With early returns in, Luka Doncic is polling insanely well in NBA All Star voting. Emmet Ryan on how the Slovenian sensation has succeeded off the court in a manner no player from this side of the Atlantic has before, by building a real pan-European voting bloc
Every time a European baller does well in the NBA, there’s generally goodwill. I’m not even talking Giannis Antetokounmpo or Nikola Jokic levels of good, Bojan Bogdanovic making a decent career for himself stateside has earned him some love. Heck, even Joe Ingles gets mad Euro love and he’s not even from here. That rarely translates where it really doesn’t count, except for certain contractual incentives, All Star voting.
There have been Euro hype trains before, Kristaps Porzingis probably got the most notable one entering his sophomore season in the association, but the view has always come from the US. Over here, there’s no assumption that a player can lean heavily on continent wide support the way Yao Ming knew he’d have Chinese votes in such numbers that it’d be easier to weigh them than count them.
Even the Freak knows that when it comes to All Star votes from over here, he’s really looking all the way home to Greece (although I’m sure Thanasis got all his team mates to vote for his brother when he was with Andorra). Giannis MVP Favourite Antetokounmpo, the most crossover talent in terms of Euro love to hit the NBA prior to this season couldn’t count on votes beyond home. Neither Gasol could either, nor Dirk Nowitzki, nor Tony Parker. Not even Manu ‘not European but played enough here to build a voting base’ Ginobili could.
Then, along came Luka who should have been hindered significantly. Moreso from football than basketball, Real Madrid is one of the easiest clubs for a casual sports fan to dislike* in Europe. They tend to win a lot and be the cause of misery for plenty of people. They’re not the traditional second team of fans, although they had one thing going for them. They were always a side neutrals, those who watch the game for the game rather than the jersey, could be relied on. Then, with the evolution of the side under Pablo Laso, they really got fun. It’s hard for even the hardest heart to not like a team with Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull in their pomp. Then Chacho moved to the NBA and subsequently CSKA Moscow, leaving a lot more game time and a much bigger role for you know who.
*Los Blancos fans, don’t shoot the messenger because I generally like watching your guys play.
The kid was a spark plug from the off. I’ve written so much about Doncic that, for once, it’s easier just to click on the tag then search through a bunch of links I could throw in. Luka was fun, fun, fun, and a proper old ass kicker. He then was a driving force for a super fun Slovenian team that won EuroBasket. Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun.
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Europe became invested in the kid, not just because of his potential to be a superstar globally but because he brought us so much joy (so long as the team we were watching wasn’t the one he was hurting). His career arc had the mad final European season where he won everything along with most individual accolades and he went off to find his way in the new world.
That’s really not normal. Pau won a ACB title with Barcelona but was gone a few years before we really realised what he could do, and he was likeable but not fun. Giannis is made of fun but he barely played in Greece, never saw continental competition action, and was gone in a hurry. Kristaps, he was good for a bad Sevilla side before making the jump.
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There was always a qualifier, a player might do enough to get noticed but a player with superstar potential never had a long enough stint to really cross over beyond his home base of fans. The one other argument could be Bogdan Bogdanovic but he matured reasonably well here, heck when he was 22 he had the type of head on his shoulders that I trust him with my car keys and I don’t even have a licence. We felt we’d seen what Bogdan was, despite him showing more growth since going to Sacramento.
Luka, oh come on. He was kicking ass, playing with the quality and brain of a grown ass man but with the youthful vigour that made you know he was still maturing. This was a total package for crossover appeal. He’d had three seasons in Euroleague, two as a starter, along with that insane EuroBasket run to build himself up before going to the NBA the moment he was draft eligible rather than hanging around long enough for us to get used to him.
The way voting works, he probably won’t end up starting the All Star game but this isn’t who deserves to start, it’s about who can make the fans care. Luka’s naturally got a lot of love in the voting from Mavs fans and his Stans Stateside but we’ve had Euro ballers with fan support from their NBA team and nerds before. This is different, this time it’s a kid who has done what no-one before him before. He’s kept this continent excited.
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