MILWAUKEE – The story sounds like some great yarn spun from a wild imagination.
A Greek born son to Nigerian parents who went out of their way to pay bills.
He didn’t really start playing basketball until he was 13. Armed with size and raw but promising skills, it’s more mysterious than safe to NBA scouts. Selected # 15 in 2013 draft of the Milwaukee Bucks retail market.
Maybe he would be fine. Maybe he would become a star.
But no one knew for sure that Giannis Antetokounmpo would become a player of the generation, a two-time regular season MVP, the unicorn who stayed loyal to the Bucks by adding a 228.2 million five-year extension before the 2020-21 season began US dollar signed.
“I just couldn’t go,” he said. “There was a job that needed to be done.”
Antetokounmpo had a game high of 50 points, racking up 14 rebounds and blocking five shots in the Bucks’ 105-98 win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 on Tuesday, ending a comeback 2-0 and winning the franchise’s first championship since 1971.
It doesn’t work without Antetokounmpo, the Finals MVP, who put on a legendary performance.
Yet it all seemed implausible that Antetokounmpo was on the podium – with the Larry O’Brien Championship on his left, the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy on his right – answering questions about his first title.
“I started playing basketball just to help my family,” said Antetokounmpo. “I tried to get them out of the struggle, the challenges we faced as children.”
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He shed tears on the pitch at the post-game celebration. What did he think?
“The whole trip,” he said. “To be in that position, how much my parents sacrificed. How much my parents sacrificed. I’ve seen that every day. My mother (Veronica) worked extremely hard every day to keep me in this position and her never pressured me to do other things, this is for my father (Charles) who is watching from above and he can see it.
“And that is also for my partner (Mariah). Every day she helps me get better, a better person. She lets me do what I am supposed to and she takes care of my son (Liam) and my next son. And my brothers (Francis, Thanasis, Kostas, Alex). “
It’s one of the greatest and most inspiring stories in sport.
“In the second half everything was Giannis, I’m not going to lie,” said Bucks star Khris Middleton of Antetokounmpo’s 33 points in the second half. “He got the ball. He dominated. He didn’t settle. Forced his way to the edge. Forced his way to the free-throw line. He held us down mostly in the second half of the game.”
The historical context is extraordinary. He is the seventh player to score 50 points in a final game, and he meets Bob Pettit with the most points in a final game in 1958. Antetokounmpo is also the first player to record at least 50 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks in a Finals game since blocks were recorded from 1973 to 1974, and joins Shaquille O’Neal as the only player in NBA history to of the three Finals games recorded with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds.
“I don’t know how many words to use beyond 50 points in an NBA final in a final game. That sums it all up,” said Bucks center Brook Lopez. “It’s so indicative of who Giannis is as a player and as a person. He’s got a business mindset and he’s been our leader all my time.”
In his first final, Antetokounmpo, who hyperextended his left knee in the Eastern Conference final and missed the last two games against Atlanta, averaged 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 Steals and shot 61.8% out of the field. What is special about it is that the notoriously bad foul-taker scored 17 out of 19 free throws.
“People told me I couldn’t take free throws. I took my free throws tonight and I’m a fucking champion,” he said. “Did it when I was supposed to do it. I’m kidding – actually I’m not. “
During the NBA Finals, Antetokounmpo was insightful, honest, and humorous. He doesn’t always enjoy doing these media sessions, but he has no choice in the finals. Talking or getting a fine. But in the end, he showed a side of himself that most fans shouldn’t see.
At 26, he set aside ego and pride for humility and acknowledges his mistakes as a player. He understands what his journey means for people around the world.
“I represent my country, both countries, Nigeria and Greece. Lots of children from there. But not just from Nigeria – all of Africa and all of Europe, ”he said.
“Eight years ago, eight and a half years ago, when I got into the league, I didn’t know where my next meal would come from. My mother sold things on the street. Now I’m sitting up here at the top. I am extremely blessed. I am extremely blessed. If I never get the chance to sit at that table again, I’ll be fine. I am well. I hope this can give hope to everyone all over the world. I want you to believe in your dreams. “
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JefZillgitt.