Even now, four months into her son’s electric rookie NBA season, the eardrum-piercing crescendos during every Mavericks home game are no less treasured by Mirjam Poterbin.
These public-affection eruptions often are triggered by one of her son’s step-back three-pointers. Or one of his full-court drives and finishes. Then public address announcer Sean Heath punctuates the din.
Imagine being Luka Doncic’s mom. Watching your teenage son capture hearts and pique imaginations not only his new home city, but around the world. Hearing and feeling 20,000 American Airlines Center fans’ repeated embraces.
“Of course that feeling is amazing for me,” Poterbin said. “He’s my son. He’s my world. So whenever he’s happy, I’m happy.
“When people cheer so much, really, I cry sometimes.”
— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) February 8, 2019
Clearly Dallas loves Luka, but how much does Luka love Dallas?
The question might not seem pressing, with Doncic is under contract through the 2021-22 season, but, in today’s NBA, star players’ contentment is profoundly pertinent.
LeBron James’ summer-of-2010 bolt from Cleveland to Miami spawned a new era of roster-structuring, of star players seizing power by joining forces with fellow stars, of franchises yearning to become star-clustering destinations.
The basketball world now knows the Mavericks’ draft-night, reach-for-a-star trade gamble succeeded, beyond the imagination of even the Dallas franchise’s brain trust of owner Mark Cuban, president Donnie Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle.
And this week, culminating what could become the most momentous pre-trade-deadline flurry in franchise history, the Mavericks acquired a potential star in 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis and cleared enough salary cap space to entice another this summer.
Perhaps more valuable than financial allure, the Mavericks now offer opportunity to play, and flourish, alongside a point guard who keeps attaining rookie-season milestones that place him in the company of generational players like James, Steph Curry, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson.
The prevailing national narrative is that New York, Los Angeles and powerhouse Golden State are the only player-magnate NBA markets. League officials, though, are quick to point out franchise success stories in Milwaukee, Toronto, Denver — and the Luka lovefest blossoming in Dallas-Fort Worth.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver attended Wednesday’s Mavericks-Charlotte game at American Airlines Center in which Doncic registered his third triple-double in 16 days.
As he left the arena, Silver paused and shared his Doncic impressions to The News.
“It’s not just his effect on the Dallas franchise, but his effect on the NBA, everywhere,” he said. “To see a young player that skilled and playing with that much joy is something fans around the world are taking note of.
“And so, having just watched the game here in this building, I don’t remember this arena being this electric in quite a while. And with Porzingis joining this team once he’s healthy, I think Luka recognizes that this is just an incredibly fortunate situation for him.
“And there’s no question that the fans of Dallas are reciprocating. I mean, just sitting in the stands and talking with the folks here, they just love him. This is a franchise on the rise, no doubt about it.”
One measure of how gaga is Dallas-Fort Worth about Doncic: According to Nielsen ratings gathered by NBA digital communications manager Jacinda Ortiz, Mavericks viewership on Fox Sports Southwest is up 70 percent from last season and ratings are up 63 percent year-to-date.
Ortiz says those increases are the second-largest in the NBA this season, behind Denver’s.
How smitten with Doncic are fans around the world? His 4.24 million votes in All-Star fan balloting trailed only James’ 4.62 million and the 4.37 million of Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.
According to Ortiz, Mavericks viewership on the NBA’s International League Pass is up 31 percent from last season and 81 percent in total time watched. Ortiz also notes that Doncic’s increase of one million Instagram followers since the start of the season trails only that of James and Curry among NBA players.
“It’s pretty staggering,” Ortiz said. “Especially among some of the younger guys in the league right now, the kind of attention that he’s getting and the type of viewership he’s drawing.”
Yes, Dallas and the world love Luka, but does Luka love Dallas?
According to Doncic and those in his inner-circle, the answer, so far, is a resounding yes.
“This is where I belong, where I want to be, it’s been amazing,” Doncic said.
“I think he really loves it,” his mother said. “He feels very good here. He understands how people are so nice, and how they really accept him, like he’s home.”
Poterbin, too, has been made to feel welcome in North Texas. When Luka at age 13 signed a five-year contract with Real Madrid, Poterbin naturally moved from their native Ljubjana, Slovenia, to be with her only child.
And after the Mavericks traded for Doncic on draft day, Poterbin moved to Dallas to be close — but not too close. He shares a Dallas high-rise apartment with his girlfriend, Slovenian model Anamaria Goltes, and Hugo, perhaps the world’s most famous Pomeranian.
Poterbin lives in a separate apartment building, albeit walking distance to Luka’s.
“He’s young, but he’s so mature, he could be alone here, definitely,” she said. “I help with stuff that is outside of basketball, like when he needs to take care of things with his agent, but it’s especially more for the support. He’s far away [from Slovenia], so I think to have family here is great.”
Poterbin is a successful businesswoman, owning two beauty salons in Ljubjana until her move to Spain forced her to sell one.
Her mother runs the remaining salon and, in what the Mavericks organization and fans can take as hopeful sign that Luka’s life is taking root in Dallas, Poterbin plans to open a salon here.
“It’s not easy when you start from the beginning, so I think in around half-a-year, or a year,” she said.
She has attended every Maverick home game and several road games, including the Jan. 30 game in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Poterbin says fans sometimes approach her at American Airlines Center, often to tell her how impressive her son is, on and off the court.
Then there was the man who approached her in an AAC merchandise store before the Jan. 25 Detroit game, starting a conversation that still had Poterbin laughing several days later.
“Sorry, are you Luka’s mom?”
“I really have to ask you something. Are you sure you didn’t lie about when your son was born? Are you pretty sure when you gave birth to him?”
“Yes, I am. Believe me.”
The perfect situation
On the court, Doncic is averaging 20.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists and has been named Western Conference Rookie of the Month all three months.
Achievements pile up by the week and this month he’ll celebrate at least two significant milestones.
This week in Charlotte he will take part in his first of presumably many All-Star weekends, participating in the rising stars game and the skills challenge. On Feb. 28, he turns 20.
“I can’t believe it,” Poterbin said. “Because he’s my only child.”
The Mavericks organization can’t believe it, either, for different reasons.
“Honestly he’s been far better than any of us expected,” Cuban said. “We thought to get to this point it would take much longer.”
Even Nelson, who more than a year before June’s draft told Carlisle that Doncic, unequivocally, would be the best player available, says now that Doncic “has surprised a lot of us seasoned veterans who have done business on the other side of the pond.
“It’s a very rare thing that we’re seeing happen — a 19-year-old young man who can compete at this level and do some of the things he is doing at his age that are, in a lot of ways, unprecedented.”
Those least surprised? Doncic, his mother and Bill Duffy.
Mavericks fans who aren’t familiar with Duffy soon will be. He is co-founder of BDA Sports Management, he’s been an athlete agent for more than three decades and he currently represents 26 NBA players.
Older Mavericks fans might recall that Duffy represented ex-Maverick Steve Nash, and before that, Jason Kidd.
In the hours leading to the draft last June 21, Duffy worked with the Mavericks to facilitate the trade with Atlanta that brought Doncic to Dallas.
“It’s exactly what we wanted,” Duffy said. “Exactly. We thought it was perfect. It checked all the boxes.”
“The organization, the culture here,” he said. “Having had Nash here and experiencing how he developed himself, and then watching Dirk (Nowitzki) throughout his career, I think they have an appreciation for European players and the style of play.”
Duffy said having a taskmaster coach in Carlisle who stresses fundamentals and team basketball has been ideal for Doncic, not that he’s surprised by the results.
“It’s all predictable,” he said. “I anticipated he’d come in here and do what he’s doing. He knows how to play. He’s mature. He’s played with countless NBA players. So he’s not awestruck by that.
“And the NBA game is more conducive to his skillset, with the spacing and the way he handles the ball, with his size. So it’s a perfect setting for him and his skillset.”
Helping with Doncic’s off-the-court assimilation to the NBA and America is Alyson Furch, BDA’s senior director of communication. She organizes and filters his growing mountain of national and international interview requests and marketing obligations.
“I’m so happy because I know my son and I see how he behaves with somebody and they are like close friends,” said Poterbin, who often sits with Furch at Mavericks games. “She makes him laugh. They are joking all the time. So cute.”
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SOURCE: Sports Day, by Brad Townsend