After all, the Dallas Mavericks’ phenom was in what he thought was a tight race with Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young in the battle to win the coveted NBA Rookie of the Year trophy. But in the end it was a race ultimately won by Doncic, who let out a huge grin at the Barker Hangar when he was announced as the NBA Rookie of the Year of the 2018-19 season.
Meanwhile, center Dwight Powell was a finalist for the NBA Cares Community Assist Award, which was won by Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal.
This is the first time a member of the Mavs has won the Rookie of the Year trophy outright. Following the 1994-’95 season, Mavs guard Jason Kidd shared the Rookie of the Year award with Detroit forward Grant Hill.
On bringing the illustrious rookie hardware back to Dallas, Doncic said: “My heart was beating a lot. When I heard my name, I was like in tears.
“I knew it was me, so it’s a great feeling.”
In what many thought would be a close race, Doncic’s name appeared on 98 of the 100 first-place ballots by the media, and he was listed second on the other two ballots.
Doncic’s agent, Bill Duffy, noted that it “was no doubt” that his prized client was going to take the NBA’s top rookie prize.
“It’s so well deserved,” Duffy said. “He had a goal to come over here and establish himself, so it was amazing.”
Doncic received his award from actress Tiffany Haddish and forward R. J. Barrett, who was the third overall pick in last week’s NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. But before reaching the stage, Doncic walked over to the table where Young was sitting, and the two men shared a tender moment.
“I just told him congrats on an amazing season,” Doncic said, “and we’re going to keep up the battle.”
Proprietor Mark Cuban described this as an “awesome” occasion for Doncic and for the Mavs.
“It’s nice to have a “W’ in the Rookie of the Year category,” Cuban said. “I’m happy for Luka, I’m excited for him and I know it’s important to him.
“Now that it’s behind him now, it’s all about what he does next.”
Luka Dončić named Kia NBA Rookie of the Year
He joins Jason Kidd as the only Mavericks ever to garner the award
A table of Mavs fans and employees, including chief executive officer Cynthia Marshall, let loose with a loud chorus of cheers when Doncic was announced as the Rookie of the Year.
“What we were experiencing at our table was a little Luka magic tonight,” Marshall said. “I don’t have a voice right now, and our whole table erupted. It was wild.
“I’m so happy because I witnessed how hard Luka works, and he’s a team guy and he’s just a great competitor, and to see him recognized in front of this audience and then it’s nationally televised, too. So everybody got a chance to see a little bit of what we get to experience, and he deserved the Rookie of the Year, so we’re blessed.”
In addition to Doncic and Young, the other finalist for the Rookie of the Year award was Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton.
Doncic averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and six assists per game this past season, and also shot 42.7 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from 3-point range while producing eight triple-doubles. He is the only player in NBA history other than Oscar Robertson to average at least 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists a rookie.
“This means a lot of things,” Doncic said. “It’s motivation for the next season. It’s great and it just feels amazing.”
There were rumblings around the NBA that the Rookie of the Year race was going to be a tight one between Doncic and Young. But former Maverick and television analyst Caron Butler didn’t think that was the case.
“I think (Doncic) had it wrapped up from the beginning because he had an amazing run from the beginning to the end,” said Butler, who was part of the Mavs’ 2011 championship squad. “But I’ve got to give a ton of credit to Trae Young.
“He did a remarkable job on the back end of stepping up and making this race interesting. But Luka came out of nowhere – 6-7, 6-8 – and nobody knew that he could possess all the skills that he had, so he kind of shocked everybody.”
TNT analyst Charles Barkley was on the red carpet before the award’s show started and predicted Doncic would be the ultimate winner of the Rookie of the Year trophy.
“I think Trae made up a lot of ground,” Barkley said. “But I think Doncic had such a big lead he’s probably going to win it.”
Nothing about Doncic and his abilities shocked the Mavs. That’s why after they drafted Young with the No. 5 overall pick of last year’s draft, they traded his draft rights and a first-round pick to the Hawks for the draft rights to Doncic, who was drafted No. 3 overall.
“I’m so happy for Luka — I think we all kind of expected it,” Powell said. “Obviously we’re bias towards him seeing him every single game, but he’s a special player.
“And I think this is just going to motivate him even more to reach higher levels, especially on the team level. He’s been working hard this summer — as he’s worked his whole short career so far, so we’re excited about what he has in store for the future.”
Cuban shares in that excitement.
“The sky’s the limit for Luka,” Cuban said. “He has the talent, the drive, the skill and the physical abilities, it’s all there.”
While he was busy dazzling fans all across the NBA, Doncic scored 120 points in clutch time – good enough for 10th among all players in the league. That’s a period where the score is within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
Shaquille O’Neal, who hosted Monday’s show, said he wasn’t surprised Doncic nabbed the top rookie honors over Young and Ayton.
“I like Luka,” O’Neal said. “One of them (Doncic) started off strong and the other one (Young) came on in the end.
“But congratulations to Luka. He’s a great player.”
Jim Jackson, who was the fourth overall pick by the Mavs in the 1992 NBA Draft, was impressed with the way Doncic busted out of the gate very strong and set the tone during his rookie campaign. Jackson believes that’s why Doncic became the eventual winner.
“I think the longevity of what (Doncic) did over the course of the year – even though Trae Young came on near the end and made a run for it, I think he longevity part of it on Luka was able to do I think (gave) him that edge,” Jackson said. “I saw him in preseason in China until December, January and February to where he really just took off.”
While on the stage, Doncic paid homage to Young and Ayton and the entire rookie class, and also thanked his family, his teammates and coach Rick Carlisle. In all, this was one of those shining moments that the rookie from Slovenia will treasure forever.
“It was an amazing moment,” Doncic said. “I’ll remember this moment for the rest of my life.”