technique. He is known for his streetball style of play, which he developed growing up in Braunschweig. And he has enormous confidence, sometimes too much, concedes his trainer, Mike Budenholzer, who tries to keep him under control. “It’s part of our job to make sure he stays grounded,” Mr. Budenholzer said.
Because of his confidence, Mr. Schroder has often been called arrogant and disrespectful in Germany.
Video: Dennis Schroder in action.
On the court, a lack of respect can come in handy and defines the way Mr. Schroder plays – confident and fearless. He never fears an opponent, no matter how big or talented. Mr. Nowitzki got a taste of that in their last encounter.
“I want to rub elbows with the best every night,” Mr. Schroder said. “I was the one who always had to win, always played hard, even during training,” he said, adding “many trainers have criticized that because they didn’t know that. But that’s exactly what got me to where I am today.”
Mr. Schroder is on his way to becoming a key player in the league’s second-best team. And with the athletic success has come personal development as well. “It’s fantastic to see how Dennis is growing off the court,” Mr. Budenholzer said.
Teammate Kyle Kover said: “Dennis has developed as a person – he has accepted his role.”
Mr. Schroder is not yet in the starting lineup but has regular play and whenever he’s on the court, he makes a difference. The Hawks, currently leading the Eastern Conference, prove how important it is to have the right players on the bench as well – like Mr. Schroder, who per game averages 18.2 minutes of play, 8.6 points and 3.6 assists.
Fans like his explosive offensive moves and the fact that he’s German. During the breaks, a brief film “German class with Dennis” appears on the stadiums screens. Mr. Schroder gives tips on German phrases, with his teammates twisting their tongues trying to pronounce words like “Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung,” which is German for “speed limit.” Fans love the series.
“Wherever I go, people tell me that the future is mine,” Mr. Schroder said.
But 18 months ago, when he arrived in Atlanta, he wasn’t so sure. Moving from Braunschweig to Atlanta, Georgia, was a challenge for the athelete, who was the 19 then.
Today, he lives in Buckhead, the wealthiest district in the city. It’s only a 20-minute drive to the Hawks’ training center and arena. “It’s very different here,” Mr. Schroder said. “In Germany, I used to ride my bike – here you really have to go everywhere by car.”
To make life easier on the other side of the pond, Mr. Schroder has flown in his brother and his girlfriend from Germany. “We just keep doing things the way we have always done them,” he said.
The son of a Gambian mother, whom he helped in her hair salon, and a German father, who died in 2009, he has worked his way up to earn a $1.69-million salary this season.
He likes to share some of the money with his family. Just recently, he bought his relatives in Germany a new car and his family living in Gambia “don’t have to worry anymore,” Mr. Schroder said.
His mother and some other relatives plan to move to Atlanta to join him. It will be a new life for the whole family that Dennis will make happen.
This article originally appeared in daily newspaper Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org