During the 2013 NBA draft, analyst Fran Fraschilla introduced Giannis Antetokounmpo, a raw and relatively unknown 18-year-old from Greece, as the evening’s “most mysterious” prospect. Six years later, the Milwaukee Bucks forward earned a significantly more prestigious superlative: most valuable player.
The NBA announced Monday that Antetokounmpo had claimed MVP honors by beating out Houston Rockets guard James Harden and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, his fellow finalists. The league made the announcement at its annual awards show, held at the Barker Hangar.
Antetokounmpo, 24, averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists — all career highs — while leading Milwaukee to a league-best 60 regular season wins. His first MVP award marked another step in a steady ascent for the three-time all-star, who was named first-team all-NBA and all-defense last month. Antetokounmpo became the first Bucks player to be named MVP since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1973-74, and he dedicated the honor to his family and his father, Charles, who died in 2017.
“Two years ago, I had a goal in my head to be the best player in the league and become MVP,” Antetokounmpo said, fighting back tears during an emotional acceptance speech. “I want to thank my dad, who is not here with me. Every day I step on the floor, I think of my dad. I want to thank my amazing brothers. I want to thank my amazing mom [Veronica]. She’s the foundation of this family. You’re my true hero.”
Whereas most of his contemporaries began appearing on the NBA’s radar early during their high school careers, Antetokounmpo slowly attracted attention while playing in Greece’s third division.
The hype around the “Greek Freak” — a long-striding forward who even then excelled in transition and covered ground like few NBA players — propelled him to the 15th pick in 2013 and a bench role as a rookie.
Antetokounmpo’s step-by-step advance continued from there: He became a full-time starter in 2014-15, a lead scoring option in 2015-16, the NBA’s most improved player in 2016-17 and a clear-cut franchise player in 2017-18. This season, his first under Coach Mike Budenholzer, Antetokounmpo led the Eastern Conference in all-star votes, guided the Bucks to their most regular season victories since 1980-81 and delivered the franchise’s first playoff series win since 2001.
“I’m extremely blessed,” Antetokounmpo said. “I want to thank my teammates. It takes more than one person to win 60 games. I want to thank the coaching staff, front office and ownership for believing in me when I was 18 years old back in Greece. They allowed me to lead this team, trusted me.”
If Antetokounmpo began that journey as a shy and foul-happy teenager who famously had never tasted a smoothie, he has become a fearsome and versatile presence who dunks like Shaquille O’Neal, runs the break like LeBron James and leads quietly like Tim Duncan.
“We are beyond proud of Giannis,” Bucks General Manager Jon Horst said in a statement. “Giannis propelled the Bucks to great heights last season with his leadership, drive and unselfish play. His grace on and off the court has made him one of the most admired players in the world.”
The sixth-year pro was the central force of Milwaukee’s third-ranked offense, driving hard to the basket to set up his teammates’ outside shots, and the linchpin of its top-ranked defense. Antetokounmpo was also one of three finalists for defensive player of the year, an award claimed by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert.
In the playoffs, Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee to a breezy sweep of the Detroit Pistons in the first round and a five-game thumping of the Boston Celtics in the conference semifinals. After claiming a 2-0 lead over the Toronto Raptors in the conference finals, the Bucks lost four straight games in stunning fashion. Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, the eventual NBA Finals MVP, switched onto Antetokounmpo in the defining adjustment of the series.
“As my dad told me, always want more, but never be greedy,” Antetokounmpo said. “My goal is to win a championship, and we’re going to do whatever we can to make that happen.”
Raptors forward Pascal Siakam was named most improved player.
Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal received the NBA Cares Community Assist Award for his work at Ron Brown College Preparatory High. Beal, who was presented with the award by teammate John Wall, donated sneakers, held movie screenings, led a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and served as a mentor for the school’s students.
MORE ON THE 2019 NBA MVP, Giannis Sina Ougko Antetokounmpo
Giannis Sina Ougko Antetokounmpo is a Greek professional basketball player for the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Although nearly 7 feet tall, Antetokounmpo possesses the “ball-handling skills of a point guard and the battering ram force of an old school center,” giving rise to his nickname the “Greek Freak”. During the 2015–16 season he became the Bucks’ primary playmaker, and in 2016–17 he led the Bucks in all five major statistical categories and became the first player in NBA history to finish a regular season in the top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. He received the Most Improved Player award in 2017. He has received three All-Star selections, and led the Eastern Conference in voting in 2019. That same year, he was named NBA Most Valuable Player.
Antetokounmpo represented Greece for the first time in July 2013 with the Greek Under-20 national team at the 2013 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship. He helped Greece to an 8–2 record and a fifth place overall finish, while averaging 8.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists across the 10 games. He finished the tournament ranked second in defensive rebounds (7.0) and seventh in blocked shots (1.4).
In 2014, Antetokounmpo played for the senior men’s Greek national basketball team for the first time, helping Greece finish ninth overall in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup with a 5–1 record. He averaged 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds across the six games, while shooting 45.8% from the field.
Antetokounmpo again joined the Greek national team for EuroBasket 2015. Greece’s roster consisted of many experienced players, most of them previously crowned European champions with their clubs, like Vassilis Spanoulis, Ioannis Bourousis and Nikos Zisis, and Greece was a favorite for a medal, after showing great form in friendly games. At EuroBasket 2015, Greece was unbeaten in the group stages, and reached the quarter-finals, where a tight game ended in favor of the eventual champions, Spain. Antetokounmpo finished the tournament with three double-doubles, and a career-high 17 rebounds against Spain, leading his team in rebounds for the tournament. In eight games, he averaged 9.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.
Antetokounmpo also played with Greece at the 2016 Turin FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where he averaged 15.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.7 steals, and 2.0 blocks per game in 3 games played. Greece failed to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics, after being eliminated by Croatia, by a score of 66–61.
Through the year 2018, Antetokounmpo has played with the senior men’s Greek national team in 38 caps (games). He has scored a total of 372 points, for a scoring average of 9.8 points per game.