For most NBA players, making it to the league was about the pursuit of a childhood dream. This pursuit meant learning the game at a young age, followed by a series of decisions as a teenager that allows one to market oneself enough to be noticed by NBA teams searching for young talent. For two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, playing in the NBA was not merely a childhood dream but also a means for survival.
Nicknamed the “Greek Freak,” we often marvel at his otherworldly athleticism when speaking of his game at the risk of reducing Giannis to a player blessed with physical gifts that make him better than most. However, in his first NBA finals, Giannis has reminded us how far he has come from humble beginnings by citing the fact that we often overlook.
Giannis does great things not simply because he is extremely athletic but because he dares to. One example of which was the alley-oop dunk that sealed Game 5. Many will see a freak jumping out of the gym, but those who know Giannis saw the determination to get down the floor ahead of everyone else and the concentration to take the contact to finish the play. (An extremely dirty move by Chris Paul, by the way.) That play was LeBron-esque, and coincidentally, LeBron James also happened to be seated courtside for Game 5.
Without a doubt, The King was impressed by what he saw from Giannis in the closing moments of a pivotal game in the Freak’s first-ever Finals. Giannis has had several plays in this series that remind us of LeBron, but the paths that the two took to get to where they are now could not be more different.
LeBron had dedicated his life to basketball, gaining some form of mastery of the game at a very young age, which put him in the spotlight even before he was 18. James’ continued to work on his game relentlessly upon entering the NBA and became one of the youngest players ever to lead his team to the NBA Finals when the Cleveland Cavaliers faced the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. On the other hand, Giannis had a very different relationship with the game early on, something he reminded the world of when asked about LeBron’s attendance at Game 5.
“LeBron made his first finals appearance in 2007? Yeah, I wasn’t even playing basketball yet then.”Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks Media Availability Game 6.
The Greek Freak started playing basketball at the age of 14 in 2008 as a teenager growing up in Athens, Greece. Thirteen years later, he is one win away from securing his first NBA title, which is truly amazing. Yes, LeBron also went from beginner to NBA finalist in a similar time frame. However, LeBron was a basketball prodigy while Giannis was still learning some of the very basics of the game early in his NBA career. A win for Giannis and the Bucks would be one of the best stories of all time for the basketball world to celebrate.
“If anyone wants to see the end of superteams winning championships in the big markets, then they must love what they are seeing from Giannis right now. A great player, a great role model, a global ambassador, and the best thing to happen to the National Basketball Association.”Stephen A. Smith, ESPN
His story is one of how there is no mountain that one cannot climb with hard work and perseverance, how loyalty matters, and sticking with the people who helped you become who you always pay its dividends. The series is far from over, but I must agree with Stephen A. Smith that Giannis winning the chip could be the best thing to ever happen to the NBA and its fanbase, as a ring for the freak reminds us that circumstances do not dictate our destiny.
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