The NBA torch doesn’t go from LeBron to Luka for Christmas, but King James almost anointed Doncic as his apparent heir

In the context of the normal life of the basketball career, the reign of “King” LeBron James as the best player in the NBA is practically Elizabethan.

I mean, both Elizabeth Queens. The first ruled for 44 years; the sovereignty of the second is in 68 years and counting.

This is the 18th season of the King James NBA. He is five days away from his 36th birthday. But unlike Netflix The crown, in which Elizabeth II’s non-embraced heir, Carlos, is in perpetual waiting, King James embraced publicly and almost anointed his most likely successor.

He’s the Dallas Mavericks sensation, Luka Doncic, 21. And on Friday night, Christmas night, ABC will introduce the still great king and the highly precocious prince when the Mavericks face the NBA champion Lakers.

Modest Doncic dismisses any notion that he is an NBA face, but Friday’s prime time billing is just that. It is Doncic entering the kingdom of King James, literally as in the Staples Center of Los Angeles; figuratively as at the moment. It will be James’s 15th Christmas game and Doncic’s first.

“It is a long way to go to be one of the faces of the league,” protested Doncic, but added on the occasion: “It is something special. We are playing against the champions, so it will be something special. I always wanted to play on Christmas Day. “

LeBron-Luka is attractive and lyrical. But please don’t confuse Friday night with The passing the torch. This will have to happen in due course.

As James showed while leading the Lakers for last season’s championship, there is considerable power in his game, mentality and 6-9, 250 pounds.

Last season’s title, won just two months ago in the NBA’s coronavirus-proof Orlando bubble, was the Lakers ‘first in a decade and James’ fourth, won with three franchises.

“Laker Nation wants your respect,” he said after the Lakers’ victory over Miami in the finals. “And I want my damn respect, too.”

Christmas message

ARCHIVE - Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) appears to pass by being defended by Lakers striker LeBron James (23) and guard Avery Bradley (11) during the second quarter of the game at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Friday, November 1, 2019.
ARCHIVE – Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) appears to pass by being defended by Lakers striker LeBron James (23) and guard Avery Bradley (11) during the second quarter of the game at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Friday, November 1, 2019.(Vernon Bryant / Team photographer)

Championships are the best way to crown NBA stars as the best of their time, but the league’s high-profile Christmas games have a history of foreshadowing new kingdoms.

Chicago’s Michael Jordan was an annual Christmas star from 1986, but it was his 37-point attempt against Detroit on Christmas Day 1990 that foreshadowed the Bulls finally dethroning the Pistons in that season’s conference finals and winning their first NBA title that followed the dynasty.

Jordan’s successor as the NBA’s best player was Kobe Bryant. On Christmas Day 1999, 20-year-old Bryant posted Jaren Jackson of San Antonio with a dunk in the final minutes of a Lakers victory over defending champion Spurs. A few months later, Los Angeles won its first of three consecutive titles.

And in 2009 and 2010, Bryant and James clashed at consecutive Christmases. James led Cleveland to victory in the first year, then starred in Miami the following Christmas with a double-double of 27 points, while the Heat defeated double champion Los Angeles.

The following year marked the Mavericks’ first, and so far, only Christmas appearance, when James and the Heat took revenge on their final loss to Dirk Nowitzki and Dallas six months earlier.

Now the Mavericks are back in the limelight of Christmas and they know exactly why.

“It’s very exciting,” said Mavericks striker Maxi Kleber. “We know that this is obviously due to Luka, to the talent he has. It is a great stage, a great opportunity and we are all looking forward to it. “

King’s Embrace

During James’ long reign, which included joining the All-NBA team 16 times, the All-Defensive team six times and winning four Most Valuable Player awards, it is clear that there were other aspiring successors who won MVPs and remain brilliant stars in the NBA galaxy.

Kevin Durant. Steph Curry. Russell Westbrook. James Harden. And twice MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who at 26 is only five years older than Doncic.

All were praised to some degree by King James, but none as consistently or effusively as Doncic.

On November 1 of last season, a Lakers nine-point win at the American Airlines Center showed James becoming the oldest player to record 30 points and 15 assists in a game; and Doncic becoming the youngest player to register a triple-double with at least 30 points and 15 assists.

When James hugged Doncic after the final horn, a TV microphone caught James declaring in awe: “You are a bad [expletive]. “

And earlier this month, during an interview with Spectrum Sports Net, James invoked Doncic without warning.

“Luka is one of my favorite players in the NBA today, just because I play the game is exactly how I love the way he plays. Team first. It involves your guys. ‘If you challenge me to score, I will score.’ “

James then revealed that when Doncic was a shoe and clothing free agent last season, he wanted to sign with Doncic as his first Nike “Team LeBron” endorser.

Doncic ended up signing with Jordan Brand, which is part of Nike’s umbrella. But imagine your surprise and joy when James’ LeBron Team comment went public.

“Obviously, I didn’t know that before,” said Doncic. “When someone sent me and I saw it, that’s how I found out. It’s just something special and something I can’t explain. “

How could Doncic adequately express what it is like to be spoken so well by the player that he most idolized while growing up in Slovenia?

Impressive start

ARCHIVE - Lakers striker LeBron James (23) is defended by Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) during the first half of a game on Wednesday, October 31, 2018, in Los Angeles.
ARCHIVE – Lakers striker LeBron James (23) is defended by Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) during the first half of a match on Wednesday, October 31, 2018, in Los Angeles.(Marcio José Sanchez / AP)

It was two seasons ago, after facing James for the first time, that newcomer Doncic waited outside the Lakers locker room to get a signed James shirt.

Now Doncic is widely and blatantly mentioned at the same time as James, no doubt because many of the milestones at the beginning of his career put him in the company of James.

Third youngest player (at 21) to join the All-NBA main team, behind only James (2006) and Max Zaslofsky (1947). The second youngest to finish in the top five in the MVP vote, behind James (2006).

The second highest average score (24.2) by a player on his 21st birthday, behind James’ 25.0.

Given the meteoric arc of Doncic’s career, it’s no wonder that in’s annual survey of league general managers, Doncic and Antetokounmpo, this season’s favorite co-MVP have been elected.

If Doncic won the award this season, he would supplant Chicago’s Derrick Rose as his youngest winner. For that to happen, however, the Mavericks will need to improve their seventh place in the Western Conference last season.

In the past 35 years, only Westbrook (2017), Steve Nash (2006) and Jordan (1988) have been named MVP while playing on a team that finished worse than second place in the conference standings.

“I think Luka has an incredible performance and he deserves the opportunity to be mentioned in that conversation,” said Jalen Rose, ESPN analyst and NBA veteran for 13 seasons.

“I think it will depend on [the Mavericks’] record, if you manage to reach the top three, ”he added. “But in terms of skill, game and statistics, he will definitely deserve to be in this conversation.”

Modest entry

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Doncic’s worldwide visibility and acclaim is how it happened organically.

No flashy advertising campaigns. No arrogant Doncic comments. Nothing but Doncic passed all eyesight tests and the many brilliant testimonials from coaches and NBA stars, nothing more remarkable and significant than King James himself.

“I think Luka is like a gift from the basketball gods because he is a purist,” said Doncic agent Bill Duffy, founder of BDA Sports Management. The news this week. “He loves the game. He’s motivated. “

Duffy is certainly not impartial, but as a prominent part of Doncic’s inner circle, his opinion is as close as you can get to Doncic. And these are more statements of fact than ostentation.

If Doncic really continues his journey and eventually succeeds King James, who succeeded Kobe, who followed His Airness, it will be because he deserved it.

While Doncic’s endorsement opportunities are certainly not lacking, Duffy and Doncic’s European agent, Quique Villalobos, and everyone else at the BDA spend a lot of their energy keeping Doncic’s basketball tray as clean as possible.

“It’s a group effort with everyone around you,” said Duffy. “It practically requires minimal distraction.

“He wants his performance to speak for him.”

Including Friday night: the first of many Christmas performances, against the King who has long been venerated and perhaps destined for success.


More at Luka Doncic

In the photo above: Kristaps Porzingis (bottom left), Josh Richardson (top left), Luka Doncic (center) and James Johnson.
Lakers guard / striker LeBron James (23) and Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) meet after players' performances during training for the 2020 NBA All-Star Game at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago on Saturday, February.  15, 2020.
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) expresses his displeasure at referee Justin Van Duyne's (64) non-call during a first quarter game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Thursday, December 17 2020.
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) smiles during the first quarter of an NBA game between the Indiana Pacers and the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, March 8, 2020, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Find more Mavericks coverage at The Dallas Morning News on here.