Once in a while, I get a question in my inbox that’s just too good not to dive further into. Recently, I got the question: Could you see a scenario where Luka chooses to return to Europe to finish his career?
The reader went on: “It would elevate European basketball in a way almost nothing else could. Seeing golfers and now soccer players leaving established leagues to try upstarts provides kind of a precedent.”
This is a great question and a great point afterward and I will try to dig into it to the best of my knowledge about European culture, history and basketball - as well as my knowledge about Luka and what has motivated him in the past. This is, however, pure speculation, no doubt about that - but it’s all based on his actual remarks and behavior in the past.
On Christmas, Luka was asked if he thought he might be the one to catch LeBron James’ scoring record. He made it pretty clear that he’s not interested in playing for 20 years: “I’d rather go back to my farm in Slovenia,” he said with a smile.
This seemed to take a lot of people by surprise. I wasn’t surprised, though. Luka Dončić is a homebody, like many southern Europeans. He’s on a plane to Slovenia as soon as there’s a break in the schedule and spends all of his summers in Slovenia and Europe.
He makes everyone listen to Slovenian music at practice and before games. And he has said in the past that his girlfriend Anamaria Goltes, who he has known since childhood in Ljubljana, makes Texas feel more like home. He clearly misses his country, family and culture and his love for all national team competitions speak to that, as well.
This is a very familiar feeling to me. I moved to the US and lived in California, Texas and the Deep South during my 5 years there. While I was away from home, my feelings of my nationality and identity as Danish and European developed, expanded, you might say, to the extent that I would tear up when I saw a Danish brand. I valued my country so much more when I was away, and my identity became that; Danish, European.
I’m not saying that Luka feels more Slovenian than he feels his identity is being a basketball player. But he definitely feels more Slovenian and European than American - though he does seem particularly enamored with Texas - and who can blame him. And because he’s been away from his family, country and culture since he was 13, with only short periods back, the pull of Slovenia and the love for “home” becomes so much more pronounced.
And then there’s the other side of it. Money, fame and celebrity. Many Americans don’t understand why Luka wouldn’t want to stay as long as possible, make as much money as possible and retire as a celebrity in the US.
But Luka is not American, and he makes that clear in the choices he makes every day. They resemble other humble European stars like Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dirk Nowitzki. They care less about the money and fame aspect and focus more on balance.
Despite the fact that Luka Dončić owns quite a few cars, I’ll hold on to the fact that he’s not a material guy, but a guy who loves cars. An example of this is his clothing choices. This summer, he was seen wearing a shirt with no sleeves with the brand name “Jack and Jones” on it. My timeline went crazy, and the Europeans couldn’t understand what was going on. It so happens that Jack and Jones is a cheap Danish brand that isn’t necessarily … that cool. But very affordable.
Old argument: Luka too heavy— Kirk Henderson (@KirkSeriousFace) August 1, 2022
New argument: GET THAT MAN SOME WHATABURGER pic.twitter.com/ULUa5khCHI
People argued that he needed a stylist and should care more about what he wears, being the star that he is. (Check out the comments). My take? He just doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about brands, money, or artificial stuff.
But what he does care about is loyalty. That’s clear at this point. Luka is an extremely loyal guy and values loyalty over almost anything, it seems.
So let’s return to the matter at hand. Is there a scenario where Luka chooses to finish his career in Europe?
I think there most certainly is a scenario where Luka retires in Europe - and chances are, it will be in Real Madrid, before he returns to his Slovenian farm. He would pay homage to the club of his childhood and all the people who matter to him there. And he would help elevate the EuroLeague, which is the league he watches the most.
I remember that Christiano Ronaldo always said that he wanted to retire in Porto, the club where it all started for him (I’m a little unsure whether that will happen now). Luka Doncic happens to be a great Ronaldo fan, who is friendly with the legend from back when they both played at Real Madrid.
Ronaldo interestingly wears number 7, which may have a little something to do with Luka’s obsession with that number, as well.
I do think all this is dependent on whether he wins a title along the way. If that escapes him, I don’t think he will seriously consider Europe, and instead will be chasing that last challenge in the NBA, something he has stated is more important to him than winning the MVP.
Nothing is certain for a 23 year old, and definitely not retirement plans. But I truly wouldn’t be surprised if we see him in a Real Madrid uniform before it’s all said and done.
I am basing this and many of my articles on the knowledge and experience I have collected along the way. Through the years, I have traveled to most of Europe and lived in the US for 5 years, all of which I hope helps me give these columns a little more nuance. I also have degrees in European Studies from Denmark and International Relations from the University of Oklahoma in the US. More importantly, I played basketball for 15 years, since the age of 8, winning championships and playing on youth national teams along the way. I lived basketball for a long time. Now I write about it.