MILWAUKEE (AP) — This could have been the offseason in which
Giannis Antetokounmpo entered the free-agent market and perhaps
teamed up with another superstar to try winning multiple NBA titles
Antetokounmpo instead will spend the summer celebrating a
championship he won with the team that picked him.
Leading the Bucks to their first NBA
crown in half century rewarded Antetokounmpo for his December
decision to sign a supermax extension with Milwaukee.
Antetokounmpo averaged 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5 assists to
help the Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns 4-2 in the NBA Finals.
“I could go to a superteam and just do my part and win a
championship,’’ Antetokounmpo said Tuesday as he was flanked by the
Larry O’Brien trophy and his NBA Finals MVP trophy. “But this is
the hard way to do it and this is the way to do it. And we did
Antetokounmpo, 26, stuck with the franchise that had taken a
chance on him eight years ago by selecting him with the 15th
overall pick in the draft. He was just 18 then.
Loyalty matters to Antetokounmpo, who grew up dealing with
poverty in Greece.
He spent much of his postgame news conference thanking the
people who helped get him to this point. He praised the current and
former Bucks officials who assisted in his development. He wore a
T-shirt honoring Jim Paschke, who retired this year
after broadcasting Bucks games for 35 seasons.
Most of all, he spoke about his family while crediting his
Nigerian parents for the sacrifices they made along the way. Three
of their sons have now won NBA championships, though Giannis is the
unquestioned star of that group.
“I can be stubborn sometimes,” Antetokounmpo said. “I can
disconnect myself from the world because I want this so bad. I
wanted this so bad, and I was able to get it. That’s why I was
tearing up. But people helped me to be in this position. I didn’t
do it by myself. Every freaking day, people helped me.”
He also thanked the city that has become his basketball
Antetokounmpo averaged 6.8 points his rookie year as Milwaukee
staggered through a 15-67 season, but he developed into a two-time
MVP while helping the Bucks emerge as annual contenders.
A surprising second-round loss to Miami in the playoff bubble
last year could have caused Antetokounmpo to start planning his
exit from Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo instead doubled down by signing
“This is my city,” Antetokounmpo said. “They trust me. They
believe in me. They believe in us.”
His love affair with the Milwaukee area was evident Wednesday
morning as he went on Instagram Live and ordered
50 chicken nuggets at a local Chick-fil-A drive-through with
his trophies in his car. When fans started approaching his vehicle,
Antetokounmpo chatted with them and let them take pictures.
The Bucks didn’t have the smooth regular season they’d enjoyed
the last couple of years.
Jrue Holiday, the team’s top
offseason addition, missed 10 games due to COVID-19. After
entering the playoffs as the NBA’s top overall seed in 2019 and
2020, the Bucks posted the seventh-best record in the league and
had the East’s No. 3 seed this year.
But that regular-season adversity gave the Bucks the toughness
they’d need in the postseason.
“We knew it wasn’t always going to be pretty," Bucks forward
Khris Middleton said. "We knew we were going to have to win
different styles of ballgames, but that’s the type of team you want
to be, to throw different guys out there, different lineups out
there, because you can’t win the same way at this level.”
Like many champions, the Bucks got some good luck along the
James Harden missed the first three games and Kyrie Irving sat
out the last three games of Brooklyn’s second-round series loss
to Milwaukee. The Bucks won Game 7 in overtime after Kevin
Durant’s foot was on the line as he hit a jumper at the end of the
fourth quarter, turning his potential series-clinching 3-pointer
into a two-point basket.
But the Bucks also showed their mettle by erasing 2-0 deficits
against Brooklyn and Phoenix. Antetokounmpo delivered his dominant
performance in the finals while playing with on a left knee he had
hyperextended just a few weeks ago. The Bucks were 10-1 at home in
Middleton played a major role in this title chase. He made the
winning basket in the final minute of overtime in that Game 7
victory at Brooklyn. He had a 20-point fourth quarter in Game 3 and
a 23-point third quarter in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals
with the Atlanta Hawks. He scored 40 points in Game 5 of the NBA
Antetokounmpo carried the Bucks across the finish line by
scoring at least 40 points in three of the six NBA Finals games,
including his 50-point, 14-rebound, 5-block effort in Tuesday’s
105-98 series-clinching victory.
Throughout his NBA career, Antetokounmpo’s had Middleton as a
teammate. Now they’ve won a title together.
It turns out Antetokounmpo didn’t have to leave Milwaukee to
find his championship running mate.
“We have to live in the moment, enjoy this moment,"
Antetokounmpo said. "I hope Khris enjoys it with his family. And he
played amazing throughout the whole playoffs, man. He led us when I
was down. He gave me a chance to come back.
“But once we’re done enjoying this, we got to get back to work.
We’ve got to do it again. That’s how me and Khris operate.”