In a world where star players force teams to make trades so they can take their talents elsewhere and form super teams, Giannis Antetokounmpo kept his word to the city of Milwaukee by staying put and delivering an NBA championship.
“I'll never leave the team and the city of Milwaukee till we build the team to a championship level team,” The Greek Freak tweeted on July 16, 2014.
On July 20, 2021, Giannis made good on his promise to Milwaukee.
Unstoppable throughout the NBA Finals, Antetokounmpo saved his best game for last, scoring 50 points and hauling in 14 rebounds in the Bucks’ 105-98 title-clinching victory over the Phoenix Suns at Fiserv Forum on Tuesday.
Last offseason, many speculated that Antetokounmpo might leave Cream City to find greener pastures in cities like Miami or San Francisco. He decided to remain in Wisconsin, signing a five-year, $228 million contract extension.
“I just, I couldn't leave,” Antetokounmpo said after Tuesday’s Game 6 victory. “This is my city. They trust me. They believe in me. They believe in us.”
Giannis’ loyalty is the epitome of a local high school star who opted to stay and play for the local public school rather than move across town to play for the powerful prep school. It’s admirable, and his reward was Milwaukee’s first NBA championship since Lew Alcindor’s Bucks won it all in 1971.
Antetokounmpo’s performance in these NBA Finals gave me LeBron James vibes from the 2016 Finals. While the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from being down 3-1 to beat the Golden State Warriors, LeBron’s poise was what was so impressive. Giannis’ aura loomed just as large against the Suns. After being down 0-2, the Bucks won four straight as the power forward shot the ball, glided to the basket and fought like hell to get his team back in the series in the same way that James did.
Antetokounmpo was already a top-five player before his Finals MVP heroics and Finals averages of 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. The Bucks’ championship elevates Giannis above Luka Doncic, but he’s still behind James, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. And what makes Antetokounmpo’s performance against the Suns even more incredible is the fact that he entered the series with legitimate questions about his health after hyperextending his knee in the Eastern Conference finals.
That’s the stuff that winners are made of.
Every NBA great has a sidekick and a supporting cast. Kobe Bryant had Shaquille O’Neal, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom; Larry Bird had Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson and Robert Parish; Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant. With Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, Antetokounmpo was able to get the job done.
The Bucks have arrived, putting all of the other 29 NBA teams on notice, especially the Eastern Conference. So beware, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks.
“We have to enjoy this moment,” Antetokounmpo said. “We have to share this moment. Maybe we might not have another moment like this. Who knows? We can't predict the future. But we have to live in the moment, (so) enjoy this moment.”