Giannis Antetokounmpo – not even invited to the 2013 NBA Draft green room – rose from his seat in the crowd as his name was called with the No. 15 pick. He put on a Bucks hat, took the stage and shook the commissioner’s hand. A relatively unknown prospect from Greece’s second division, Antetokounmpo said, “I will prove to the Milwaukee Bucks that they made the right choice.”
Eight years later, Antetokounmpo put on a Bucks championship hat, took a seat in the front row and cried.
Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee to its first title in 50 years, becoming first established star in a decade to win NBA Finals MVP without leaving his original team – and making even better on his draft-night pledge.
“I’m a people pleaser,” Antetokounmpo said. “I don’t like letting people down. When I re-signed with the city of Milwaukee, that’s the main reason I re-signed. I didn’t want to let the people down.”
With such a gratifying championship, Antetokounmpo has elevated himself even higher in the pantheon of all-time greats. The 26-year-old is the second-youngest player to win MVP, All-Star MVP and NBA Finals MVP (behind Tim Duncan). The only players to win all three honors are truly the elite of the elite:
Aside from Bryant – whom Antetokounmpo idolized – everyone else on that list entered the NBA a star or, at the very least, on the clear track to superstardom.
Antetokounmpo began his career in a moderate role an ATROCIOUS Bucks team. The Greece native was in so far over his head, he one day took a cab to Western Union to wire his family money, didn’t leave himself enough for cab fare and just ran toward the arena until Milwaukee a fan gave him a ride. The Bucks lost their first four summer-league games the next summer.
Yet, Antetokounmpo tweeted:
“I didn’t understood it. I wouldn’t make it. I wouldn’t make that statement,” Antetokounmpo said now. “But that’s what I believed.
“You know how little kids are very honest? You act like a kid, a five-year-old kid. I might gain some pounds, and he’s going to respond, ‘Yeah, you’re fat.’ Like, they’re brutally honest. That was me at that point. I was so honest.”
As much as Antetokounmpo worked to hold up his end of the bargain, winning 2017 Most Improved Player, the Bucks didn’t keep up. He didn’t even win a playoff series until his sixth season – a historically slow start for someone who won MVP. Milwaukee’s missteps were numerous.
Even once entering championship contention just three years ago, Antetokounmpo didn’t experience his long-desired satisfaction. He and the Bucks have experienced so much heartache, embarrassment, drama and fear.
But Antetokounmpo kept pushing himself.
His great block and alley-oop finish in this series will go down in history, proof of Antetokounmpo’s unique dominance. Yet, those plays didn’t address Antetokounmpo’s relative weakness of scoring within the halfcourt offense against a good set defense, the type of situation that arises more frequently deep in the playoffs.
Antetokounmpo answered that challenge in Game 6, though. He scored with stunning craft while maintaining the defense that earned him 2020 Defensive Player of the Year. His Game 6 – 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks – was one for the ages.
This was the increasingly rare instance of a superstar figuring out how to adjust, not running from his problems.
“It’s easy to go somewhere and go and win a championship with somebody else,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s easy. I could go – I don’t want to put anybody on the spot. But I could go to a super team and just do my part and win a championship and still won. But this is the hard way to do it. And this is the way [bangs table]. And we did it. We f***ing did it. We did it, man.”
Antetokounmpo then kissed the Larry O’Brien Trophy cradled in his right arm.
His next goal?
“I’m going to be serious with you. This might sound cocky. I don’t want to be,” Antetokounmpo said. “I want to develop a time machine that I can go back in time in my rookie year to win the Rookie of the Year. And if I won the Rookie of the Year, I’ve won it all. And then late in my career, I’m going to win Sixth Man of the Year, too. I’m going to come off the bench.”
Antetokounmpo was in great spirits last night.
He danced. He shouted victoriously about his free throws (17-for-19). He joked about the 2014 tweet: “I’m out now. Can I leave now? I want a trade. Who I got to talk to for a trade? Jon? S***, I want the trade.”
Antetokounmpo also had that emotional moment sitting courtside shortly after the final buzzer. He thought about his parents, how they sacrificed to help him achieve his dreams. He thought about his brothers, how they help him remain levelheaded through his stubborn streaks. He thought about his girlfriend, how she makes him a better person and cares for their son. Of course, Antetokounmpo is right to appreciate them.
But he did this.
He defied the odds. He built himself into an all-time great. He led the Bucks to a championship.
And he deserves every ounce of praise coming his way.
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