By Mette Robertson (@M_Robertson100)
This is not one of those cheesy love letters to an athlete (or maybe it is). It’s the story about how I had turned my back on my first love in basketball, and how the biggest generational talent from my neck of the woods got me back where I belong. It’s a story about community, feeling inspiration and the familiar embrace of that one thing that never failed you as a child and young adult. It’s the story of how Luka brought me back to the world of basketball.
Luka Doncic is a lot of things. A generational talent, a superstar from a very small country and someone who looks like he could be my brother. His skin even turns pale red when he plays, just like mine.
But Luka is also all of us. Who hasn’t gained a little too much weight over the summer after a hectic period? Who’s hasn’t at one time struggled with authority and talking back? Who hasn’t broken out in a big grin after dropping a step-back 3 in the face of LeBron? Well maybe not the last one, but I think we all can relate to the rest. He has even described his legs as tree trunks - something I may or may not be able to relate to.
But here’s the thing. As much as Luka may look like my long lost little (ok, baby) brother, he also inspired my journey back to a sport that was my whole life for 15 years and that wounded me so deeply that I couldn’t even look at a basketball for a while. For ten years, actually. When basketball is your identity, who you are, what happens when it’s taken away from you?
I wish I had had Luka’s attitude as a teenager. He may be 15 years my junior, but in some ways he’s more mature than me. He understands that quitting is not an option (if you don’t believe, you shouldn’t be here) and he has fun when he plays. He feels zero pressure. He just has fun.
I love that. When I played, it was not about having fun. It was deadly serious. I started playing at 8 years old in a local Danish club. Soon we were winning championships. When I was 16 on the national team, a girl was taken out of a game and yelled at so much that she started crying. I was asked if I could do better. I said yes (don’t know where I got the courage) and I did. I won Best Player in that game. But that is not having fun. That’s grown men putting their adult expectations on kids. I wish I had been reminded to have fun. Then I may not have left the sport with a broken heart.
Back to Luka. He moved to a foreign country alone at 13. He played against grown men at 16. He rose to the occasion and smiled along the way. Luka never told people to respect him. He showed them. Again and again. This is why he’s so respected among other players and it’s why he’s going to reach levels the next ten years that we don’t even understand at this moment.
But it’s also why he inspired me. He doesn’t just deliver every time. He doesn’t just look like my brother (or very similar to a family member I have). He walks the walk. To play at Real Madrid, to even reach that club, takes tremendous work and effort. And instead of telling everybody that he was a star, he just played like one. And then he became one.
If that’s not the moral of the story, then I don’t know what is. Luka shows us all, every day, that hard work and integrity pays off. We all know, no one even doubts, that Luka will deliver. We smile, when people doubt him, because we know.
And so when I was in my early twenties, my basketball journey stopped. Or paused for a few years. I lost faith. I lost the joy of the game, because the pressure was too high. The coaches too serious. The fun had evaporated. After I stopped playing, the hurt of being around basketball was so intense, so present, that I had to walk away. I couldn’t even watch a game. I couldn’t even go to a gym. But at the same time - who was I without basketball?
I struggled with that for years, my heart almost breaking every time I saw kids playing down the street. Every time I heard talk about the NBA or WNBA.
But then Luka showed up. He showed me the joy of basketball again that I had left somewhere in a gym in Sweden (at that national team tournament), and he mended my broken heart. If you let him, he may just mend yours too.