OF GENUINENESS AND DOMINANCE

Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

With just under twenty seconds left in last night’s Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the chants in Milwaukee’s fiserv.forum were getting louder. “Bucks in six!” Finally allowing himself to accept the fact that the game was effectively over and his ultimate dream was just about to materialize, Giannis Antetokounmpo raised his 7’3″ arms in the air. “BUCKS IN SIX!” The dominant player of the 2021 Finals gained a hop in his step as a 50 year title-drought was mere seconds away from being over.

The teenager who famously (and with a noticeable accent) had phrased the early phase of his dream as “wanting to be an NBA player” during one of his first scouting interviews back in 2013 found himself having just fulfilled the expanded version of said dream. An NBA champion, clutching the Bill Russel Finals MVP trophy, and in a charming way that is as disarming as it is characteristically Giannis, he dropped multiple f-bombs in front of an audience of tens of millions around the world during the live post-game interview.

Just three weeks after suffering a gruesome-looking hyperextension of his left knee, the Greek Freak delivered an NBA Finals performance for the ages. To put things into perspective, the Podfather Bill Simmons created a metric to help judge Playoff performances that adds up points, rebounds, and assists. A sum of 42 or higher is deemed elite. Giannis’ 2021 Playoff average of 48 in this category puts him in elite company with the game’s most dominant figures (like Shaq on the Lakers from ’00-’02).

In last night’s close-out Game 6, Antetokuonmpo delivered a sixty-six. A 66 (50, 14, and 2) with five blocks to be exact. Just let that breath for a second … Out of 63 points that the Bucks scored in the second half, Giannis accounted for 33. To put it midly, the 26-year-old delivered an otherworldly performance that is sure to subsequently fulfill the challenge issued to Giannis by the late great Kobe Bryant.

But it’s not just his tremendous on-court performance that makes Antetokounmpo a fan favorite in Milwaukee and across the globe. It’s also the people he was seeking out in the crowd immediately after the whistle blew. Waving and directing traffic, Giannis made sure that his parents and his brothers were allowed onto the court to be right there with him when he was handed the trophy.

Family comes first for the Antetokounmpos. It always has. That’s why it was so important for Giannis to have his family close during this moment of triumph and why the victory is so much sweeter because he won it in front of his new family, the Milwaukee community that embraced him, and with the Bucks team that believed in him and took a chance on him.

It’s definitely one of my goals [to stick it out with one franchise]. Kobe [Bryant] did it. Tim Duncan did it. Dirk Nowitzki did it. I just want to be one of those guys that stays for the city, plays for the city for 20 years.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on the Milwaukee Bucks
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s the unique mixture of utter on-court dominance, genuine joy and love for the game, unfiltered authenticity, and a rare down-to-earth humbleness that gives Giannis an almost unanimous approval-rating – both among his peers as well as basketball fans everywhere – that’s exceptionally hard to find in modern sports. And in true superhero fashion, he even overcame his obvious Kryptonite in the clutch.

“People told me I can’t make free throws,” Giannis said after going 17-19 from the line. Had he only made his Finals average of 53% in Game 6, the Bucks would not have won the game (which they did by just seven points). “I made my free throws tonight! And I’m a freaking champion.” Enough said!

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