|President Obama paid tribute to Dirk Nowitzki, the 2011 NBA Finals MVP, who has surely come a long way since joining Dallas "13 years ago as a skinny kid from Germany with a goofy haircut"|
Dirk Nowitzki was a target of good-natured ribbing by United States President Barack Obama when the Germany superstar and the 2011 NBA title winning Dallas Mavericks visited the White House on Monday.
Obama, who loves basketball so much that he has had a court erected at the famous residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. in order to have pick-up games, saluted Nowitzki for battling through a painful finger injury, and fever, to lead the Mavs to their first championship.
"Clearly Dirk is a tough guy," Obama said, although the most painful thing may have been his rendition of 'We Are the Champions' during the victory celebrations."
All jokes aside, Nowitzki had no equals last year and was rightly honoured as the MVP of the NBA Finals.
Voted FIBA Europe Player of the Year in 2005, the 33-year-old Nowitzki is a candidate for the 2011 honour as well.
In the Western Conference play-offs, the Mavs beat Portland, 4-2, swept the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-0, and then defeated Oklahoma City, 4-1, before beating a Miami Heat squad that had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the NBA Finals, 4-2.
Obama was in a jovial mood on Monday because he also poked fun at Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who had been incensed when the NBA announced its schedule for the lockout-shortened season and his team did not have a visit to the Washington Wizards.
In the past, when the defending champions have taken trips to face the Wizards, they have visited the White House.
This time, Cuban had to arrange a separate trip to have the Mavericks honored.
"Of course, none of this would be possible if it hadn't been for the shy and retiring owner - (laughter) - of the Dallas Mavericks, Mr. Mark Cuban," Obama said.
After applause, Obama continued.
"So not only did Mark help put together an outstanding group of players and coaches, he was also responsible for making this event happen today. And so we are thrilled to have you guys here."
Most of the attention was on Nowitzki and Obama.
"Dirk joined the Mavericks 13 years ago as a skinny kid from Germany with what he describes as a "goofy" haircut," Obama said, remarks that drew more laughter and a smile from the superstar himself.
"Last year he became the second European player ever to be named Finals MVP. And it wasn't easy.
"He bent a finger so badly in Game Two that he had to shoot left-handed. In Game Four, he played through a 101-degree (38.4 degrees celsius) fever. But every time, he came through when it counted.
"And I think it's fair to say that we have very rarely seen a better playoff run than Dirk Nowitzki had last year. It was remarkable."
Near the end of the ceremony, Nowitzki presented Obama with a Mavericks jersey with the name Obama and the No 23.
Obama is a huge fan of the Chicago Bulls and their legend, Michael Jordan, who wore No. 23.