Trademarking Luka Doncic

On the court, the Slovenian NBA star has been putting up a string of stellar performances for the Dallas Mavericks. Off the court, he just ended a legal battle with his mother over his commercial rights

NBA: Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic shoots a three-pointer during a game against the Miami Heat.TOM PENNINGTON (Getty Images via AFP)
Juan Morenilla

Who does Luka Doncic belong to? In the NBA, the Slovenian star is the goose that lays the golden eggs. His impact on the game equals that of the league’s biggest stars. The combination of his youth (he’s just 23 years old), his amazing ability to score points and make spectacular plays and his charisma have rendered him a bankable star in the sports world and beyond – which not only benefits him and his team, the Dallas Mavericks, but also the EuroBasket championship and basketball in general. Indeed, Luka’s image is so lucrative that he even started a war within his own family. On the basketball court, he has been stringing together one dazzling performance after another; off the court, Doncic just settled a legal dispute with his mother, Mirjam Poterbin, over control of his brand.

The dispute began in the summer of 2018, when Doncic debuted in the NBA after his stint with Real Madrid. Mirjam – a former model who is divorced from Luka’s father, former basketball player Sase Doncic – went on to manage the marketing of her son’s name for the label Luka Doncic 7. She continued to do so until he sued her for what he considered to be rightfully his: “I want to grow as a player and it’s important to regain control of my brand,” he said. But Mirjam refused to lose her meal ticket in another chapter of family strife. For years, Doncic did not speak to his father, who had taken him to Madrid while his mother was seduced by Estudiantes [a Spanish basketball team] and more money. Last September, the Mavericks star filed a petition with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the earlier trademark and register his own, Luka Doncic 77 (the number of his jersey in the NBA). Luka’s claim was denied, and mother and son began a court dispute, with Luka’s father commenting on television. But Doncic withdrew the lawsuit, and the two sides appear to have reached a settlement, or at least a truce. With his own line of sneakers, Nike’s Jordan Luka 1s, and “Luka magic” on the court, the business opportunities surrounding Doncic are quite lucrative.

He can score from the most unexpected places in the most unanticipated ways: from behind the basket, the hallway leading to the locker room, with his back turned, a three-pointer by pushing the ball with his shoulder... He’s like a Harlem Globetrotter. On the court, he sets record after record and opposing teams do not know how to stop him.

This season, Doncic has averaged 33.6 points a game for a total of 1,444 points scored. He is locked in a battle with Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics for the league’s scoring title. Doncic is hugely important to Dallas. The Slovenian scores 26.6% of his team’s overall points, a higher percentage than other stars such as Tatum of the Celtics (25.1), Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks (21.5), LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers (19.8) and Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets (19.5). He scored 34 points, hauled in 12 rebounds and dished seven assists in the Mavericks’ 115-90 win over the Miami Heat last Friday night, but it was just another day at the office for the man who posted a stat line of 60 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists against the New York Knicks in December. “I need a beer to recover,” he said after his historic triple double.

Doncic is second in All-Star voting among guards in the Western Conference; he’s behind only Stephen Curry and well ahead of Ja Morant. This would be his fourth consecutive All-Star Game; he’s also aiming to make the All-NBA team this season. “I knew he was going to be a major player in the NBA, but [I thought it would be] in a few years, not this soon,” Rudy Fernández, Doncic’s teammate during his time in Madrid, told El PAÍS. “He’s still the same kid who was coming up with us. He is accomplishing everything because of his smarts; that’s his secret, in addition to his talent,” adds the forward.

Luka is also moving ever closer to his goal of becoming the NBA’s MVP (most valuable player), an award that has gone to a European player for the last four years: Greece’s Antetokounmpo won it twice, as did Serbia’s Jokic. The Slovenian’s desire to win a championship seems less likely to happen this season. The Mavericks have a superstar in Doncic, but he receives little help from his teammates. Jason Kidd, the Dallas head coach, is imploring his players to play better defense. Doncic is hoping that the team will be active before the NBA trade deadline on February 9. On a mural by artist Preston Pannek, Doncic appears holding a sign that says, “Please send help.” Amid rumors of Luka’s unhappiness, Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, has stated publicly that Doncic has not demanded that Dallas acquire new players. The Mavericks are currently in fifth place in the Western conference, behind Denver, Memphis, Sacramento and New Orleans.

There is no doubt that, for better or for worse, as Luka Doncic goes, so go the Mavericks. That was also the case for Slovenia’s team in the most recent Eurobasket tournament. The team was defending its championship, but was beaten by Poland in the quarterfinals. Doncic fouled out of the game in the final minutes and sat with his head buried in a towel; both his body and his pride were wounded. “I let my team and my country down,” the superstar said after Slovenia was unexpectedly eliminated from the tournament.

Luka Doncic during the Eurobasket quarterfinals in which he played for the Slovenian team.
Luka Doncic during the Eurobasket quarterfinals in which he played for the Slovenian team.FILIP SINGER (EFE)

Luka’s on-court dominance was such that when Slovenia needed a team and not just a superstar, it was as if Doncic was by himself. He held the ball so much – on a team that also featured Goran Dragic, Klemen Prepelic and Mike Tobey – that the rest of the players weren’t in a rhythm when they were needed. Slovenia’s team was all Luka, all the time. On more than one occasion, he was the only player on his team to touch the ball on offense. He received the ball on the baseline, advanced, dribbled and shot, while his four teammates looked on as if they were mannequins or watching a game on television. Doncic – who argued calls with the referees as they allowed him to voice his every complaint – averaged 26 points a game during the tournament (28.5% of his team’s points), compared to 29.3 points for Antetokounmpo (31.8%) and 21.7 points for Jokic (23.6%). Only Antetokounmpo’s team had the ideal lineup. Eurobasket’s three powerhouses were eliminated and Spain, which had a complete team, won the championship.

With that disappointment behind him, Doncic returned to his formidable NBA routine. He is so productive and still so young that some believe that he could be the greatest scorer of all time. However, Luka himself dismisses the idea of playing indefinitely at an elite level like LeBron James is currently doing. “I don’t plan to play 20 years; I’d rather go back to my farm in Slovenia,” he says with a smile. Until then, Luka Doncic is a brand unto himself.

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