Like so many young players, the Dallas Mavericks’ rapidly rising star Luka Doncic grew up as a fan of LeBron James. The young athlete clearly cherishes those memories, even taking a moment to recreate the famous LeBron/Dwyane Wade pass-and-dunk moment.
But these days, he can’t be a fanboy. Instead, Doncic must take on James head-to-head on the court. The last time the two faced off, they did not meet after the game to chat. So does Doncic still admire King James? Or has his hero-turned-opponent changed his opinion?
How Luka Doncic really feels about LeBron James
In his 17th year in the NBA, James reserves his top praise for Luka Doncic — other than his teammates, of course. After one Lakers/Mavs game earlier this season, James marched up to Doncic and famously called him “a bad motherf*****.”
Doncic spent his rookie year starstruck by sharing air with James. After the Mavericks’ first game against the Lakers, Luka even waited late to get a jersey signed by Cleveland’s favorite son. But as Doncic matures in the NBA, he’s replaced that fandom with the measured tone of a rival.
The Dallas News asked Doncic what he thinks of James now that the two have clashed several times on the court. “He is someone I admired growing up,” Doncic replied. “I admire him today, too.”
Now that Doncic is an emerging superstar in his own right, he needs to prove himself against LeBron. This may explain why he no longer beelines to James’ locker after a game. The respect is now mutual.
When Doncic and James meet on the court
The 2019 season pitted Luka against LeBron twice so far, with incredibly strong performances both times. The first game went the Lakers’ way, 119-110. Both athletes recorded triple-doubles, prompting an exuberant James to let the young NBA star know what a strong player he is after the game.
The second game went to the Mavs, with a slightly narrower 114-110. This finally put an end to the Lakers’ dominating 10-game winning streak. Doncic led the way with 27 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds — just shy of another triple-double.
Is Luka vs. LeBron the new NBA rivalry to watch?
When Doncic and James are both on the floor, they’ve gone two-for-two in putting on some of the best shows so far this season. Their mutual respect and eye-popping high level of play will likely put their meetings under a microscope going forward.
The narrative gets a shot in the arm in Luka’s recent record-breaking moment. He broke the record for the most triple-doubles recorded by a player 21 or younger. The previous title holder was none other than a young James. That’s one record he can’t exactly double back and correct.
They’re also tied for wins against each other this year. While James could likely make the case that losing Avery Bradley as a defensive tool opened up opportunities Doncic may not have had otherwise. But to Doncic’s credit, he notched a triple-double in his last meeting against a more complete Lakers squad.
LeBron doesn’t look like he’s leaving the NBA anytime soon. If Doncic stays healthy, he could very well be the young superstar that inherits the throne from James. For now, these two will have to settle their friendly rivalry on the court.