MADRID (AP) — Luka Doncic returned to Spain to a warm reception from former club Real Madrid in a preseason game with the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, receiving a standing ovation by the home fans and being honored by his former teammates.
The “Luuukaaa” chants were back in the Spanish capital five years after the star guard left for the NBA, and the Slovenian looked moved while watching his past highlights on the big screen before the game.
Doncic, who was not fully fit, played less than five minutes and scored nine points in Dallas’ 127-123 loss against his former club. Tim Hardaway Jr. led all scorers with 21 points for the Mavs, which also lost its two preseason games against the Minnesota Timberwolves last week in Abu Dhabi.
“I was waiting for this game all summer,” Doncic said. “With the exception of not being able to play more, it was all very special. The whole day was very special.”
Doncic said he couldn’t play more minutes because he was bothered by some hip pain he started feeling in training on Monday.
Facundo Campazzo, who was signed and waived by Dallas last year, led Madrid’s late rally and finished with 20 points for the hosts. Doncic’s former teammate Sergio Llull and Vincent Poirier scored 19 points each for the Spanish club. Doncic went 3 for 6 with one assist, scoring all of his points with 3-pointers.
The Doncic jerseys were everywhere at the Wizink Center arena — the blue ones with the No. 77 that he wears now with the Mavericks, and the white ones with the No. 7 he used to wear with the club he joined as a young teenager.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s a special day for me,” Doncic told the crowd in Spanish before the game. “I’ve seen my former teammates and people I had been with many years ago. Thank you all.”
Doncic received an award by Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez as an honorary member of the club, and was given a replica of one of the trophies he won with Madrid. He held the replica at midcourt alongside some of his former teammates and current Madrid players.
“Luka deserves all of this and a lot more,” Campazzo said.
“Luka is back,” and “Real Madrid will always be your home,” read some of the signs displayed by Madrid fans, many of which got autographs from the former star.
A crowd of nearly 13,000 packed the Wizink Center to see their former idol, often chanting his name in hopes of seeing him go back into the game.
Doncic saluted the crowd and chatted with his former teammates from the bench, at times joking and laughing with them. He also greeted some of Real Madrid’s soccer players on hand, including midfielder Toni Kroos and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
A four-time NBA All-Star and All-NBA First Team member, Doncic was 13 when he joined Real Madrid and went on to become the youngest EuroLeague and EuroLeague Final Four MVP when he led the club to the 2018 title at age 19.
Doncic said he would like to play again for Real Madrid at some point in his career.
“If I do come back, it would be to play for Madrid, for sure,” he said.
It was the first preseason NBA game in the Spanish capital since 2016, when Doncic and Real Madrid hosted — and beat — the Oklahoma City Thunder. He also played for Madrid against the Boston Celtics the year before.
The game was the NBA’s eighth in the Spanish capital and 20th in Spain, coming 35 years after an NBA team first played in the country in 1988.
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