As Luka Doncic patiently made his way to the podium Friday for Media Day at All-Star Weekend, it was clear that he was the player most reporters wanted to hear from.
Of all the players involved for interviews, Doncic drew one of the largest crowds. It was as if the Dallas Mavericks’ point guard was the Piped Piper and everyone was following him and hanging on his every word.
“He’s a great all-around basketball player,” said New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who also drew a large crowd at his podium. “He’s a walking triple-double.
“He facilitates the game and I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
While Doncic is a major part of the future of the NBA, those who helped the game earn its worldwide popularity have noticed the way he has walked into the league and become a beacon for basketball.
“He’s doing great,” said Jason Kidd, who has had many of his Mavs’ records fall by the wayside thanks to Doncic. “He’s a stud. He knows how to play the game at a high level.”
Doncic cut his teeth playing basketball in Europe as a precocious 16-year old teenager playing against older men with Real Madrid. Obviously, the men started out by schooling Doncic.
But as time passed, Doncic’s game advanced to new levels and the older men eventually couldn’t keep up with the young kid. The rest, as they say, is the grit and grim of the game that made Doncic a premier participant in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge at the United Center, and a starter in Sunday’s prestigious All-Star game.
“It’s all gone so fast,” Doncic said, as he was being grilled by reporters in both English and Spanish. “A lot of things happened the last five years since I was a kid to the All-Star game.
“As it shows, this All-Star game has a lot of international players. I think the world can see that we can play basketball, too.”
And it’s not just fans who admire the way Doncic plays basketball. The adulation has spread to players on other teams.
“Honestly, the thing that gets me the most is he’s only 20 years old,” said Eric Paschall, a 23-year old rookie forward with the Golden State Warriors. “Like, that’s ridiculous!
“This is my first year (in the NBA) and this is his second. And I’m older than him.”
That’s not all Paschall – as he shook his head in amazement — had to say about Doncic.
“I feel like he’s a very good player and a very smart player,” Paschall said. “He knows how to control the game, he plays at his pace, and I feel like it’s very impressive to do.
“He’s only 20 years old, and he’s been playing pro since he was like 15. It’s wild, but he’s a very, very, very good player.”
Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young, who also is starting his first All-Star game on Sunday, echoed that sentiment.
Young and Doncic will forever be joined at the hip, mainly because the two were traded for each other. The Hawks drafted Doncic third overall in the 2018 NBA Draft and the Mavs drafted Young fifth overall, and a few minutes later the two players were traded for one another.
“It’s kind of crazy we both are in our second year, and being All-Star starters is pretty great,” Young said. “He’s had a helluva year and I know he’s going to have a helluva career.”
Doncic entered the All-Star break averaging 28.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists. And it’s moments like what he’ll undertake this weekend that has made all the extra practice sessions growing up worthwhile.
“It’s something special,” Doncic said. “To be here in the All-Star game is something special.
“I always dream about it as a kid and now I’m here. It’s almost unreal. Maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I want to enjoy it.”
Along Doncic’s epic journey to one of the NBA’s biggest stages, last year he was named the unanimous Rookie of the Year winner. And the player picked by many to grab this season’s Rookie of the Year trophy – Memphis point guard Ja Morant – stopped to pay homage to Doncic.
“He’s a great player and a special talent,” Morant said. “He can score from all three levels and he gets his teammates involved.”
As far as any advice he has for youngsters who dream of one day making an All-Star team, Doncic was diplomatic.
“Work harder, have fun with it and find what you love,” he said. “If you love playing basketball — that was for me – do it.
“I just started staying after practice and just played basketball. That’s my advice.”
And look where it got him.