Born 16 years apart. Dejan Bodiroga was retired for more than eight years already when Luka Doncic made his Turkish Airlines EuroLeague debut. As products of different eras, it is almost futile to compare their playing styles. However, two things are clearly true: when they were at their best, there was no stopping either of them. And as do-it-all superstars, they are players who would thrive in any era.
Bodiroga, who was selected to the 2000-2010 All-Decade Team, was already at the peak of his game when that decade began. He joined Panathinaikos in the summer of 1998 and led it to a EuroLeague crown in 2000. The modern EuroLeague was formed the following season and in his first season in the competition, he carried the Greens to another championship. That would be Bodiroga’s final season in Greece, but he moved to FC Barcelona and in his first season there led that team to its first EuroLeague title ever. Bodiroga was the Final Four MVP for both the 2002 and 2003 championships and had there been a full-season MVP awarded in those years, he would have been a serious candidate for that trophy, too. Bodiroga played a total of three seasons with Barca and then two more with Virtus Rome before retiring at the age of 34. He was still a force in his final season, during which Bodiroga posted averaged of 13.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals in 19 EuroLeague games.
Doncic, a member of the 2010-2020 All-Decade Team, came upon the EuroLeague as a fast-rising tidal wave. The native of Slovenia joined Real Madrid’s youth department at age 13 and was 16 when he made his first team debut late in the 2014-15 season. He finished that season by leading Los Blancos to the EuroLeague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament championship and taking home tournament MVP honors. Doncic cracked the Real rotation the next season and became a part-time starter in the one after that, during which he was chosen the recipient of the EuroLeague Rising Star Trophy. In 2017-18, Doncic put on a show for the ages as an 18-year-old. He stepped into the shoes of the reigning league MVP Sergio Llull and with one amazing performance after another, led Real to the EuroLeague championship while capturing league MVP and Final Four MVP honors and taking home another Rising Star Trophy. That would be Doncic’s final EuroLeague season as he then accepted an offer from Dallas and quickly took the NBA by storm, too.
Mismatches were at the heart of both players’ games. At 2.05 meters, Bodiroga often played small forward where he could overpower defenders. When he moved to the ‘4’, Bodiroga relied on his wide array of low-post moves aided by his quick feet to dance around opposing big men. Playing point guard at 2.00 meters in height, Doncic possesses the speed and athleticism to attack the basket, the length and technique to separate and get his shots off against defenders of all sizes and shooting range out past the three-point line, which together is enough to keep any defender off-balance.
The two players could have been stars in any era. Bodiroga was an outstanding three-point shooter for a big man during a time when three-pointers were not taken nearly as often as in the modern game. Doncic’s rare mix of speed and size, playmaking and scoring would allow him to break up defenses in any decade.
In the decades they were chosen, each also led his respective national team to great heights. Bodiroga won gold medals at EuroBasket 2001 and the 2002 World Championships with Yugoslavia. Doncic captured the gold at EuroBasket 2017 with Slovenia.
Any way you look at it, Bodiroga and Doncic were not only among the biggest stars of their decades in the EuroLeague, but should be on the short list of the greatest European basketball players ever.