’The “others” can only get you so far. When push comes to shove, it’s the superstars that are responsible for putting their team over the top. On Tuesday night at Fiserv Forum, it was the “Greek Freak” that put his teammates and the entire city of Milwaukee on his back, allowing the “Cream City” to taste an NBA championship for the first time in a half-century.
The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns 105-98 to win the 2021 NBA Finals, the organization’s first championship since 1971.
With an opportunity to win his first ring, Giannis Antetokounmpo put on an all-time show Tuesday night, putting up a ridiculous 50 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks stat line, while shooting 17 of 19 from the free throw line.
For all those who have grown weary of the “player empowerment” movement, of All-Star players teaming up to form “super teams,” this is the result for you.
Unlike many superstars in recent years, Antetokounmpo chose the road less traveled, deciding to stick with the team that drafted him after signing a supermax extension in the offseason. It was a choice that went against the grain in today’s NBA, and it was a choice that paid off in a big way.
“I couldn’t leave. There was a job that had to be finished,” Antetokounmpo said. “I feel like the bubble did not pay us justice. Give credit to the Miami Heat. They played great, but it did not pay us justice. Everybody was feeling homesick. We are a family-oriented team, wanted to see our families. But coming back, I was like, ‘This is my city. They trust me. They believe in me. They believe in us.'”
“It’s easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else. It’s easy. I could go to a super team and just do my part and win a championship.”
It certainly wasn’t the easy path for Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee was bounced from the playoffs early the past two seasons. They blew a 2-0 lead to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals and laid an absolute egg against the Miami Heat in last year’s Orlando Bubble. Heading into the 2021 season, many had written them off as nothing more than a great regular season team. With the Brooklyn Nets adding James Harden, it looked inevitable that the Bucks would once again disappoint.
They mortgaged their future by acquiring Jrue Holiday — giving up Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, two first-round draft picks, and two pick swaps in the process. They went down 2-0 to the star-ladened Brooklyn Nets and nervously watched as their superstar had to be helped off the court against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals after hyperextending his knee.
But all champions have scars born of adversity, and no one has more scars than Antetokounmpo.
From playing in the Greek second division to reaching the pinnacle of the NBA, the journey for Antetokounmpo has been nothing short of miraculous.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “I’ve done it all, man. I did anything that I could just to be on the court, just to be in this position. I’ve not played. I’ve come off the bench. When I was 18, I started on the team. I went to the front office and told them to send me to the G League. I’ve played point guard. I’ve only defended. Slashed from the corners and everything. In my fourth year, I was able to lead as a ball handler.”
“I’ve done it all. Tonight, that’s what I had to do. I had to do a little bit of everything. I had to defend, I had to rebound, I had to block. Did a little bit of everything.”
It was a journey that was almost stopped dead in its tracks just three weeks ago.
During game four of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, Antetokounmpo landed awkwardly on his left leg as he contested an alley-oop, causing his knee to buckle grotesquely. To the fans watching at home, Antetokounmpo’s season appeared to be over, with months of rehab ahead of him.
But it turned out to be simply another roadblock for Giannis and the Bucks to hurdle over.
After missing the remaining games of the Conference Finals, Antetokounmpo somehow returned for the NBA Finals at nearly full-strength. He had a lot of help along the way, but his averages of an absurd 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks per game in the series stand out.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the 1st player in NBA Finals history to average 30+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists on at least 60% shooting.
61.8 FG% pic.twitter.com/PTBDmDl3Es
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) July 21, 2021
As the horn sounded at the end of the fourth, Antetokounmpo could barely control his emotions. He walked over to the baseline, taking a few moments to soak in what he had just accomplished and the difficult journey it took for him to get there.
“Don’t let nobody tell you what you can be and what you cannot do. Don’t let nobody tell you what you can be and what you cannot do. People told me I cannot make free throws. I made my free throws tonight and I’m a freaking champion… Just believe, man,” Antetokounmpo said. “I hope I give people around the world, from Africa, from Europe, hope that it can be done. It can be done.”
“Eight years ago, eight and a half years ago, when I came to the league, I didn’t know where my next meal will come from. My mom was selling stuff in the street. Now I’m here sitting at the top of the top. I’m extremely blessed. I’m extremely blessed. If I never have a chance to sit on this table ever again, I’m fine with it. I’m fine with it. I hope this can give everybody around the world hope. I want them to believe in their dreams.”
The Bucks are a throw-back to the NBA teams we so fondly remember. The Detroit Pistons of the ’80s went through years of heartbreak before finally breaking through in 1989. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls lost in excruciating fashion to the very same Pistons before vanquishing their rivals in 1991. And now the Bucks have finally plowed through their own wall.
The Bucks have reached the top of the mountain, and their two-time MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and now NBA Finals MVP, is the reason why. Antetokounmpo refused to take the easy way out. He chose to stay, and the Larry O’Brien Trophy is his reward.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to [email protected]
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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