Two NBA MVP awards. An NBA title. The 2021 NBA Finals MVP. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks has now officially ascended the ladder in the Association and has to be considered one of the best players of this generation.
Tuesday night’s win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to wrap up the series represented that coming-out moment for the Greek Freak.
We already knew what Antetokounmpo had in him. From the moment Milwaukee made him a mid first-round pick in 2013, something special was brewing in Wisconsin. A lanky 6-foot-11 frame with elite athleticism. Rawness, that if ever fulfilled, would make him among the most-dominating figures in the NBA.
Within just a couple seasons, the Athens native showed us that his trajectory and ceiling was about as high as anything we’ve seen in the known universe -- the NBA’s equivalent of the cosmos.
Fast forward less than a half-decade, and Antetokounmpo is on top of the NBA mountaintop. It came via an otherworldly 50-point performance en route to helping Milwaukee close out the Suns in Game 6 Tuesday evening. The dude was unstoppable. He was unflappable. He was a freight train that ran over everything in his path.
Through the first three quarters Tuesday evening, the Greek Freak had tallied 37 points. The rest of his Bucks teammates combined for 40. That performance allowed Milwaukee to keep the game tied heading into the fourth quarter.
Play after play -- moment after moment -- Antetokounmpo came up big when the rest of his Bucks teammates were simply standing around watching.
It was a sight to behold. It brought back memories of Michael Jordan’s dominating NBA Finals performances. It reminded us of Kobe Bryant hoisting all of those Larry O’Brien trophies with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bill Russell’s dynasty with the Boston Celtics. This isn’t hyperbole, it’s exactly what happened. It was legitimately one of the greatest two-way performances in Finals history.
There are times in professional sports history when a certain figure makes a name for him or herself. Leading up the Olympics, we’re reminded of the likes of Jesse Owens, Michael Phelps and other great American athletes.
On the basketball court, LeBron James’ shocking block of Andre Iguodala in the 2016 NBA Finals might have cemented his legacy as an all-time great. Kevin Durant’s three-pointer over King James in the Finals the following year brought him into that conversation.
But it’s not recency bias to say that Antetokounmpo stood above those two figures in leading the city of Milwaukee to its first NBA title in a half-century. The dude connected on 16-of-25 shots while adding 14 rebounds and five blocks.
For fans on hand at Fiserv Forum and the tens of thousands in the surrounding “Deer District,” this wasn’t solely about winning a single title. It was about relevance on the broader NBA stage, on the larger sports stage.
It brought back memories of old news reels and dusty papers depicting a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leading the Bucks to their first NBA title.
Fifty years later, and artist formerly known as Lewis Alcindor was able to watch his original professional basketball team reach the height of success.
In the process, the star of Antetokounmpo was born.
For the Greece native, it’s been a long path to the mountaintop. His presence on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore didn’t come by accident. It was all about hard work, dedication and maturity in all aspects of his life.
He was born the son of Nigerian immigrants. Before his parents' arrival in the European hub, they were forced to leave behind Giannis’ older brother. It was a move that ended up representing the early portion of Antetokounmpo’s life. Pretty much stateless, without citizenship in either Greece or Nigeria for the first 18 years of his life, he would end up understanding how hard work and a deep-seated knowledge of his family’s history would play in his ascension to stardom.
“Obviously, a lot of people don’t know where I’m from,” Giannis Antetokounmpo told Marc Spears of The Undefeated back in 2019. “A lot of people think my mom or my dad are from Greece, but no. Both of my parents are black. Both of my parents are Nigerian.”
I grew up in a Nigerian home. Obviously, I was born in Greece and went to school in Greece. But at the end of the day when I go home, there is no Greek culture. It’s straight-up Nigerian culture. It’s about discipline, it’s about respecting your elders, having morals.”
Selected after the likes of Anthony Bennett, Cody Zeller, Alex Len and Shabazz Muhammad in the 2013 NBA Draft, Antetokounmpo has now proven all of the skeptics wrong.
He’s hit legendary status. He’s a true star and the face of the NBA. He’s an inspiration to those who will come after him. He’s the king of Milwaukee. He’s the true definition of how hard work and dedication in all aspects of life can combine with decency and humility to lead to success.
Let’s all pour one out for the Greek Freak as he celebrates his first NBA title, knowing full well that it won’t be his last.