Basketball

Is this the year Luka Doncic becomes NBA MVP?

Find out where the Slovenian basketball superstar came from as he heads to the top of the game

By Ken Browne ·

The thing about basketball superstar Luka Doncic is that he makes it all look so easy.

Born in 1999, by 2019 Doncic was NBA Rookie MVP, then in his second season he made the NBA All Star and All-NBA First Team and now in his third campaign is playing his way to a first NBA MVP award.

Doncic has been dunking over records ever since he arrived in Dallas, he had 21 triple-doubles before his 21st birthday, with a scoring average of 24.2 points-per-game, only LeBron James had a better ppg at that age (25.0).

On January 14 2021 the Mavs mercurial point guard had 34 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 blocks (his highest ever in an NBA game) and 2 steals inspiring a 104-93 victory over Michael Jordan's Charlotte Hornets.

Luka was just one assist away from equalling Jordan's 28 NBA career triple-doubles in the great man's house.

And while the Slovenian sensation has stunned NBA watchers and outperformed every projection since he touched down in Texas, anyone who watched him in Europe isn't surprised at all.

Here's the story of how Luka Doncic got to where he is today.

Luka Doncic at Real Madrid

By 18 Luka was already a leader at Real Madrid. In 2018 he left Real Madrid for the NBA Draft as:

EuroLeague champion, EuroLeague MVP, EuroLeague Final Four MVP, All-Euroleague Guard of the Year, All-Euroleague European Player of the Year, Liga ACB MVP (2018) and 3× Spanish Liga champion (2015, 2016, 2018).

Not bad for the skinny Slovenian kid who arrived just six years earlier at 13 years of age.

But Doncic was born with basketball in his blood.

"I was just born to play basketball." - Luka Doncic

His father Sasa played pro in Slovenia, Serbia, and France before becoming a coach and the family says Luka was playing mini-hoops before he was one.

"I think it's a gift," Luka told Euroleague.net in 2017.

"I was just born to play basketball. It's true that you have to play basketball with your brain. You need to be smart and make the right decisions. That's very important. But it's just natural for me."

Ahead of his time, Luka always played against kids who were bigger, older, and stronger than him:

When he was eight he played with the under-12s, at nine he trained with the under-14s, and when he led his hometown club Union Olimpija to victory at an U-13 tournament in Rome in 2012, the big Spanish clubs sat up and took his number.

Dominating the tournament, Doncic monstered the final racking up 54 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists.

That same year Real Madrid took him to the Spanish capital.

"I was always training and playing with older kids who had much more experience than me. Many of them were bigger and faster than me too, so I had to beat them with my brain." - Doncic to Euroleague

Luka Doncic Height

At Real Madrid Doncic's progress accelerated, squeezing every last drop of knowledge and growth out of the professional setup supporting him.

At 13 he had left his family and dedicated himself 100% to the game, years later while in Dallas he was asked which was the hardest step for him, going from Madrid to the NBA, or going from Slovenia to Spain.

“It was way harder [Moving from Ljubljana to Spain],” Doncic said, “than coming from Madrid to here.”

His favourite player was Greece's Vassilis Spanoulis and at Real Madrid he chose No.7 - Spanoulis' number, while LeBron James was also a big influence for him.

Doncic would eventually stretch to 2.01m (6'7") but without losing any of his skill or athleticism, and at 16 years, two months, and two days old, he made his first senior team appearance - the youngest player to play for Real Madid in Spanish league history.

Only Ricky Rubio and Angel Rebolo were younger when they made ACB debuts.

Luka Doncic is a prodigy, and he proved it on the international stage too.

Doncic with Slovenia

At home he was already famous by the time he became a teenager, but he could have chosen to play for Spain or for Serbia where the national teams tried to tempt him with promises of greater success.

But the boy from Ljubljana never forgot where he came from and committed to Slovenia for life on September 22, 2016.

He made his senior debut that same year at just 17 years of age.

A year later Luka erupted at the 2017 Eurobasket tournament alongside his roommate and inspiration Goran Dragic, teaming up to take the national team to their first ever major trophy.

Doncic helped the team beat Spain in the semi-final and Serbia in the final.

Dragic was named tournament MVP and Doncic joined him on the All-Tournament Team.

Luka Doncic Draft

The NBA could no longer ignore his spectacular rise and in the 2018 Draft he was the third pick by Atlanta Hawks who traded him to the Mavs for the draft rights to Trae Young and a protected future first-round pick in 2019.

Coach Rick Carlisle called Luka a "franchise foundation piece."

When the ex-Real Madrid man signed up to the Jordan brand MJ called him a “phenomenal player”, saying it was going to be “incredible to watch him continue to advance in the league”.

"Lukamania is real." - Dirk Nowitzki

When Dallas and Germany legend Dirk Nowitzki saw him up close before his rookie season, he could hardly believe his eyes, saying that Doncic was better than him at the same age.

"He's incredible with the ball for a big guy. He's unbelievable in pick and roll play. His court vision is already unbelievable. I couldn't believe what I saw from a 19/20-year-old," Nowitzki told complex.com

"I think he's going to be great for [the Dallas Mavericks] for a long, long time...

"I could shoot a little bit but I never had the court vision... the savviness that he brings to the game... He's going to pick defenses apart and it's going to be fun to watch."

Speaking to the New York Times in early 2019, the German big man couldn't believe the response Luka was getting from the fans either.

“When we get to cities now, even late at night, there are so many people waiting with things for him to sign that it’s almost like we’re the Warriors,” Nowitzki said. “Lukamania is real. We’re living it every day.”

It may have been the big German's final season at the Mavs, but he could already see the future.

All great winners are sore losers

Luka Doncic is a sore loser, and he knows it. As with most things about him, being a fierce competitor is in his nature.

After a game in December 2019 when he went off at the refs a couple of times he was asked if he needs to keep his calm more with the officials.

"For sure, my thing is, I'm passionate for the game, I wanna win and sometimes I get out of control just because I want to win the whole time, I'm competitive, you can ask my whole family, even if it's not basketball, with anything, I'm so competitive."

While Doncic loves the game and plays with a smile, everyone around him knows the competitor in him comes out on the court.

“He’s a winner — he won everything in Europe,” Juancho Hernangomez of the Denver Nuggets said. “So every time he loses, he gets so mad.”

“He doesn’t handle losing well — I know that for a fact,” Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle agrees. “But I don’t handle losing well, either.”

Doncic: Elevating

He hates losing and loves winning and that's part of what has helped Luka Doncic reset the bar ever since he began bouncing a ball, and now the sky's the limit.

But while his numbers are out of this world, Luka is keeping his feet on the ground.

When he went on a 19 straight game-streak with at least 20 points, 5 boards, and 5 assists per game - in his rookie season - he broke Michael Jordan's record.

MJ's mark for most consecutive 20-5-5 games in league history fell, but still Doncic didn't lose his head.

"You can't compare nobody to Michael Jordan, he's one of a kind, those are just stats," he said.

Dallas' number 77 is staying humble, but Carlisle sees how quickly he learns.

“It’s just continued growth,” coach said after Luka led the team to a win over Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets on 8 January 2021.

Doncic either scored or assisted on 29 of Dallas’ last 38 points, proving that he's learning how to deliver in clutch moments.

“He’s just getting better and better. He understands when to be aggressive," continues Carlisle, "when to be more ball dominant and when the ball needs to move. As a team, we’re doing better in these situations. This is gonna be a big part of any success we’re able to have this year."

Luka just keeps doing what Luka does, what comes naturally, and that's why he could win his first NBA MVP this season.