As significant as Dirk Nowitzki's influence in the NBA has been, his impact in Europe has been even greater. He proved that a European basketball player can dominate in North America. He also paved the way for young big men to do more on offense than just patrol the low post.
Orlando Magic center Nik Vucevic, a Montenegro native, is one of Nowitzki's disciples.
"He actually was my favorite player growing up for a while," Vucevic said after the Magic finished their shootaround at Amway Center.
"I really enjoyed watching him. The way he plays, I think he's the only one that plays that way. I think it's impossible to stop him. [When] he gets it going, you can't really stop him because of the way he plays. I look up to him a lot."
Tonight, Vucevic will defend Nowitzki at least intermittently when Vucevic's Magic host Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks at Amway Center.
Vucevic still remembers when he first saw Nowitzki play in-person: the 2005 EuroBasket final in Belgrade. Greece upset Germany 78-62 in that game, but Nowitzki scored 23 points and was named the tournament's MVP.
Nowitzki, now 34 years old, became Vucevic's favorite player during the event.
Nowitzki was the NBA's MVP in 2006-07, led the Mavericks to the NBA title in 2011 and has been named first-team All-NBA four times.
He's done it through a dizzying arsenal of offensive skills, including a perimeter game unrivaled by any 7-footer before him.
"He showed that there was a place for that in the league, and it's something special," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "He's a special player. I know you can't think of anyone right now that you can compare his game to, and I'm not sure you will for many years to come."
Vucevic, 22, is more skilled than most NBA big men. He wasn't always the tallest player on his youth teams, so he has played every position on the court, from guard to center. It forced him to learn how to handle the basketball and shoot from distance.
Nowitzki provided a role model.
"A lot of guys look up to him because he's one of the most, if not the most, successful Europeans to ever play in the NBA," Vucevic said.