“I could go to a super team … but this is the hard way to do it, and we did it. We f—ing did it.”
—NBA champ and Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo pic.twitter.com/ni3jG0rOhY
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 21, 2021
Antetokounmpo took home the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award after averaging 35 points, 13 rebounds and five assists per game.
In the immediate aftermath of a legendary performance to close out the 2021 NBA Finals and win a championship for the first time in his career, Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo declared that he signed his five-year, supermax contract extension prior to the season because “there was a job that had to be finished,” and that staying in Milwaukee meant doing it the “hard way.”
“I just couldn’t leave,” Antetokounmpo said after putting up 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks to lead Milwaukee to a 105-98 victory over the visiting Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the Finals, delivering the Bucks their second championship — and first in 50 years. “There was a job that had to be finished.
“Coming back, I was like, ‘This is my city. They trust me. They believe in me. They believe in us.’ … Obviously I wanted to get the job done. But that’s my stubborn side. It’s easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else. It’s easy. … I could go to a super team and just do my part and win a championship.
“But this is the hard way to do it,” he continued, pounding the dais for emphasis, “and this is the way to do it, and we did it. We f—ing did it.”
Antetokounmpo, who came into the postgame news conference wearing goggles, carrying a cigar and drinking out of a full bottle of champagne, eventually sat down at the dais with the Finals MVP trophy on one side and the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the other.
It was the culmination of a career that began in the Greek second division, where he first made a name for himself playing in Athens, before eventually being drafted 15th overall by the Bucks in 2013.
In thinking back on all of the people who helped him reach this point — from his mother, to his late father, to his longtime girlfriend, to his brothers — Antetokounmpo got emotional as he tried to express how much all of their sacrifices and support over the years had meant to him.
“This is for my mom,” he said, fighting off tears. “She works extremely hard every day for me to be in this position, and she never pressured me to do other things. This is for my dad. He’s watching from above, and he can see it. This is for my significant other. Every day, she helps me be a better person. She lets me do what I’m supposed to do. She takes care of my son. And for my brothers.
“I can be stubborn sometimes. I can disconnect myself from the world because I want this so bad. And I was able to get it, that’s why I was tearing up. But, like, people helped me be in this position. I didn’t do this by myself. Every freaking day people helped me. I want to thank everyone.”
Antetokounmpo might have had plenty of help in getting to this point, but with Milwaukee’s championship aspirations on the line, it was Antetokounmpo who hoisted the Bucks — and the more than 80,000 fans jammed both into and outside of Fiserv Forum — onto his broad shoulders and carried them over the finish line.
On his way to equaling Hall of Famer Bob Pettit’s record 50 points in a closeout game, Antetokounmpo scored 33 of his 50 points in the second half, leading Milwaukee back from a halftime deficit and simply refusing to allow the Bucks to let this opportunity slip away.
He repeatedly tore through Phoenix’s defense and got to the rim time and again, and made one free throw after another — eventually going 17-for-19 for the game — after his issues at the line had become a story throughout these playoffs.
“People told me I cannot make free throws,” Antetokounmpo said with a huge smile. “I made my free throws tonight and I’m a freaking champion.
“I made them when I’m supposed to make them.”
Milwaukee had been the NBA’s dominant team in the regular season in each of the past two years, only to fall short in the playoffs — first in the Eastern Conference finals against the Toronto Raptors two years ago, then in the conference semifinals against the Miami Heat last year.
But both Antetokounmpo and the Bucks came back with a resolve to make sure things went differently this year. The team traded for Jrue Holiday before the season and P.J. Tucker during it. Coach Mike Budenholzer spent the season trying to prepare the team for the playoffs as best as possible, instead of trying to maximize their regular-season success.
And once the postseason arrived, the bumps and bruises and past failures the Bucks went through allowed them to overcome deficits in each of the final three series they played in — including 2-0 deficits to both the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference semifinals and the Suns in this series — before storming back to win.
They even overcame the hyperextension of Antetokounmpo’s left knee — an injury that happened exactly three weeks ago and, at the time, left the superstar forward thinking he would be out for a year.
Instead, he returned a week later and put together one of the most impressive NBA Finals performances of all time, averaging an astounding 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks per game in the series — all while shooting 61.8% from the field.
“No, man,” he said with a smile, when asked whether he ever could’ve imagined a moment like this when he began playing basketball in Athens all those years ago. “I started playing basketball just to help my family. Tried to get them out of the struggle, the challenges we were facing when we were kids.
“But I never thought I’m going to be 26 years old, with my team playing in the NBA Finals. Just playing — like, I was just happy just being, like not even winning, just being a part of this, of this journey.
“But I never thought I would be sitting here with this right here and this right here,” he added, pointing to the two trophies next to him. “We’ve come a long way.”
He also was asked about what it means to him to represent the continent of Africa, as both of his parents are from Nigeria. He said he hoped his accomplishments could serve as a symbol to others of what is possible for anyone, no matter who you are or where you come from.
“Obviously, I represent my country, both countries, Nigeria and Greece,” Antetokounmpo said. “A lot of kids from there. But not just from Nigeria — all Africa and all Europe.
“I know I’m a role model. But this should make every person, every kid, anybody around the world believe in their dreams. No matter whatever you feel when you’re down, when you don’t think it’s going to happen for you or you might not make it in your career — might be basketball, might be anything — just believe in what you’re doing and keep working.
“Don’t let nobody tell you what you can be and what you cannot do. … Just believe, man. I hope I give people around the world, from Africa, from Europe, hope that it can be done. It can be done.
“Eight years ago, eight and a half years ago, when I came to the league, I didn’t know where my next meal will come from. My mom was selling stuff in the street. Now I’m here sitting at the top of the top. I’m extremely blessed. I’m extremely blessed. If I never have a chance to sit on this table ever again, I’m fine with it. I’m fine with it. I hope this can give everybody around the world hope. I want them to believe in their dreams.”
He also talked about his own impossible journey going from a player who was an unknown quantity when he left Greece to one who slowly, methodically built himself into the superstar he has become — just as the Bucks have slowly, methodically built themselves, around Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, into an NBA champion.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “I’ve done it all, man. I did anything that I could just to be on the court, just to be in this position. I’ve not played. I’ve come off the bench. When I was 18, I started on the team. I went to the front office and told them to send me to the G League. I’ve played point guard. I’ve only defended. Slashed from the corners and everything. In my fourth year, I was able to lead as a ball handler.
“I’ve done it all. Tonight, that’s what I had to do. I had to do a little bit of everything. I had to defend, I had to rebound, I had to block. Did a little bit of everything.”
And now that he’s won one title, Antetokounmpo said he’s not satisfied with stopping now.
“This is an addictive feeling,” Antetokounmpo said. “I love playing in the playoffs. I love playing in the Finals.
“This is the moments I want to chase. I want the team to build off this, and hopefully we can do it again.”
|No. 34 – Milwaukee Bucks|
|Position||Power forward / Small forward|
|Born||December 6, 1994
|Nationality||Greek / Nigerian|
|Listed height||6 ft 11 in (2.11 m)|
|Listed weight||242 lb (110 kg)|
|NBA draft||2013 / Round: 1 / Pick: 15th overall|
|Selected by the Milwaukee Bucks|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Stats at NBA.com|
|Stats at Basketball-Reference.com|
Giannis Sina Ugo Antetokounmpo (/ˈjɑːnɪs ˌɑːntɛtəˈkuːmpoʊ/ YAH-nis AHN-tet-ə-KOOM-poh; Greek: Γιάννης Σίνα-Ούγκο Αντετοκούνμπο,[a] IPA: [ˈʝanis a(n)detoˈkumbo]; born December 6, 1994) is a Greek-Nigerian professional basketball player for the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Antetokounmpo began playing basketball for the youth teams of Filathlitikos in Athens. In 2011, he began playing for the club’s senior team before entering the 2013 NBA draft, where he was selected 15th overall by the Bucks. Antetokounmpo’s nationality, in addition to his combination of size, speed and ball-handling skills earned him the nickname “Greek Freak”. He is widely considered one of the best players in the world and one of the best players of his generation.
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 all five statistics of total points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. He received the Most Improved Player award in 2017. Antetokounmpo has received five All-Star selections, including being selected as an All-Star captain in 2019 and 2020, as he led the Eastern Conference in voting in these two years.
Antetokounmpo won back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player Awards in 2019 and 2020, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players in NBA history to win two MVPs before turning 26. Along with his MVP award, he was also named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2020, becoming only the third player after Michael Jordan (1988) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) to win both awards in the same season. In 2021, Antetokounmpo helped lead the Bucks to their first NBA championship since 1971, and was named Finals MVP by unanimous vote.
NBA champion and Finals MVP (2020–2021)
The Bucks finished the 2020–21 season with a 46–26 record, clinching the third seed in the Eastern Conference. In the first round of the playoffs, they faced a rematch against the Miami Heat. In a stark reversal of their upset loss the prior year, Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to a four game sweep, closing out the series with his first playoff triple-double in Game 4. Antetokounmpo also led the Bucks to a seven game series win over the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where Antetokounmpo averaged 31.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. On June 29, 2021, Antetokounmpo suffered an injury to his left knee during the third quarter of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks after slamming into Clint Capela and landing awkwardly, resulting in a gruesome hyperextension. Antetokounmpo would not return to the game, and the Bucks lost 110–88. MRI results would later show that he did not suffer any ligament tears. Antetokounmpo was ruled out for both Games 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals as a result of the knee injury. The series returned to Milwaukee at a 2–2 deadlock, yet the Bucks ended up winning both Games 5 and 6, advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time in 47 years.
Antetokounmpo returned in time for the finals against the resurgent Phoenix Suns. In his Finals debut, he recorded 20 points and 17 rebounds in a 118–108 loss. He then registered back-to-back games with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in a Game 2 loss and a Game 3 victory, joining Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 as the only players to reach those numbers in consecutive Finals games. He also joined Jordan, O’Neal and James as the only players to put up at least 40 points in back-to-back Finals games in the previous 50 years. The Bucks continued their comeback after having lost the first two games of the series, prevailing in the next four contests. In Game 6, Antetokounmpo recorded 50 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks as the Bucks clinched their first championship in 50 years. He posted series averages of 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks, and was subsequently named NBA Finals MVP.
Standing 6 feet 11 inches (2.11 m) tall and weighing 242 pounds (110 kg), Antetokounmpo is officially listed as a forward and sometimes described as a point forward, but has been deployed across all five positions. Highly athletic and versatile, Antetokounmpo is often recognized as one of the best all-around players in the NBA, and many analysts have declared him “positionless” and as embodying the future of the league. As of July 2021, Antetokounmpo’s regular season career averages are 20.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.
Antetokounmpo is also recognized as an elite defensive player, capable of guarding all five positions but more often deployed in a “free safety” role that allows him to roam the paint and discourage attacks on the rim. He is also a proficient shot-blocker and has developed a reputation for blocking opponents in transition (the chase-down block). With Antetokounmpo in this role, the Bucks have flourished defensively, becoming one of the league’s best defensive teams, leading the NBA in defensive rating in 2018-19 and 2019–20. For his defensive efforts, Antetokounmpo won the 2020 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and he has become a perennial NBA All-Defensive honoree.
Awards and honours
- NBA Champion: 2021
- NBA Finals MVP: 2021
- 2× NBA Most Valuable Player: 2019, 2020
- NBA Defensive Player of the Year: 2020
- 5× NBA All-Star: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021
- NBA All-Star Game MVP: 2021
- NBA Most Improved Player: 2017
- 5× All-NBA Selection:
- 4× All-Defensive Selection:
- NBA All-Rookie Second Team: 2014
- Euroscar European Player of the Year: 2018
Antetokounmpo finished the 2019–20 season with the highest single-season player efficiency rating in NBA history (31.9).