LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Dallas Mavericks’ Slovenian sensation Luka Doncic was lighting up the game against the Los Angeles Clippers this week when a high-profile fan summoned him to his courtside seat at the Staples Center.
Former five-division boxing world champion Floyd Mayweather, who still commands the spotlight even in retirement, wanted to offer a seal of approval from one showman to another.
“He said he plays like me,” Doncic told Reuters of his interaction with Mayweather on Monday. “I said, ‘cool, I want to see it live.’”
The Mavericks may not be winning many games, but between Doncic and future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki, who is potentially playing his farewell season, they are winning over NBA arenas and turning foes to friends.
The Clippers defeated the Mavericks 121-112 but the night belonged to the NBA’s most popular duo at the moment – the past and future of the Dallas franchise.
Nowitzki, 40, is playing in his 21st NBA season and while the German has not announced that he will retire at the end of the campaign the mere possibility has been enough to commemorate his every NBA stop.
Nowitzki played in his 1,500th career game on Monday. He put up 12 points, but it felt like 50 given the fan reaction.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers added to the adulation when he called a timeout with nine seconds left in the game, grabbed the public address announcer’s microphone and paid tribute to Nowitzki.
The crowd then gave Nowitzki a standing ovation and Clippers players came over to pay homage.
“The career that he had has been excellent,” Clippers guard Lou Williams told reporters. “He is a champion in this league and one a trailblazer for international players.”
The NBA created a special roster spot for Nowitzki earlier this month at the All-Star Game, and the Dallas sharpshooter is now being embraced in places he was once feared and reviled.
“It’s definitely different,” Nowitzki told Reuters. “A couple weeks ago, in Boston and (Indianapolis), fans are cheering and I’m trying to actually score a basket for them because I haven’t scored all game. That was weird. Never had that in my career.”
While Nowitzki may be saying goodbye, 19-year-old point forward Doncic is introducing himself to fans. He stole the show with a series of step back three-pointers and precise passes.
His night included 28 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and nine turnovers, fully showcasing the risk and reward style of the Mavericks teenager. At one stage in the second quarter, Doncic tried to throw a pass around a defender to himself. His team mates could only laugh, but coach Rick Carlisle, known for being tough on his point guards, sent Doncic to the bench.
“At times it’s tough for him because he feels like he can thread any needle,” Carlisle said. “And throw the ball through one guy’s nose, through his rear end and (to) a team mate. You just can’t do that in this league on a consistent basis.”
That aside, Doncic has earned rave reviews throughout the league as he closes in on a Rookie of the Year honor, putting up 20.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game.
In truth, Doncic bends the definition of a rookie. Long before the Mavs acquired Doncic in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks in the 2018 NBA Draft, he made his professional debut with the Real Madrid senior team at 16. He led Madrid to the 2018 EuroLeague title, winning the EuroLeague MVP.
“He’s exceeded all expectations,” Nowitzki said. “He’ll be fun to watch, hopefully for Mavs fans for a long, long time.”