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Luka Doncic plays a brand of basketball infused with Joy

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Luka helps remind us that basketball is supposed to be fun.

Dallas Mavericks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

This season has been a wild ride for the Dallas Mavericks. They came into the season with high expectations, struggled due to injuries and health and safety protocols, and then had a scorching hot stretch from February through early April where they went 20-10. Now the dog days of the season have arrived, and with less than twenty games remaining, everyone is starting to feel the grind.

The Mavericks are staggering toward the playoffs, the offense clunky and the defense porous. Lately they’ve dropped games they should have won, and no one seems to be on the same page. Watching them has felt like a chore from time to time. But that can change quickly, as we all saw last week.

In a moment, during a grimy game against the Grizzlies on random Wednesday night in April, Luka Doncic showed the NBA how quickly he could turn a dud into a miracle.

With one stumbling, ridiculous shot, Doncic snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and lifted the Mavericks from a depressing loss into a feel-good win. It was one win in the middle of a dreadful stretch for Dallas, but it meant something more than that. It reminded Mavericks fans, and the NBA at large, how joyous basketball could be.

We all have a tendency to lose the big picture of this game that we all discuss and argue over. We’re so concerned with salary cap numbers, shooting percentages, and win shares that we can sometimes forget that basketball is supposed to be fun. And there’s a place for those debates, because they can be entertaining. But too often we let them become tedious, contentious, and acrimonious. We concentrate too much on the peripherals of basketball, rather than the game itself.

Players like Doncic put us back on track. Flinging a basketball at the goal while falling forward, making magic happen, helps us remember that this is just a game, and games are meant to be fun. And it’s not just the plays Doncic makes, but his reaction afterward. He’s almost incredulous as the rest of us, a mischievous grin on his face that seems to say “Can you believe I did that?”

He revels in the sheer unlikelihood of some of his passes and deep step back 3-pointers. He’s performing, for the crowd in the stadium, the audience on television, and for his peers, who are already in awe of a 22 year old who seems to have no bottom to his bag of tricks.

That’s how you know Doncic is doing something special. NBA players are around basketball all the time, pretty much all year long. They literally live this game. And yet Doncic inspires jaw-dropping, head-shaking joy among players who have probably seen it all when it comes to basketball.

Doncic is capable of provoking those reactions because he makes plays no one should make, and then, after doing the impossible, lets us all know he’s in on the joke. His smile and simple shoulder shrugs tell us he knows that he shouldn’t be able to do the things he does, but somehow he keeps doing it. There’s a supernatural joy to Doncic’s game, and that’s why they call it Luka Magic.