The Champ in his own words

Giannis Antetokounmpo's trips to the Finals interview podium were a treat, so we've summed up the highlights from his last appearance of the season

The numbers were simply preposterous. Fifty points, 14 rebounds, five blocked shots, 17-for-19 shooting at the free-throw line on the biggest night of his life … and all of that coming in a championship-clinching Game 6 of the NBA FInals for Giannis Antetokounmpo and a Milwaukee Bucks franchise that hadn’t won a title for 50 years.

It gets even more absurd: Antetokounmpo is only 26 years old.

Michael Jordan was 28 when he won his first NBA championship. LeBron James was 27. Shaquille O’Neal, to whom Antetokounmpo is so often compared, was 28. Dirk Nowitzki, Antetokounmpo’s fellow European, was almost 33.

Giannis’ game, in other words, might still be developing. Improvement as a shooter is hardly inconceivable.

Its current state, mind you, was good enough for Antetokounmpo to be named a unanimous Finals MVP — only three weeks removed from a scary hyperextension of his left knee. We can endlessly debate how much the turbulent circumstances of this pandemic-altered season and injuries to various stars made Milwaukee’s championship possible, but Antetokounmpo’s performance on the biggest of stages cannot be questioned. It’s difficult to imagine one player doing more.

Yet I will miss his podium game as much as anything now that NBA games that count, after two pandemic seasons that were stacked on top of each other, will be out of our lives until October.

Antetokounmpo’s trips to the interview room throughout these Finals were a revealing treat. He was as engaged, candid and expressive as any superstar I can remember in those settings.

Which convinced me that we needed to document the most interesting things Giannis said in the wee hours of Wednesday morning as a first-time champion, presumably while some of you were sleeping, after the Bucks closed out the Phoenix Suns and consigned Chris Paul to another chapter of playoff heartbreak.

Giannis on representing both Greece and Nigeria:

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. I made my free throws tonight and I'm a freaking champion.

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.

Giannis on his early days with the Bucks:

I did anything that I could just to be on the court, just to be in this position. I've not played. I've come off the bench. When I was 18, I started on the team. I went to the front office and told them to send me to the G League.

Giannis on why he re-signed with the Bucks in December rather than play this season out and then test free agency:

I just couldn't leave. There was a job that had to be finished. I was like, this is my city. They trust me. They believe in me. They believe in us. Even when we lost, the city was still — went outside and, you know, obviously I wanted to get the job done. But that's my stubborn side. It's easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else. It's easy. I could go to a superteam and just do my part and win a championship. But this is the hard way to do it and this is the way to do it and we did it.

Giannis on his eight-year partnership with Khris Middleton:

There was nobody in this world that I would rather do this journey with than that guy. He's been here since the beginning. He was yelling to me when I was 18. He was yelling to me to pass the ball and everything. We were fighting on the court when we were kids, and now we're on this stage doing it together.

We have to enjoy this moment. We have to share this moment. Maybe we might not have another moment like this. Who knows, we can't predict the future. But we have to live in the moment, enjoy this moment. I hope Khris enjoys it with his family. And he played amazing throughout the whole playoffs, man. He led us when I was down. He gave me a chance to come back.

A few closing snippets about his personality:

I've done it all on the court and I've done it all off the court and I keep going. I can't stop. That's my personality. I cannot stop.

I'm a people pleaser. I don't like letting people down. I don't like — when I signed with the city of Milwaukee, that's the main reason I signed, because I didn't want to let the people down and think that I didn't work extremely hard for them, which I do.

This is a feeling, like, this is an addictive feeling. I love playing in the playoffs. I love playing in the Finals. This is the moments I want to chase. I want the team to build off this and hopefully we can do it again.