When we see Giannis Antetokounmpo play, we assume that he's a player of his own making. We haven't seen a player of his size run the length of the floor in just two dribbles and slam it down. Frankly, we may never see a player like him ever again.
In a recent interview, Antetokounmpo named a player that influenced his game. No, it's not some big man who dominated like him. Instead, it's a small guard by the name of Allen Iverson. It's a rather uncanny influence Giannis stands close to seven feet tall and weighs about 240 pounds. Iverson is six feet and weighed 165 pounds during his playing days. But as Antetokounmpo explained, he wanted to be like The Answer growing up.
"I started playing basketball because of him. I had the cornrows, I had the headband. I used to be short back then and skinny. I watched a bunch of documentaries of Allen Iverson where he said he wanted to be like MJ. I wanted to be [like] Allen Iverson growing up," Giannis said.
Some say his brute strength echoes that of Shaquille O'Neal. At the peak of his career, O'Neal had to be triple or quadruple-teamed to be stopped — much like how defenses treat Giannis today. Antetokounmpo's dominance on both ends of the floor reminds people of someone like Hakeem Olajuwon or Michael Jordan — the three of them are the only players in NBA history to win the MVP award and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season.
As such, it's fascinating to hear from the Greek Freak himself that Iverson is one of the biggest influences of his career. While he didn't explain in detail how and why Iverson inspired him, it's easy to tell why. As for one, Iverson represents the underdogs and outsiders. When he was young, the two-time MVP might have felt that making it to the NBA was a pipe dream. But upon seeing the 76ers legend drop 50 on guys way taller than him, Giannis believed nothing was impossible.
In terms of the game itself, we can say that Iverson's lightning quickness and speed trickled on over to Giannis. In a different era, the Bucks star would probably be camping in the paint, posting people up, and blocking shots. Fortunately, coaches spotted Giannis' inherent mobility and speed. They were smart enough to let Giannis play a different position.
We can say that the six-time All-Star has embraced this underdog mentality to lead the Bucks — a small-market team — all the way to an NBA title. It would've been easier if he had moved to a bigger market where more opportunities lay. Yet Giannis persevered and stuck with his squad. Now, he's not just your ordinary NBA Champion. In an era where players shamefully chase titles by switching teams or forming super teams, Giannis stayed to the team that believed in him since day one.