The Luka championship question

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star
The Luka championship question
Luka Doncic
STAR / File

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic has been compared to many of the greatest NBA players of all time. Most notably, he has been christened “Luka Magic” because of his great passing skill and ability to create on offense. Recently, he was even sized up against Michael Jordan, supposedly being more productive at this point in both their careers. In his sixth season, MJ put up 33.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and6.3 assists per game. The Slovenian sentinel, meanwhile, has racked up 34.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 9.6 assists each outing. It seems an unreasonable comparison, since Jordan had at that point recovered from a broken foot and yanked the Chicago Bulls into the playoffs in legendary fashion.

The comparisons may end soon, though. In his seventh season, Jordan started winning championships, batting a hundred percent each time he towed the Bulls into the Finals. For Doncic, the trajectory may be lower.The gnawing question now is the most basic one: can such an overhyped player who has an ego to match win championships?

There is no question that Doncic is a hugely charismatic figure. By far, no other player in last year’s FIBA World Cup in the Philippines had as many fans attending the games in his jersey. Women screamed each time he touched the ball. Non-partisan fans screamed when he made a spectacular pass or last-second shot. Filipinos and foreigners alike hand-crafted signs of support, albeit for Luka of the Mavs, not Doncic of Slovenia. His popularity was unparalleled, more so since Team USA did not have its biggest stars participating in the World Cup.

Luka’s numbers are undoubtedly heroic. He is already almost as beloved in Dallas as Dirk Nowitzki is. The two shared a season in 2018-2019, Dirk’s last year, after the Texas franchise traded for Luka on draft night. This is similar to the way John Havlicek ended his career with Larry Bird’s rookie season with the Boston Celtics. But that year, Dallas had a losing season, and have hovered around .500 since, except for 20212-2022, when they won 52 games. Currently, they are cruising at a 55 percent winning percentage, or par for the course.

There would be no shame if Luka simply had an impressive individual career when he decides to retire. Many among the league’s greatest players never won championships, particularly those who played during the Jordan era. Patrick Ewing, Elgin Baylor, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Nate Thurmond, George Gervin, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Dominique Wilkins, Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Steve Nash all never hoisted the trophy. It doesn’t make them any less great. But in the discussion about greatest of all time, the ability to a team to a title puts you at a different level.

The Mavericks have been trying to get Doncic some help, but it hasn’t been enough. Since their entry into the NBA as an expansion team in 1980, they have only won one championship, in 2011. For Doncic to put himself in the same rarefied air as the beloved Nowitzki, he needs to bring them at least one title. Even though it is a team sport, fans will look at him as if he had an asterisk, and incomplete mark. We hope he succeeds.

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