Good morning. Let’s basketball.
Hercules as Heroic Virtue Overcoming Discord, Peter Paul Rubens
Giannis Antetokounmpo, 26 years old, twice an NBA MVP, an obsessed-over superstar who signed a mega extension with his small market team despite playoff heartbreak and drooling rival GMs and superstars the league over, a Nigerian kid by way of Greece with one of the more remarkable path-to-the-NBA stories ever, a No. 15 pick, a dude who averaged 7 and 4 as a rookie, a dude who had Summer League observers speaking in tongues, a dude who had (has?) broadcasters and podcasters twisting their tongues to say his name as he becomes a household name, a point guard no a power forward no a center, a LeBron clone no the next Pippen no a NEW SHAQ, a guy you dare to shoot threes, a guy you foul if you have to, a guy with supposedly no bag no moves no (ahem) skill who somehow SOMEHOW ends up with the most ridiculous box scores imaginable IT’S A MYSTERY.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 50 points (16/25 FGs, 17/19 FTs), 14 rebounds, 5 blocks in a close-out NBA Finals game to win the Milwaukee Bucks their first championship in 50 years. HOLY S—T. An all-time performance for an all-time player.
Giannis had a chasedown block in the first minute of the game and never let up. The Bucks weren’t perfect, but Giannis was as close to the gold standard as you could hope for. The Suns fought hard and threw bodies and stunts at Giannis. None of it worked. When this guy has it, nothing will work against him.
Sport is cruel, don’t forget the extra inch of Kevin Durant shoe size that cost the Brooklyn Nets their chance to be here. Sport is glorious; just look at the mood whiplash for Bucks fans from last September, merciless ejected from the Bubble Playoffs by the Heat in the second round facing a true franchise-altering moment in the offseason as Giannis become eligible for the supermax. The team throws everything they can in a trade for Jrue Holiday, re-ups Pat Connaughton, picks up Bobby Portis, has their worst regular season since 2017-18 and … wins the championship. An incredible turn of events, even in the NBA.
To watch Giannis and Khris Middleton celebrate together at the culmination of eight years together — a run that began with a 15-win season after Giannis entered the league a skinny enigma and Middleton came over as a throw-in piece of the Brandon Knight-Brandon Jennings deal — was truly heartening. And Giannis, who seems like an altogether lovely human based on what we get to see of him, made the strong affirmative case for superstars to stick with their teammates and not hunt for better ones. This is a change of pace at minimum, a counterpoint to the current paradigm where stars seek out other stars in new markets if their incumbent teams don’t get it done in 7-8-9 years.
I don’t know if other, younger stars in the NBA look up to Giannis like that. LeBron’s paradigm shift obviously filtered out through the league’s younger stars, including Kevin Durant (who has taken that vibe to another level and created further innovation in personal choice that has spread through the league). Will Giannis’ reversion to pre-Decision cruising (similar to what Steph Curry did, though Giannis wasn’t recruiting MVPs to join the Bucks) do the same for players like Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson, Trae Young, Nikola Jokic (Jokic is two months younger than Giannis, I checked), Jayson Tatum, even Devin Booker? Or is this, like Steph, a blip in the movement toward more and more movement?
In any case, Giannis not only did it, but talked about why it feels so good that he did it in his press conference, and that’s not nothing. The fact that it’s also an unsubtle dig at his chief rival James Harden means it will get a lot more eyeballs, including from NBA players. It’s an interesting twist on what was already an interesting and, frankly, heartening resolution to the Giannis story and this season.
The Bucks did pretty much everything right in recent years at significant risk to the franchise’s competitive future. The all-in trade for Jrue Holiday was costly and could have blown up in the team’s faces. But it worked out: Jrue continues his superlative defense in Game 6, after saving Game 5. Middleton continued to provide exactly what the Bucks needed exactly when they needed it. Mike Budenholzer made adjustments, rode his stars huge minutes when it counted and vindicated his tenure and his two Coach of the Year trophies. P.J. Tucker was vital. Brook Lopez completely reverted his game this year and had a timely run late in the game. Portis was a huge plus for the team; he and Connaughton (a gamer) were the only reserves Budenholzer trusted by the end. The Bucks made a ton of calculated risks in advance of this season — the Holiday trade, sticking with Middleton as Antetokounmpo’s top co-star, keeping Budenholzer — and made another one during the season by deciding a) Tucker was the augment they needed and b) deciding the No. 1 seed was less important than testing out some new schemes. It all paid off. And now Milwaukee gets a parade.
Devin Booker, what a playoff debut. Good lord. Even in Game 6, facing heartbreak, he remained calm enough to find spots on the floor to hit some of the more difficult shots imaginable. A tough night all the way around for him, and it’s going to be a really tough flight to Tokyo for the Olympics with Holiday (he can’t get rid of Holiday!) and Middleton. But you know he’ll go into the lab fueled by this and come back better.
Chris Paul, missing his best chance at a title. What a heartbreak for one of the greatest point guards ever, one of the very best players of his generation, perhaps the best player ever without an MVP to his name. A masterpiece season, a great effort in Game 6, a true heartbreak, something rare in the NBA. This is heartbreaking for CP3.
I don’t know if CP3 will be back. The Suns will be back. Deandre Ayton has transformed into a prizefighter. Mikal Bridges just went to basketball university for two months, defending LeBron, Michael Porter Jr., Paul George, Giannis and Khris Middleton. James Jones clearly knows what he is doing.
And Monty Williams. The class and self-assuredness required to lose the NBA Finals and almost immediately go over to the other team’s locker room to congratulate them and thank them for the battle … it’s really something.
An incredible Finals. An incredible champion. Thanks for spending part of your mornings this season with Good Morning It’s Basketball. I cherish the opportunity to prattle on about basketball five days a week, so much so that we’ll continue to do it through the Olympic tournaments (tipping off SUNDAY), the NBA Draft (EIGHT days away), NBA free agency (TEN days away) and the remainder of the WNBA season (back in mid-August).
Thank you for being a part of this, and be excellent to each other.