For Dirk Nowitzki, a piece of history is repeating itself. The very exclusive honor that he only received at the beginning of January with the Dallas Mavericks awaits Germany’s retired basketball legend in Cologne: his national team jersey will be pulled under the roof of the hall this Thursday, and the number will no longer be assigned afterwards.

“The fact that the 14 is no longer awarded in German basketball is a great thing. It will be beautiful again and also emotional. I hope I do well. In Dallas I gave a longer speech, in Cologne I would like to keep it a lot shorter,” said Nowitzki. In the case of the Mavericks, it was number 41 that was immortalized in the hall of the NBA club from Texas.

The setting is worthy, a full arena and a relaxed atmosphere are expected for the opening of the European Championship against France on Thursday (8.30 p.m. / Magentasport). “If anyone deserves it, it’s Dirk. He was always ready to play for Germany and has put in incredible performances in 153 international matches for the men,” said Ingo Weiss, President of the German Basketball Federation. Weiss is happy about the “suitable setting” for the emotional honor. Even Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is expected in the Lanxess Arena and will give a speech.

Around noon, around 80 companions such as teammates from the national team or Dallas team owner Mark Cuban meet for lunch in a Cologne event location that was rented especially for this purpose. In the evening, a two-minute film with highlights from Nowitzki’s career will be shown in the hall. There are scarves in Germany colors on all seats to give the ceremony a worthy setting.

Nowitzki led Germany to European Championship silver in 2005, World Cup bronze in 2002 and the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, where he was allowed to carry the German flag. So now the end of the EM, which Nowitzki accompanies in one of his many post-career activities as an ambassador. The 44-year-old from Würzburg invited the entire family and also some companions from Dallas, where Nowitzki still lives with his wife Jessica and their three children Malaika, Max and Morris. “It will be an unforgettable evening for me,” announced Nowitzki. First the 14 under the roof and then a victory at the start of the European Championship over France: This is what an ideal Thursday evening would look like for him.

The former basketball star will hope that he doesn’t have to make too many meters. According to his own statements, Nowitzki still plays tennis and regularly rides his bike, but after 21 grueling years with the Mavericks he is no longer really good on his feet. When he played as a goalkeeper in his own charity game in Frankfurt last week, he gave a physically terrifying picture. Nowitzki was only able to walk from his own goal to the opposing goal to take a penalty, limping and limping.

“Oh, what does regret mean? I think that’s just part of having a few aches and pains afterwards. It was just fun in the end. I thought I could still achieve a lot. If I go back now, I can’t change it anyway,” Nowitzki describes his last years, which were already marked by pain. The career end in April 2019 was not really voluntary. Nowitzki just couldn’t physically do it anymore.

The Franconian, whom his former teammate Paul Zipser calls “a German sports legend”, has come to terms with his new life as a privateer. Ambassador of the EM, advisor to the Mavericks, host of the benefit game: Nowitzki has discovered new fields of activity, but is still looking.

“I do a little bit of everything without doing anything right. But for me this is a great phase. I’m in such an intermediate phase to find what I really want to do in the future,” said Nowitzki. After the dates were prescribed for him by the NBA schedule and the general appointment calendar of the world association Fiba for 21 years, the family man now enjoys completely new freedoms. “I’m my own boss, nobody tells me what to do.”