He saved his best for when it mattered most. The sign of a true champion and leader is the fact they step up when the lights shine brightest. Before the Finals started, everyone asked to make a prediction started by saying, "Well that depend on Giannis' status." That's because only a few weeks before he would make history, most of us were convinced Antetokounmpo was out and probably injured so bad he would miss the entire next season. We learned Giannis thought so too.
“Until the next day, I couldn’t walk. And my knee was like double the size. Usually, I never swell up. But you know, I woke up the next day, did whatever it’s called, MRI or X-ray, I don’t know what it’s called and they said I’m good. And I was like, ‘Thank God.’”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, The Athletic
A combination of genetics and incredible dedication to building the ultimate basketball body saved Giannis from a terrible injury. He didn't just show up in the Finals - Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated. Whichever iconic play from the 2021 Finals you think of - the block on Ayton or alley up to seal Game 5 - Giannis is the protagonist. He sealed the hat-trick with an insane feat.
LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, Bob Petit, and now Giannis Antetokounmpo are the only players to drop 50 in a Finals game. Giannis finished the game with 50/14/2 and 5 blocks. Not only that, but out of all the greats on this list, Antetokounmpo has the most efficient 50 in Finals history. He's the only guy to get to 50 with taking less than 30 shots - he had 25, making 64% of them. That also makes him the only man on the list to shoot over 60% in his 50 piece performance. So how did he get to 50? By doing something the guy he was most often compared to these Playoffs, Shaq, couldn't.
The ultimate sign of a champion is when you overcome your biggest weakness. Giannis showed incredible mental toughness and overcame his biggest flaw. I double-checked to make sure this wasn't a mistake - in a Finals clinching game, Giannis Antetokounmpo shot 17/19 from the free-throw line, 89.5%!!!! When it mattered most, the guy who took more than 10 seconds to brick a free throw turned into Peja Stojaković, the 4th best free-throw shooter in NBA history. (Peja shot 89.45% in his career.)
Next to those two iconic plays, the block and the alley up, that's what I'll remember most about Giannis. His most important superpower is his total and complete dedication to the team. Most guys wouldn't resign before the season, but not Antetokounmpo. Most guys would still have that pain and concern about their knee in the back of their mind, but not Antetokounmpo. Most guys would fear going to the free-throw line (Shaq, Ben Simmons), but not Antetokounmpo. Most guys would've grabbed the Larry O'Brien trophy and stepped right in the forefront for the team photo, but not Antetokounmpo.
When the pictures come out in a few hours, check out where Giannis is. Khris Middleton is holding the trophy, with Bud standing next to him. Giannis? He's to your right, in the back row. After dropping the most efficient 50 in the Finals ever, his instinct was to make sure everyone got their 5 minutes - the tall guys stand in the back. He didn't ask for his "damn respect" - he earned it.
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