Luka Doncic Is the Biggest Sicko the NBA Has Seen in Years

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When you think of elite, dominant, I’m going to eviscerate you and all you can do is watch athletes, the image that comes to mind is probably not a schlubby Eastern European guy with a neck beard and tiger tattoo. Unless the sport in question is some sort of pub game, or being shot at by John Wick, those types of guy have historically been left out of the conversation. No longer.

Thanks to Luka Doncic, the 25-year-old, newly-crowned Western Conference champion, a new sort of basketball rabble rouser will get a crack at the championship. The young Slovenian, by his own admission, cannot move fast. He harbors a tremendous respect for Hard Rock Cafe nachos. It’s not really clear whether or not he exercises outside of basketball, which is fine, honestly—the act of playing oneself into shape during the season is fairly common practice for a certain subset of the NBA. But one thing Doncic can do, which he’s proved over and over again during this sainted playoff run, is douse you in gasoline, casually light a match, and drop 35 on your head.

After Thursday night’s convincing win in Minnesota, Doncic and the fifth-seeded Dallas Mavericks are on their way to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2011, when a different European giant was behind the wheel. As Doncic was feasting on timberwolf carcass all series, the fewest amount of points he scored in any of the five games was 28. Coincidentally, that was the only game the Mavs lost. (We can’t rule out the possibility that Doncic wanted to take the series in Minnesota, just to really stick it to them.) In the team’s four wins over the Wolves, Doncic averaged 33.5 points.

But it’s the way that he does it that’s so breathtaking to watch. As a viewer, you experience a mixture of wishing he’d go easy on the opposition—to stop shoveling dirt on a grave that’s already dug—but also wanting to see what kind of sadistic trick he pulls next. Perhaps the seminal moment of these playoffs is Doncic hunting Rudy Gobert for sport atop the three-point line before sinking the shot that officially cemented his place as one of the NBA’s all-time sickos. That’s not to say Doncic hasn’t always been like this—he’s made five All-NBA teams in his six years and built a reputation as one of the game’s most artful scorers—but the Game 2 winner over Gobert was the most perfect encapsulation of his whole deal.

That’s just mean. Even better—at least if you like fiendish, gladiator-like destruction of a helpless man—it was pointedly mean. Doncic specifically wanted the switch onto Gobert, who has four Defensive Player of the Year trophies (including this year’s) and has a documented history of being one of the NBA’s least-liked players. Not only that, Doncic did it on Gobert’s home floor, and elected to go for a shot that would give Dallas the win, not merely the tie. What came afterward was the stuff of legend. A roaring “motherfucker, you can’t guard me” was followed by a sit-down with the Inside the NBA crew where he calmly explained that Gobert was the defender he wanted. He’s done this before, too: the first time he directed a you can’t guard me at the tall Frenchman was two years ago in the playoffs, after a different, slightly less humiliating takedown of Gobert. It was almost like he spent years meticulously setting up the second one in this year’s playoffs, saving his filthiest move for the bigger stage. Serial killer shit, really.

What makes Luka Doncic so compelling is the same thing that makes the playground bully so compelling: there’s a perverse joy in watching him work, but you’re just praying it doesn’t happen to you. In that respect, Doncic is cut from the same cloth as guys like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and dare we say Michael Jordan. All generational talents, all respected by their peers, but also someone their peers would tell you is a grade-A meanie. That’s what it takes sometimes—and the lack of killer instinct has felled many hoopers before them. But for Doncic—who closed out Minnesota with 36 points, his highest total of the 2024 postseason—a huge part of his potency comes from this brutishness. He loves this stuff. Nothing makes him happier than embarrassing someone, and whether that’s ethical or even cool, boy does it make for some entertaining basketball.

While Nikola Jokic—the reigning champion, and fellow Slavic sensation—is guided by an ethos of who cares, it’s just a game, the only thing dismissive about Doncic is his attitude toward the dudes trying to check him. It seems fair to say that the five-alarm heater Doncic has been on this spring is motivated more by wanting the other guys to lose as much as he wants to win. Frankly, that should terrify the Boston Celtics, who don’t have anyone on the roster with nearly the same mentality.

If Doncic and the Mavericks can pull off the upset over Boston in the Finals (FanDuel currently has the Mavs at +184 to win the series), not only will it cap off one of the most impressive playoff marches ever—five Luka triple doubles and counting, 7-2 record on the road, lower seed in each round—it will be a huge win for everyone powered by spite. Maybe he’ll even get to finish that beer.

Originally Appeared on GQ