Luka Dončić’s NBA experience is unique – Jokić may be the only one who can really relate

Luka Dončić’s NBA experience is unique – Jokić may be the only one who can really relate
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Balkan brothers and best buddies, Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić and Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Dončić may be the closest thing to each other’s kindred spirits in the league. And no wonder, because they have a lot in common.

Both are white, hefty euros who were and still are constantly underrated, but grew to superstardom and became franchise players nonetheless.

Both carry the expectations of an entire nation on their shoulders every single day (and perhaps a whole continent).

Though one is from a slightly more Balkan country than the other (Jokić), they share a culture and common history, something few European players in the NBA have the advantage of. And few European players are as important to Europe and Europeans as these two.

But they’re not similar in all ways. Like Vlatko Cancar, who has played with Luka Dončić on the Slovenian national team and with Nikola Jokić on the Denver Nuggets puts it:

“Playing with Luka, as you guys can see, he can be really temperamental. If you’re not performing with him, he’s going to cuss you out, he’s going to be mad at you. You have to make shots with him, it is what it is. He’s going to be the one who’s ‘ok, this is my team, I’m the leader’ and he shows it through the games,” Cancar said on the DNVR Nuggets podcast in March.

“Joker is the same but in silent mode. Basically, if you put [them] like a volume [bar], Luka is at 100, and Joker is at 15 or 12. Joker is the same way but he’s not going to be mad at you if you don’t make the shot but he’s going to be annoyed because, at the end of the day, you cannot do it all by yourself.”

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The similarities, however, are much greater when it comes to almost everything but their individual playing styles and temperament.

Like their home countries. Luka Dončić’s Slovenia has only 2,1 million people and Jokić’s somewhat larger Serbia has 6,8 million people, but both nations are among the smaller and relatively unimportant ones in Europe.

That may not sound like a big thing or seem like it matters at all, but being from a small unimportant European country myself, I beg to differ.

Since both represent small nations who are used to being overlooked and underrated on the international scene, these countries take so much more pride in the accomplishments of their countrymen.

And with that comes great expectations. Having to carry the pressure of an entire nation on your shoulders is a unique experience very few players or people have.

Both Luka and Jokić have this pressure all year round, both with their NBA teams and their national teams, and the expectations rise each time they reach new milestones.

It’s not only pressure in a bad sense, however. Both have a great sense of pride in getting to represent their country, something they have worked all their lives to accomplish. They both have said that they’d rather win with their national team than have a ring and both prioritize the national competitions in the summer.

They show pride in being able to promote their countries, which most of the world wouldn’t have heard of if it wasn’t for them. Because of Luka, most Texans are experts on Slovenia and most NBA fans know the country – that was not the case just 6 years ago.

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Luka and Jokić also share a language, and anyone trying to speak with people in a language you’re not comfortable with knows that it is extremely important for connection.

The fact that Luka has Serbian family members through his dad and therefore speaks Serbian, a language which is similar but not identical to Slovenian, is a great connector. This links them, because it makes them able to relate and communicate on another level than they are able to in English, which in Luka’s case probably is his fourth best language (after Slovenian, Serbian and Spanish, I’m guessing).

But it’s not only the language that helps them relate, because their shared Balkan/Central European history and culture is very powerful. You see Luka having good relationships and friendships with people from all over Europe, maybe especially because of the shared experience of the Europeans in the NBA.

But being from neighboring countries, whose culture is so similar, is just a connector on another level. No one relates to you like a neighbor who shares your experience.

Luka and Jokić also share something else, something that stands out as a European in the US. They both value their native countries highly and go home as much as possible and famously, they both want to retire at their farms in their respective countries.

As much as they have in common, Jokić provides an important balance for Luka as a friend and mentor. Despite Luka being positively fueled by his emotions and temper generally, he has had problems controlling them at points, especially this season.

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Here, Jokić can provide valuable guidance, because his approach is much more balanced, much more controlled and subdued.

Not only does Nikola Jokić have a lot of the same pressure that Luka does, he’s been in the league longer, is more mature and a two time MVP. His values and culture are very similar to Luka’s, and the kinship the two share is unique. Having a best friend a few years ahead of you in the NBA is a huge strength for Luka both now and in the future.

Balkan bros, European domination, bffs, call them what you want. But the truth is, these two very different players are so similar, they could be brothers. And in many ways they are. Along with only a couple other European greats, they carry the weight of immense expectations from a whole continent with a lot to prove. They make it look easy with their fearlessness, high integrity and mental toughness. But it’s not. And luckily for us, they find the strength to carry this heavy load every day, not only for love of their home countries, but because of it.

Find last week’s Maverick Feelings here.