Do you ever hold someone to a higher standard than others and then feel the hit deep in your gut, when they let you down? That’s how I feel about Luka Dončić sometimes. I know, it sounds crazy, especially coming from a person that wrote an article called How Luka restored my sanity and brought me back to my first love.
And let’s get one thing straight first. He came back in great shape, ready to play, both mentally and physically this year. That’s not what I’m talking about.
This is about the social life he leads while in Europe. During EuroBasket, Luka once again made some questionable choices in this regard that deeply disappointed me. Reportedly drinking hard alcohol to celebrate wins, smoking between games. It made me furious and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I felt that upset about something so seemingly small. He’s a grown man, he can do whatever he wants! A superstar, who plays on a different continent, someone I have never met. Why do I care so much?
I think I may have figured it out now. It has to do with my own experience.
When I was between the ages of 14-21, there were certain expectations of me as a player on a high-performing championship-level team, someone who was also competing for a spot on the national team.
I was to be at basketball practice on time and ready, have eaten the right food (a healthy meal, not too large about an hour before) and have been drinking water all through the day in order to stay hydrated.
I was to know the schemes and drills and be able to run them in the dark. I was expected to shoot 90 percent from the line and take the right threes, never in transition. I was supposed to stand my ground under the basket at all times.
On weekends, I was supposed to go home early from parties and hangouts, because we always had a game. It was ok to have one drink, when I got old enough for that, but not on days before games. It was never - and I repeat NEVER ok to smoke. All my non-basketball friends smoked (it was Europe 20 years ago), but I never did. “Do you know how much that affects your conditioning?” We were told by an assistant coach once. And he was right. A player on my team started smoking at parties and soon you could tell she couldn’t keep up.
Maybe you see the connection now - why I have such a hard time watching Luka celebrate wins in knockout tournaments with hard alcohol and even smoking the night before a game?
I am not trying to pretend that I’ve had similar experiences to Luka, not even close. He played at Real Madrid from the age of 13, a place that’s highly competitive and run with military discipline. Here, players don’t have a say, they do what they’re told and are expected to follow all rules, no questions asked.
Is that why Luka has this need to break the rules a little now? To balance the whole experience with a little party - at least when he plays with Slovenia?
In all reality, he has never had the chance to let loose, to be a teenager and act wild and crazy. There was always a game. Always a practice. Always expectations of the wonder boy from Slovenia. But I wonder, does that come with a price?
And is that what we see every summer?
To his credit, this less than professional attitude while in Europe has been improving every year. Last year, he was not in shape for training camp - this year he seems to be playing better than ever and in great physical shape.
Maybe this is the price you pay, when you’re the wonder boy of your nation, your continent and then your adopted city, state and country. We all struggle with balance, we all make mistakes and we all need to act a little wild once in a while. The difference is just that Luka does it in front of millions of people. He wins and he loses, he makes a lot of good choices and a few bad. Maybe we should allow him that, give him a chance to grow up and be human. Because after all, he is just that - a human being, who makes mistakes like the rest of us.
I think sometimes we, as fans, have to be reminded of that - that Luka is a human being of flesh and blood. Because he seems anything but on the court.