Much was made of Luka Doncic’s admiration for LeBron James when he entered the league last season. Cameras were there to capture Luka, waiting outside the Lakers’ locker room after a wild Mavericks 4th quarter comeback fell just short (with LeBron himself hitting the deciding free throw in the 113-114 Lakers’ win). He was there to retrieve a signed LeBron jersey. Why go get a jersey from someone who just beat you in a close game? Surely a professional athlete must have the kind of competitive drive that wouldn’t allow them to-
“I always wanted his jersey,” Doncic would say when asked about it afterwards. Well, fair enough. Luka gets what Luka wants. It’s an enviable position to be in. And how can you say no to him? Look how happy he was! Very “getting a new pack of Pokemon cards circa 2001” vibe here.
The Mavericks would finish that season 33-44. All said, not that far off from L.A.’s equally uninspiring 37-45 record. And despite 3 chances at it, Dallas was never able to lock down that win against the purple and gold in Luka’s inaugural season. Annoyingly, it was a trend that continued early this season, even as Dallas was off to a promising start.
Their first showdown against this Anthony Davis-supplemented version of the Lakers produced another captivating game of basketball, this time one that went to overtime. (In no small part due to an egregious missed call on Dwight Howard that led to Green’s game tying 3.) And while the Mavericks were the ones walking away with the loss yet again, it was a great game for anyone who loves good basketball games.
Doncic put up a line of 31/15/13; his first triple double in a stretch that would see him average 32/10/10 across the calendar month of November. James matched it with a 39/16/12 line of his own. Truly, a duel between two of the league’s great players. The Mavericks walked away still without a win against the Lakers during the Luka era, but the game made this much clear: Luka wasn’t afraid of anyone anymore.
Any shred of doubt that remained with regards to Luka’s attitude about going up against his idol were once and for all erased after the latest tilt between the two teams. The upstart Mavs stormed into the Staples Center to face off against the team with the league’s best record and a ten-game winning streak…and they won.
And Luka Doncic hit this step back dagger right in LeBron’s face.
Ice cold. 21-point lead. Dagger. Luka wanted that shot, and Luka gets what Luka wants.
Sure, that’s a shot we’ve seen Luka take and hit on any number of occasions against any number of other players. But this wasn’t just any other player. It was LeBron James, in L.A., with a chance to slam the door shut against one of the league’s best teams and one Luka had never beaten. It’s one thing to have a great game and lose, have someone you look up to give you props, dap you up, say good game, call you a bad motherfucker. Sure, sure. But it’s quite another to go up against that same idol one-on-one, on his home court, firing up a 3-point clincher as he’s doing everything he can to prevent it (which, as it turns out, isn’t much), and... beating him.
Now, in that sense, LeBron is just another player.
No question, if you were to ask Luka, it’s certain that he would go on about how great of a player LeBron is and how much he’s admired his game growing up, yadda yadda yadda. But when it’s winning time? Luka’s taking that step back. Right in your face. LeBron James or no LeBron James. Luka Doncic has killed his darlings.