A few months ago, I spotted some absurd seats available for the Mavericks-Wizards game in March. As a Dallas transplant, going to see the Mavericks live in some way has been a priority for as long as I’ve been in DC.
This year, I wanted to take my nearly three-year-old son. It’s possibly Dirk Nowitzki’s last year and I wanted him to see Luka Doncic up close, a player I’m working diligently to make one of his favorites along with LeBron James and Stephen Curry.
Somewhat lost in the growing coverage of the unofficial Dirk Nowitzki retirement tour is just how wonderful and giving Luka Doncic is with his time and attention. As you can see here the crowd for Dirk is intense and loud, but respectful. He’s a legend after all.
When Dirk came by, he effortlessly and quickly moved from person to person and played the part of hero as well as you might expect.
With Doncic though, the energy of the crowd was more frantic and hard to control; these pictures don’t do it justice. Our tickets were in the front row near the tunnel, so when Luka came over to the crowd it nearly became a mob. The jostling and pushing to get within arms reach was insane and too intense for my toddler son. Doncic took nearly 10 minutes working around the crowd, willingly signing things and saying hello to fans. It was one of the most amazing displays of patience and public poise from a young person that I’ve ever seen.
And that’s what is so truly shocking in person with Doncic: his actual youth. I’ve seen 60 games this season, and like all Mavericks fans, have been incredibly impressed with his maturity on the court. But while I understand intellectually in those in-game moments that Luka is only 20 years old, seeing him up close is an incredible reminder that he really is just a kid.
While the crowd in DC was amped, this was nothing compared to some of the road welcomes he’s seen in places like Brooklyn and Cleveland. I mean look at this:
Luka is a favorite son of a nation already, and Dallas fans have quickly embraced him as their own. The weight of fan expectations placed upon him by both Mavericks fans and his growing legion worldwide is comparable to few players in NBA history.
I expect this may be the only season he’s this willing to try to please everyone. A person only has so much bandwidth and Doncic cannot be all things to all people at all times. If we want him to succeed on the court, fans should understand his need to prepare and to focus. And hopefully, as he hones his craft in the NBA, fans will allow him the space to prepare and learn until he can master — over time — the graceful way Dirk has learned to work a crowd.
For now, we should simply continue to marvel at his abilities on the court and his generosity off of it. Doncic is truly a special player and the Mavericks are so very lucky to have him.