LeBron James has an appreciation for Luka Doncic’s play and Christmas game

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic defends Lakers forward LeBron James.
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, defending LeBron James during an Oct. 31, 2018 game, is a contender for NBA MVP this season.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

After Luka Doncic played against LeBron James for the first time, he walked to the Lakers locker room for a souvenir he had always wanted — James’ game-worn jersey.

“Strive for greatness,” James wrote on the uniform he gifted to the Dallas Mavericks guard.

James glimpsed greatness in Doncic that night in 2018 because of a skill he appreciated the most, one that stands apart from the rest of the tools in his chest.


On Thursday, one day before the Lakers (0-1) host Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks (0-1) at Staples Center, James detailed the thing he saw in great players that made him stop to appreciate what they do.

“I think it’s the game in between the game. … Guys that can make plays happen before you can read, before a lot of players on the floor can see them,” he said. “It’s not about the actual scoring the ball. It’s about making passes and reads throughout the game where even their particular teammate didn’t see that it was coming to them or the defender didn’t see it. Those are the plays that get me in the ‘wow’ moment or the ‘damn’ moment.

“Those are the plays that kind of drive me.”

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Doncic isn’t a wide-eyed rookie anymore. He’s an MVP candidate with an all-around offensive game and an ability to see plays unfold before they actually do. Last season, he pushed Dallas to the most efficient offense in NBA history.

In his team’s season opener Wednesday, Doncic was more of a scorer than a distributor, dropping 32 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists in the Mavericks’ 106-102 loss in Phoenix.

James said previously that he identified Doncic years ago as someone he wanted to bring under his brand within Nike, creating an opportunity for the two basketball visionaries to collaborate. James is still open to that … though Doncic has done fine on his own, starting when he turned pro as a teenager in Europe.

“I’ve always had an open-door policy. You know that. Obviously, you never want to force anything, force a relationship with anybody,” James said. “Everything he’s doing right now, it doesn’t look like he needs any insight. Doesn’t look like he needs an assistance with what he’s doing.”

The on-court competition is going to be what drives the emotion Friday because the typical pageantry of a Christmas Day game will be absent with the stands empty because of the ongoing pandemic.

Usually “on Christmas, you know that you’re going to have that Christmas feeling. There are going to be a lot of celebrities at the game, a lot of excitement.” James said. “People have opened their gifts, everyone is excited. it’s a day of giving for a lot of us. And then being at Staples Center, I’ve gotten the opportunity to play here on Christmas as a Laker and also as an opponent. It’s just a beautiful feeling being here, but it’s not the same without the Laker faithful, without the fans, without celebrity row, without the bright lights. It’s just a totally different feeling. It’s just strictly basketball, which is fine.

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“But our game is entertainment as well. And when you’re out there, you hope to entertain some people live as well. But we have to do it. Hopefully we know we’re making a mark while they’re watching the game.”


James said his ankle, which he rolled in the second half of the season opener, won’t keep him from playing Friday. “I’ve never missed a Christmas Day game, so I don’t plan on missing one tomorrow.” … Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he didn’t address his team in regard to the Houston Rockets, who had to have their game Wednesday postponed because they didn’t have enough players available due to contact-tracing protocols.



When: 5 p.m. Friday

On the air: TV: ABC/ESPN. Radio: 710, 1330

Update: LeBron James’ mild ankle sprain won’t spoil Christmas dinner, as he and the Lakers will be ready for Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. The Lakers will have to get out to a better defensive start than they did in the season opener, with Dallas owning one of the NBA’s most potent offenses. A big key will be center Marc Gasol, who is looking to bounce back from a rough debut.