• Kaunda Chama

Historic night for Giannis as Bucks win championship

It could not have been scripted better is if it was an actual movie, but what Nigerian-Greek superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks achieved this season was nothing less than sensational.

The team won the NBA championship after starting the series off with a 0-2 deficit against the Phoenix Suns. However, it was a tedious 50-year journey.

Firstly, the franchise which has featured greats such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and Ray Allen has not seen a championship since 1971 – a period during which both Abdul-Jabbar and Robertson were at the franchise.

The Bucks have gone through many iterations, but always seemed to miss the mark when it came to lifting the ever-elusive Larry O’Brien Trophy. The last time the Bucks featured in a conference final was in 1974, when they were defeated by the Boston Celtics.

However, eight years ago, the team from Wisconsin drafted a promising, then lanky, 6’ 11” Nigerian-Greek forward with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and the journey to the early hours of this morning begun.

Within two years in the league, Giannis already started showing signs that he was destined for a great career in the NBA due to his basketball IQ as well as his athleticism that came with his build and age.

In 2015, Giannis made a much-appreciated appearance as part of Team Africa in the inaugural NBA Africa Game, which was hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa. The exhibition event saw him play on a team that featured African greats Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Following his All-Star debut in 2017, the then Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd took a chance on the then promising 22-year-old and made him the de facto leader of his team and with the weight of his squad on his shoulders, Giannis took up the mantle and started further developing into the super talent we are witnessing in the NBA today.

Together with his fellow eight-year Bucks vet Khris Middleton, he has seen numerous changes to the back and front court of the team and little post season success. The closest the franchise came to a finals appearance again was in 2019 when they fell to a Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors which went on to win it all.

Last season was equally disappointing. After finishing top of the Eastern Conference, they suffered a second-round exit at the hands of a very motivated Miami Heat.

This year, Milwaukee seeded third and went through the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks on their way to the finals and almost lost the services of their floor general after he suffered a knee injury in game four and had to miss games five and six.

His return in the Finals was a welcome sight for both teammates and fans and was almost short-lived when the Bucks lost the first two games in Arizona, but as fate would have it, they went on to take the next four games and win it all on their home court in the early hours of this morning.

Giannis recorded 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks to help Milwaukee beat Phoenix 105-98 in Game 6.

“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 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 (the championship and MVP trophies.) We've come a long way,” he said.

He was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the series, becoming the first player in NBA history with 50+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ blocks in a Finals game. He is also the first player ever to average 30/10/5 on 60 percent shooting in a Finals series.

“I represent my country, both countries, Nigeria and Greece. 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 on what you're doing and keep working. Don't let nobody tell you what you can be and what you cannot do. People told me I cannot make free throws,” explained Giannis. “I made my free throws tonight and I'm a freaking champion. I made them when I'm supposed to make them. I'm joking -- actually, I'm not (laughter). 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.”

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