In 2013, Giannis Antetokounmpo was a mysterious prospect who played in the second tier of the Greek basketball league. Eight years later, he led the Milwaukee Bucks to their first championship since 1971 with a monster 50-point performance in deciding NBA Finals Game 6 against Phoenix Suns. After the final buzzer, he held the Larry O’Brien trophy in one hand and the NBA Finals MVP award in the other.
Despite playing with a hyperextended knee injury, which he picked up in the East finals against the Atlanta Hawks, Antetokounmpo was a force that the Suns couldn’t stop for the better part of the series. The 26-year-old Greek dominated the paint while anchoring the Bucks defense that managed to quiet down Phoenix’s dynamic backcourt duo of Devin Booker and Chris Paul.
Even the struggles at the free-throw line, which were accompanied by countdowns from opposing fans, didn’t slow Antetokounmpo down. He didn’t shy away from getting to the line repeatedly until the shots started to fall down. This happened when he needed it the most, making 17 out of his 19 free throw attempts in Game 6.
“People told me I can’t make free throws, and I made them tonight. And I’m a freaking champion,” said Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo finished the series with 35.2 points, 13.2 boards, 5 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.8 blocks per game, delivering one of the most memorable performances in the finals. By winning the NBA Finals MVP Award, he became just the third player in NBA history with a regular-season MVP Award, Defensive Player of the Year Award, and NBA Finals Award. The other two are Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan.
“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,” said Antetokounmpo at the press conference. “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.”
It wouldn’t be surprising, however, if Giannis Antetokounmpo finds himself at the same table once again. He is entering his prime years and is entering the first year of a 5-year, $228 million extension he signed with Milwaukee late last year. Antetokounmpo will also have the majority of his teammates alongside him in the next few years, and this title might be just one of many to come for “Greek Freak” and the Bucks.