Mark Cuban, like many basketball fans, has been enamored by the play of Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic. The difference between Cuban and many basketball fans is that the latter have not used their perch as the owner of the team for which Doncic plays to serve up a hot take that talks up hoops in Slovenia at the expense of the way the game is taught in America.
Cuban spoke to George Efkarpide of Eurohoops.net and said that children are taught how to play the game of basketball in Slovenia, compared to in America, where the emphasis is on mixtapes. Here’s his full quote:
“It is important because you’re used to people being older than you but I think he just learned how to play basketball and that’s the biggest gift. When you’re gifted as he is and you actually learn to play the game. If you look at the basketball education of kids starting at 11-years old in Europe and particularly Slovenia which is basketball oriented.
If we took our best kids and seven years before they are McDonald’s All-American, we sent them over to Slovenia to get an education, the league would be a thousand times better. They just learn how to play basketball while our guys learn how to dunk and put together mixtapes.”
Now of course, while Doncic is a wonderful basketball players whose skill goes far beyond his age, this is a ludicrous statement, as evidenced by the fact that there are two Slovenian dudes in the NBA right now and hundreds of guys with a wide variety of skill sets from the United States. There’s a hair of truth in it in that European basketball players usually get praised for their skill and feel for the game, but to say American basketball players don’t learn how to play basketball and instead learn how to be mixtape heroes is absurd.
Cuban has tried to defend himself on Twitter since these comments started making their way around the web. He retweeted Efkarpide’s explanation of the comment and sent a few tweets, one of which linked to an article on The Ringer about NBA teams adopting the academy model that exists for soccer clubs in Europe.
There’s certainly a conversation to be had about the role AAU has in basketball — namely by removing stakeholders who have a vested interest in how far children go in their careers — and how an academy system would impact the way basketball is taught in America, but there’s a bit of a difference between that and “Slovenians learn how to play basketball while Americans learn how to dunk.” In the eyes of Mavericks wing Harrison Barnes, no matter what Cuban meant, these comments were not cool.
Barnes is right in that part of what makes basketball so unique in the United States is it brings together a countless number of perspectives. It is a kind of diversity that should be celebrated, both in terms of the people who take the floor and the way they play the game of basketball.