They are like a touring band. Wherever they go, camera flashes, television cameras and a huge crowd of fans await them. Dončićmania spread all over Europe.
Whether the Slovenians play at home or in Turkey, it is almost certain that the hall will be sold out. That was also the preparatory match in Ljubljana’s Stožice Hall, in which Slovenia welcomed Serbia with Nikola Jokić on August 17. Diary N was there.
In it, the spectators were curious not only about the local Dončić, but also about the visiting Nikola Jokić. Both have currently signed contracts in excess of $200 million and are among the NBA’s biggest stars.
When Jokić misses, Slovenians ironically sing “MVP”
It’s not easy to go to a Slovenian match in the era of Luka Dončić, and we only managed it the second time. June’s qualifier for the 2023 World Cup with Croatia attracted such a huge amount of media that a few weeks before the game the Slovenian Basketball Federation sent us a message: “We already have more than 50 registrations, the chance to go to the meeting is minimal, almost zero.”
Slovenia is currently living in basketball, almost three hours before the start of the game, people gathered in the hall in Stožice. The capacity of almost 13,000 seats sold out within a few hours, as was the case with previous home warm-up matches in Celje.
People mainly came in the jerseys of Dončić and Goran Dragić. Both have long been stars in the NBA, in the case of Dončić we can speak of a global superstar and one of the ambassadors of basketball in Europe. This is also reflected in the popularity and sale of souvenirs.
“The bestsellers are t-shirts, but the interest in jerseys is also increasing and now we have a new product, Luka Dončić’s own collection – Stepback. In general, everything related to the Slovenian national team is selling very well at the moment. has to do with the interest in basketball and also the results of the team,” a salesperson from the official store in front of the hall told us.
We arrive at the match well in advance, two hours before kick-off. In these moments, the final details for the organization of the competition are fine-tuned in the hall, including the rehearsal of the light show and various interactions with the public. The first viewers have a clear goal: to try to get an autograph from their favorite star. Numerous groups of fans form in front of the hall and they have the Dončić inscription on their jerseys, T-shirts and socks.
Tennis star and basketball fan Novak Djoković also arrived in Ljubljana, who will miss the US Open because he has not been vaccinated.
A local band will perform in the stadium before the match. In the beginning there is no need for music as the whole sold out arena sings the Slovenian national anthem in unison.
From the opening jump you can feel from the efforts of the teams that it is not just a classic preparatory match. Any unconverted basket from the Serbs will bring home fans the same joy as a converted chance from the Slovenians. People are spontaneous and spare no one, ironically they chant MVP when Nikola Jokić or Vasilije Micić’s attempts are not converted.
In the last two NBA seasons, Jokić even received the MVP award for the most valuable player of the season. As expected, the match soon turned into his duel with Dončić, but the domestic superstar is helped more by his teammates.
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“Cycling is currently popular in our country, because we have Tadej Pogačar with Primož Roglič and everyone is cycling. However, the biggest sports star is Donćić. Basketball has a tradition here – not only in Slovenia, but also throughout the Balkans,” explains the Slovenian journalist Žiga Bojc of the Slovenian news agency.
Slovenia, with a population of two million, is proud of its athletes. “We are just as many Parisians, but we have a lot of big stars, call it Pogačar or former skier Tina Mazeová. However, not only individual athletes are doing well, so are our teams. And we have Dončić, who has such a talent that there has been no one like him in Europe for the past 20 years.”
We asked the fighter how Dončić handles popularity. “I can’t imagine how she must feel. If he came between the fans, right away