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The rise of Luka Doncic: Mavs phenom experiencing rookie year for the ages

From playing his idol Lebron James to teaming up with Kristaps Porzingis, the Dallas Mavericks "wonder boy" is the NBA Rookie of the Year favorite.


Basketball is a universal language spoken in hundreds of countries by millions of people. 

Luka Doncic is fluent.

Alas, the "Wonder Boy" is no longer a teenager. 

Doncic turned 20 on Feb. 28, but he's still the youngest player on the Dallas Mavericks by almost two years.

What does he do for fun?

"Play video games, mostly," says Doncic, an avid Fortnite player.

Doncic often plays online against former European teammates and fellow NBA players. He claims he's the best Fortnite player on the Mavs.

Does Dirk play?

"No," Doncic chuckles. "He’s too old for that."

The baby-face of the franchise is the Mavs best player on the court, too.

Doncic leads the team in points (20.7), rebounds (7.2) and assists (5.6) with 25 games left in his rookie season.

The 6'7" guard-forward is also the top 3-point shooter on the team–making 2.4 3PT per game at 35 percent.

The numbers are eye popping for anyone, especially a 19-year-old playing against the world's best. And many of the world's best see something special in Doncic:


"Ask me, would I like to play with Kevin Durant. Ask me ... Absolutely. Ask me if I'd like to play with Jimmy Butler. Ask me about Kyrie Irving. Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. Ask me about [Joel] Embiid. Ben Simmons. Go ahead. All of them. Luka Doncic ... Come on guys, it's not rocket science. These are great players." -Lakers forward LeBron James

Who was your favorite player growing up?

"LeBron James.”

What was it like playing against LeBron for the first time?

"It was special," Doncic smiles. "I was kind of nervous. It was the first time I was kind of nervous. I wasn’t nervous for my first game in the NBA, but I was when i played LeBron.”

Credit: Instagram.com/kingjames

Do you want to be friends with LeBron?

"We’ll see, we’ll see,” Doncic smiles.

He smiles a lot.

Born and raised in Slovenia, Luka is the son of Mirjam Poterbin and Saša Doncic.

"He was always playing with the ball," Poterbin told NBA.com. "But, I was never thinking so much about this. For me, it was more important he was happy."

At 13 years old, Luka moved to Spain and signed a five-year deal with Real Madrid.

“First I said, 'Oh my God, this is too early,' because he was 13 years old," Poterbin remarked. "He was really a kid. Then he said to me, 'Mom, I want to try.'"

At 16, Luka made his professional debut playing against some of Europe’s best talent.

"If you go away from home at 13 years old, you become very mature," Poterbin said. "So, this helped him develop in basketball, too."

At 20, Doncic plays alongside the greatest European player of all time, Dirk Nowitzki.

How has Dirk helped you along this year?

"A lot. He’s amazing," Doncic praises. "Learning from him and his leadership, I just admire how he is off the court. Just a great guy.”

The love is mutual.

"He’s been tremendous for us," says Dirk, wiping the sweat from his grizzled beard. "Really impressed with his basketball IQ."

Doncic is the favorite to win NBA Rookie of the Year. 

In fact, it's more of a forgone conclusion because of the rare things he's accomplished in his first year.

January 21: Doncic became the second youngest player to record a triple-double, when he put up 18-11-10 on the Milwaukee Bucks (#1 team in the league).

January 27: He became the first teenager in NBA history to a record a 30-point triple-double, when he dropped 35-12-10 on the Toronto Raptors (#2 team in the league).

*Only six other rookies have recorded a 35-point triple-double: Steph Curry, Jason Kidd, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan.

Feb. 6: Doncic recorded his third triple-double in 17 days, when he finished with 19-10-11 against the Charlotte Hornets.

His peers respect him, and the fans love him.

Credit: NBA.com

Yet, Doncic was snubbed from the 2019 All-Star Game in favor of more experienced and established players.

"Honestly, he’s been far better than any of us expected," admits owner Mark Cuban.

Doncic has been so good, Cuban and GM Donnie Nelson accelerated the rebuilding process.

"The things he’s doing at his age are, in a lot of ways, unprecedented," says Nelson.

So, the Mavs traded for another European superstar to pair with Doncic: Kristaps Porzingis.

"Our goal is to keep these two together for the next 20 years," Cuban declared at the Porzingis introductory press conference.

Like Doncic, Porzingis played pro ball in Spain before the NBA.

The two never overlapped, but they faced each other in the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket quarterfinal–Slovenia vs. Latvia.

"[Luka] had a great, great tournament," Porzingis recalls. "They won the whole tournament, and Luka being 18 years old doing all that ... it was unbelievable to witness that.”

How do you visualize yourself playing with Luka?

(Porzingis smiles wide and towers his seated 7'3" frame over the microphone)

"I get excited every time I think about it. I really think we can be something special.”

"Just thinking of playing with him, it’s gonna be amazing," Doncic affirms. "What we can do together is gonna be amazing."

"We’re riding the Luka wave and the Kristaps wave," says Nelson. "The future is really, really bright.”

Credit: Fox Sports

The stars are shining in Dallas.

Doncic and Porzingis have shown signs of a young bromance.

And, they speak to each other in Spanish -- not English.

Doncic is fluent.