Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo ascends to the NBA summit

SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 24: (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Turner Sports)
SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 24: (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Turner Sports) /

As Giannis Antetokounmpo was crowned as the league MVP on Monday night, the Milwaukee Bucks’ superstar officially took his place at the NBA’s top table.

On a great night for the Milwaukee Bucks, the NBA Awards, which took place on Monday in Santa Monica, California, also acted as a fitting finale for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s tremendous individual season.

This was about more than a single season, though. Anybody who watched an emotional Antetokounmpo take to the stage to accept his Most Valuable Player award, and offer up a moving speech to close out the show, had the fortune of witnessing something of a culmination.

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At this point, Antetokounmpo’s journey to the NBA is well-publicized and yet that doesn’t take away from its fairytale nature.

It’s rare to see a moment play out in real-time that feels like a too-good-to-be-true, Hollywood style ending, but this was exactly that. When Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard profiled Antetokounmpo and the Bucks back in April, the originally published version of the article made reference to Disney making a movie about Giannis’ story. The line was hastily edited out soon after.

Maybe the cat was let out of the bag too soon, but the House of Mouse’s interest in such a compelling origin story isn’t remotely surprising.

Antetokounmpo entered the night as a finalist for both Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards, giving him the opportunity to become only the third player to ever win both awards in the same season. That illustrious club already included Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Rudy Gobert claimed the Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row, meaning Antetokounmpo was forced to settle for second in that particularly category, and will have to wait to join the MVP/DPOY club. That waiting game adds a new kind of intrigue to Antetokounmpo’s story, and marks the beginning of a new chapter.

When a long-armed, rail thin, young Greek arrived in Milwaukee and began to show flashes of potential that seemed just a little bit different to the norm, Bucks fans started to dream. Maybe this diamond in the rough could develop into the face of the franchise in a perfect match of underdogs. Perhaps Antetokounmpo could end Milwaukee’s All-Star drought. Could this be a player capable of winning MVP in his prime years?

At 24 years old, Antetokounmpo has already achieved all of that and more. The questions, and Antetokounmpo’s attentions, will now turn to even loftier goals. LeBron James also won his first MVP at 24, and for Giannis, it’s now safe to wonder how many he may go on to win. Already having had a strong argument that he should have been Defensive Player of the Year this season, it almost feels inevitable that the Greek will add that trophy to his collection before it’s all said and done.

Then, of course, there’s the ultimate goal of winning an NBA championship. Antetokounmpo has never made any secret of that being his priority and that focus now becomes all the more clear.

There was a time when the idea of winning a championship seemed as wistful as those early dreams of Antetokounmpo becoming MVP. A 60-win season, a trip to the Conference Finals, and a 2-0 lead in that series against the team that went on to win it all makes it clear just how increasingly attainable that target has become.

In that regard, Antetokounmpo’s conclusion to his speech was fitting. A battle cry for his team to rally around and a warning shot to the rest of the NBA.

"“At the end of the day, this is just the beginning. My goal is to win a championship. As my Dad told me, ‘Always want more but never be greedy.’ My goal is to win a championship and we’re going to do whatever it takes to make that happen.”"

In spite of all he achieved in 2018-19, Antetokounmpo’s focus will undoubtedly shift to what lies ahead. The Bucks should face another great opportunity to win it all next season, and you’d be brave to bet against Antetokounmpo coming back even better to help his team to achieve that goal.

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Antetokounmpo’s is a once in a generation story, and this is still just the beginning.