“Basketball is jazz!”, a catchphrase by Ernest Butler, has had a bigger impact on the world of basketball than the former pro player turned jazz musician could have anticipated. One of the first African American hoopers to play professionally in Germany, Butler helped Giessen capture the German championship in 1965. Later on in his career, he picked up the saxophone and discovered profound similarities between the way that basketball and jazz are played.

Butler once heard about a player dropping 100 points in a German high school game and decided that he needed to see the young athlete play in person. The kid turned out to be Holger Geschwindner, a promising youth player who went on to play for the German national team. Butler took him under his wing to teach him about basketball, music, and various other aspects of life. Years later, the padawan became a jedi master himself, as Geschwindner decided to pay forward what Butler had once done for him as he came across a lanky, blond, 14-year-old hooper from Würzburg.

While Geschwindner’s mentorship role for Dirk Nowitzki became much more public than the relationship between himself and Butler, the basketball and life coach passed on a lot of knowledge, philosophies, and sayings to his NBA star pupil – including the “basketball is jazz” theme. Avid fans will certainly recall videos of training sessions of the duo that included Nowitzki dribbling a basketball to the sound of Geschwindner playing the saxophone.

The film Basketball Is Jazz – the Ernest Butler Story debuts today at the Munich Film Museum.

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