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Miami – The capital of Slovenia

Two thousand Slovenians in the stands of the American Airlines Arena in Miami

Eight NBA games were played that night, but none was as high-profile as the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. Two thousand Slovenians in the stands of the American Airlines Arena in Miami and Dragić’s second triple-double in the NBA league leading the Heat to a 105:99 win were the major news of the day.

"One of the most amazing fan sights I have ever seen. Here, in Miami. This is surreal. Enjoy friends!!!! The 2000 Slovenians are still celebrating @Goran_Dragic and @MiamiHEAT and security will NOT remove them from the AAA.", wrote American journalist Jim Consolantis on Twitter after the game between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks on 29 March.

Social networks, particularly Twitter, were full of tweets about the historical first head-to-head meeting between the Slovenian national team captain and the Wonderboy. Americans, who are not used to such an atmosphere on sports grounds, were amazed at and admired the energy and joy of the Slovenian fans. "The game in Miami has been over for at least half an hour and 2,000 Slovenian fans have remained in the stands," wrote the American journalist, a few minutes later adding: "Goran Dragić has just emerged from the locker room. He took the microphone and began chanting. All 2000 Slovenians were jumping ... Unbelievable! For one night, Miami may as well have been Ljubljana."

Foreign media from other countries which report on the NBA league have also written about the Slovenian night in Miami. The Spanish newspaper Marca wrote about the Slovenian party in Miami, while As from Madrid quoted the words of the head coach of the Miami Heat, Erik Spoelstra: "Miami has become the capital of Slovenia." 2000 Slovenians are a proof that, in Slovenia, basketball is so much more than a sport, they wrote at As.

Other participants in the game could not help but wonder at the atmosphere in the arena. Coach Erik Spoelstra said that he had never seen Goran Dragić so motivated. "It was his night and he enjoyed every minute of it."

Wild night

Dwyane Wade, who is retiring after this NBA season and swaps jerseys with an opposing player after each game, also had to wait for his moment. Photographers and cameramen wanted first to catch on camera the exchange of jerseys between the two stars from Slovenia. The head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, Rick Carlisle, also commented on the atmosphere in the arena: "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. I hope that we will see more such nights in the future."

Legendary Dirk Nowitzki said: "The building was electric for those two." They’re heroes over there. Both played great floor games. Dragic had a triple-double and Luka is always close to one."

The Slovenian national team captain and the Wonderboy thanked the Slovenian fans who had travelled 8,323 kilometres from Ljubljana to Miami. Goran Dragić wrote above the photograph of him in company with Slovenian fans: "Tonight was incredible. Thank you to my country for all the love and support. Will never forget it."

Under the video in which he is greeting fans after the end of the game, Luka Dončić wrote: "This is just amazing!!!"

A small army of Slovenian fans came to Miami to watch the game, hoping to see Luka Dončić play a great game and strengthen his position as the favourite for the best rookie in the NBA. On the other hand, they also hoped to see Dragić’s Miami Heat win the game, as the Heat can still get to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.

The atmosphere in the arena was incredible, which surprised even Americans, as it rarely – in fact almost never – happens that two foreign NBA basketball players at a game have such support from their compatriots in the stands. One could already tell that something big was going on by taking a look at the situation at various European airports, where airport staff, faced with an invasion of happy Slovenians, were wondering if there might be a world championships happening somewhere!

Text by Vesna Žarkovič
Photo: STA