Basketball

Giannis Antetokounmpo goes from poverty to NBA champion & Finals MVP

Antetokounmpo's 50-point game helps Bucks beat Suns to win first NBA title in 50 years

As the last seconds ticked away before the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Finals, Giannis Antetokounmpo thought not about his amazing performance but instead pondered his incredible journey from poverty to champion.

"When I came to the league, I didn't know where my next meal will come from. My mum was selling stuff in the street," he recalled.

"Now I'm here sitting at the top of the top. I'm extremely blessed. I hope this can give everybody around the world, from Africa, from Europe, hope it can be done. I want them to believe in their dreams."

The 26-year-old Greek forward of Nigerian heritage scored 50 points, matching the greatest total in a close-out game in NBA history, to spark the Bucks to a 105-98 victory over the Phoenix Suns yesterday morning (Singapore time).

It helped them seal a 4-2 series victory for their first crown in 50 years.

He also managed 14 rebounds and five blocks, dominating defensive moves. He even shot 17-for-19 from the free-throw line in an all-around masterclass for the ages.

"He's a special human being. I've learned so much from him. He's a special leader," said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer.

"These players are champions every day. They've embraced getting better every day."

With 65,000 people cheering in the streets outside the Fiserv Forum and 20,000 more screaming inside, Antetokounmpo won NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) honours.

He also joined Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to be named MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year .

But all these feats are beyond the Greek Freak's wildest dreams.

"I never thought I'm going to be 26 years old, with my team playing the NBA Finals. I never thought I would be sitting here. We've come a long way," he said.

"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."

Antetokounmpo wants to inspire youth who grew up in tough times, as he did.

"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 - just believe in what you're doing and keep working," he said.

"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."

Antetokounmpo is the only player in NBA history with five NBA All-Star and All-NBA selections, a Finals and two regular season MVP awards and a Defensive Player of the Year crown before turning 27.

Previously, only three players born outside the US had won Finals MVP - Olajuwon, Tony Parker and Dirk Nowitzki.

He recalled how the late Kobe Bryant challenged him to be the MVP in 2017, a feat he achieved two years later, only for Bryant to say he should win the title, which he did two years later.

"He made me believe," Antetokounmpo said. "Kobe Bryant thinks I can do this and I can play at a high level and build my team and win my MVP? I had to do it. I had to work hard.

"To be able to accomplish those things, it's crazy. It's unreal. It's freaking unreal. I can't believe it."

The Bucks' victory also means that Antetokounmpo has achieved a rare feat with his two brothers.

BAND OF BROTHERS

Older brother Thanasis, 29, played a minor role for the Bucks off the bench during the play-offs, but did not suit up in the last two games of the Finals due to the NBA's health and safety protocols.

Together with 23-year-old sibling Kostas, who played for last season's champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, they are the first trio of brothers to win a league title.

For the Suns, losing the NBA Finals after leading the series 2-0 left them devastated, having come close to a dream, only to fall short.

Suns guard Chris Paul reached the Finals for the first time in his 16-year career at age 36 and still hungers for his first NBA title.

"You're just trying to figure out what you could have done more. It's tough," Paul said.

"Great group of guys, hell of a season, but this one is going to hurt for a while." - AFP, REUTERS

Basketball