MIAMI (AP) — The game had been over for at least half an hour and 2,000 people remained in the stands at AmericanAirlines Arena, all of them standing.
They wore Slovenia jerseys. Miami jerseys. Dallas jerseys.
And when Goran Dragic — the player of the night — emerged from the locker room for his curtain call, the roar was deafening. They jumped and chanted, all these Slovenians who made the trip to Miami to see Dragic vs. Luka Doncic, their favorite native sons, meet as NBA opponents for the first time.
“Unbelievable,” Dragic said after escaping the throngs of people and signing dozens of their jerseys, flags, hats and, in one case, a pocketbook. “Every athlete is dreaming about this, to connect with the fans. I really appreciate them.”
Dragic and Doncic appreciated them as well, and the fans got the fantastic show that they were hoping to see. Dragic had his second-career triple-double — 23 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists — and he and Miami topped Doncic and Dallas 105-99 on Thursday night.
“It was a special night,” said Doncic, whose mother was among those in the crowd in Miami as well. “It was something special to me. I really appreciate everyone coming in and it was a very special night.”
Doncic, the likely frontrunner for rookie of the year, missed 12 of his 18 shots but still finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Dragic outscored him 9-1 in the fourth, when the Heat outscored the Mavericks 30-17 to rally from a seven-point hole entering the final quarter.
“Goran was electrifying,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Despite their age difference — Dragic turns 33 in May, Doncic just turned 20 last month — they have been close for years. They were roommates and the best two players for Slovenia two summers ago when the tiny nation won the EuroBasket title. That championship provided, unquestionably, the best sport moment in Slovenian history.
This Miami-Dallas game was a huge deal for Slovenia as well. Many journalists from Slovenia made the trip, along with all those fans. So for one night, Miami may as well have been Ljubljana.
“The building was electric for those two,” Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki said. “They’re heroes over there. Both had great games and played great floor games. Dragic had a triple-double and Luka is always close to one. Dragic was fantastic tonight.”
This season for Miami has been all about it being the final year of Dwyane Wade’s career, and after games Wade has been trading a jersey with an opposing player in a quick on-court ceremony.
He got upstaged Thursday and didn’t mind — while he was trading with Dallas’ Devin Harris, Dragic and Doncic were exchanging their jerseys as well.
Predictably, the fans loved that, too.
“You can’t question their enthusiasm,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “This was wild tonight. It was really wild. Having Dragic and Doncic out there, it was like a feeding frenzy for them, which is great. It speaks to the world-wide stretch of the NBA game. It was pretty cool.”
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBAbasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports