Towards the end of last night’s Dallas Mavericks-Phoenix Suns game, Dallas guard Luka Dončić had “had enough.”
The game had reached an embarrassing point for the Mavericks. Dallas was minutes away from losing its third straight game, Dončić had struggled in the second half after an electric first half, and fans were starting to escalate in their trash talk of the sixth-year Slovenian superstar.
One fan in particular, donning a purple Devin Booker jersey, had gone too far, in Dončić’s eyes, and he called for the fan to be ejected. ESPN’s Tim MacMahon tweeted the interaction with a video of the fan being ejected.
In the tweet, MacMahon quoted the fan’s last remark before Dončić snapped: “Luka, you’re tired. Get your ass on the treadmill.”
Dončić’s frustration had been boiling over for almost an hour at this point. He’d been assessed a technical, his ninth of the season, right before halftime as he jawed with officials. MacMahon asked about the technical after the game and Dončić referenced the tweet in his response, while not mentioning the technical foul:
“That was not the only thing he said, but I knew you would be the first one to point out something like that,” Dončić said. “I’m not gonna say what he said, but I knew you were gonna be the first one to put out something like that.”
This isn’t the first time Dončić and MacMahon have clashed. The franchise cornerstone took exception to MacMahon’s reporting at the end of the 2022-2023 season when he wrote that Mavericks sources had expressed concern that Dončić “could consider requesting a trade” by the 2024 offseason if the Mavericks hadn’t made “significant progress” by then.
When asked about if the Mavericks had to earn his loyalty, a nod to Cuban’s comments in the same article, Dončić said “it was funny because I didn’t know that was true.”
Head coach Jason Kidd has also taken shots at MacMahon, imploring the media to “write some positive shit” when answering MacMahon’s question about Dončić’s and Kyrie Irving’s growth as a duo.
Dončić’s latest outburst was different though. This wasn’t about MacMahon’s sources. This was a direct attack on MacMahon. He didn’t like that MacMahon had only reported one thing the fan had said, yet when asked what else was said, he didn’t give a clarification.
If you’re going to criticize reporting, why not give your side of the story when on the mic in front of the reporter you’re criticizing? It was an awkward moment that eventually led to other reporters backing up MacMahon.
“You turned your head and looked over at him after he said that, that’s what we [the media] saw,” another reporter said.
“That’s fine, I’ll be the bad guy in the media, right? That’s alright,” Dončić replied.
The altercation, which lasted over 90 seconds, highlights the frustration the team is feeling as they stare down one of their toughest stretches of the season with a three-game losing streak behind them.
We don’t know what the fan said to get under Dončić’s skin in the first half. He said postgame the fan had been “cussing him out” in the first half. If true, it seems wholly appropriate for Dončić to be upset and ask for his ejection. A ticket to a basketball game does not entitle you to harass or berate players. Keep the trash talk appropriate or risk losing your seat.
But what happened in the media room is also troubling. MacMahon, whether you like him or hate him, asked questions about an on-court, in-public interaction that was seen by millions on national television. That is his job, and part of Dončić’s job is to take those questions as part of his postgame obligation. In addition, MacMahon wasn’t the only reporter who tweeted about the incident, as it happened right behind press row in the American Airlines Center. Other Mavericks reporters and a Suns reporter also shared it.
If he doesn’t want to answer questions about a personal matter or if he doesn’t want to elaborate on what the fan said, that’s absolutely fine, but what MacMahon tweeted was a relevant part of the story of last night. The Suns embarrassed the Mavericks on national TV and if disrespectful fans were part of what took Dončić out of his groove following a 24-point, 7-of-10 shooting scorching start, that is relevant.
Now maybe it wasn’t the fans. Maybe it was the ankle injury that caused Dončić to limp off the floor at halftime. Maybe it was the team’s inability to stop a traffic cone in the second half defensively.
But the only way to figure out what happened is to report what happened and ask questions in the postgame press conference. If you’re going to get mad at questions about what happened, the only alternative is for reporters to not ask questions and assume what made a difference.
I don’t think anybody wants that.