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Basketball

We’re Finally Having the Right Luka Doncic Conversation

Jason Kidd’s comparison between Doncic and a certain large German former teammate of theirs is bold only because no one has wanted to address what’s been obvious for a while.
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No small thing to argue Luka>Dirk. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We’re all friends here, so I’m going to assume the very best of you and bypass the full rehash of what Luka Doncic has done in his last three NBA games. Chances are you’ve caught wind of at least one of those performances—probably that one—and seen allusions to the 24-year-old doing Actual Wilt Chamberlain Things, which means we’re all operating on the same wavelength. I’ve written appreciations of Doncic milestones before, and I will write them again, but sometimes—like the time when he became the first player in history to score 70 or more in a game along with 75 percent or better shooting—what suffices best is a shared nod, giggle, and flabbergasted noise or three. I know Doncic is ridiculous. You know it, too. We’re simpatico.

So let’s get on to the real talking point, which was proffered by Mavs head coach Jason Kidd on 97.1 The Freak’s The Downbeat this morning:

He’s better than Dirk. He’s in the atmosphere of MJ, the best to ever do it, LeBron [James], Kobe [Bryant]. And so, just to appreciate what this young man’s doing at the age of 24, [it] is something that Dallas has never seen. I’ve said this internally: He is better than Dirk. He does things that Dirk could never do, and now is the opportunity of getting the right people around him to ultimately win a championship.”

I’ve bolded the especially relevant parts, which also double as the especially correct parts. Because, if we’re being honest, all of this has been apparent since Doncic’s second NBA season, when he bypassed a half dozen or so stages of development as he surged from “seriously impressive, noticeably flawed rookie” to “barring injury, a future Hall of Famer.” That kicked off what is now close to a half-decade of evidence—anecdotal, optical, and statistical—telling us that, already, Doncic plays the game at a level that even the greatest athlete in Dallas history could not touch, because perhaps only James himself has ever eclipsed Doncic’s mixture of size, skill, smarts, and stubbornness. (Here’s where I could dumptruck a pile of numbers on your dome to satiate the “Well, actually” crowd, but again, we’re friends, and I’m assuming the very best of you.)

Thing is, aside from the famously self-effacing Nowitzki himself, hardly anyone has been willing to acknowledge that reality too loudly. It is obvious why: embedded in Nowitzki’s greatness is a reverence that supersedes all but a handful of people in the city’s history. I wrote about it long before I worked here, but Dirk’s significance matters most in the macro. He showed, and continues to show, that Dallas is enough, which is enormous for a city ever eager for validation. There’s a reason he’s on our 50th Anniversary logo.

So it means something that Kidd, Nowitzki’s championship teammate long before he became Doncic’s coach, has flung the door open for us to talk about what we are watching in the most important way. None of that is to suggest that Doncic is necessarily greater or more important or more beloved than Nowitzki in Dallas—each of those transcend ability and production, which is why none of it is debatable until Doncic wins a ring of his own here. Some of it might not even be an argument even then.

But it is refreshing following a week of low-caloric discourse concerning whether Doncic’s 73-point game is as impressive as Joel Embiid’s 70-pointer a week earler (yes), or whether it symbolizes the rot of the modern game (stop), or if a player this transcendent still has room for growth (he’s said so, and that’s perfectly fine). At last, we are considering Luka Doncic in a way that is as interesting as it is true and, more than both of those things, fun. Because that’s what sports are, and what he is. Especially during weeks like the one we’ve just had.

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Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…

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