Giannis is the Superstar the NBA Needed

The 2021 NBA Playoffs have officially come to a close. The Milwaukee Bucks finished on top and are now the kings of the basketball world. Giannis Antetokounmpo is an NBA Champion and a Finals MVP. He has officially cemented himself as not just a current great, but an all-time great. The truth is, he is the superstar that the NBA needed, and has needed for some time now.

Let me start off by saying that Giannis was already a great player before this year’s playoffs. He accumulated two league MVP awards, a DPOY award, and multiple All-Star and All-NBA nods in his first seven seasons. However, some disappointing playoff exits and some bad viral videos of airballed shots had fans doubting the Greek Freak. There were a lot of questions about if Giannis could be the “Batman” of an NBA franchise, the leader and go-to guy.  Many stated that Giannis was better suited as a sidekick than a leading character.

After the 2021 postseason, we now have the answer to those questions. Giannis isn’t Robin, nor is he even Batman. According to NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, he’s Superman. After seeing Antetokounmpo’s Finals performance, that name definitely seems fitting.

If you know anything about Shaq, he doesn’t just give the “Superman” nickname out so easily (just ask Dwight Howard). High praise from one of the best to ever do it. There is no doubt about it, this is Giannis’ league now. He is still just 26 years old, meaning his already incredible resume will just continue to grow. It’s perfect timing too. In an era of superteams and constant player movement, Giannis is the breath of fresh air many people have been waiting for. A homegrown guy, who declined to go the superteam route and instead stayed loyal to Milwaukee and won it the hard way. Players like that don’t really exist in today’s game.

Nowadays, if you want a ring you go run to a large market team and bring some friends along with you. The Lakers, Clippers, and Nets for example have adopted this methodology. Now listen, I’m not saying you can’t go where you want to go as a player. It’s your right to play on whatever team you want to play on. However, there is just something lost in the value of championships when a team has so much talent it’s like an NBA 2K created roster.

I think many fans can agree that the superteam era has become tiring and predictable. That’s exactly why these playoffs were the best there has been in recent memory. So much excitement and unpredictability, it was what we as basketball fans needed. Who would have guessed back in March that the Bucks, Suns, Hawks, and Clippers would be in the Eastern and Western Conference Finals? Definitely not me. To quote Game of Thrones, this season “broke the wheel” that has been turning in the NBA for the past decade. Giannis in particular deserves a lot of credit for this. There is a reason a lot of old school players like Shaq have come out and given a lot of support to the Greek Freak after this title run. Yes, his play was out of this world, but it’s HOW he did it.

He committed to a small market team, when he could have easily joined the Warriors or Lakers and cruised to a title. That deserves major props, because the only player I can think of who would have done the same is maybe Steph Curry. Giannis is a blast from the past, a relic from an old time. The way he talks, his attitude towards the game, it screams 1990’s basketball. He’s not here to make friends and team up, he’s here to dominate and win games.

Everything about him is wrong for this era of the game, but is so good at the same time. It’s well documented Giannis is not a great shooter. Especially from the free throw line, it is at times borderline embarrassing. His play style is reminiscent of a 90’s Shaq or an early 00’s Kevin Garnett. He is just absolutely unstoppable in the paint. He is one of a kind in a game dominated by spacing and three-point shooting.  I didn’t grow up in the 90’s, but I idolize that era as well as the 80’s. Don’t get me wrong, it is fun watching today’s ball handling and scoring abilities of modern NBA stars. Yet, I miss the intensity that basketball’s past brought.

Giannis is a connection to that past. He fits in the modern game even though you could pull him right out of basketball from 20 years ago. For fans who long for the past, Giannis is just what the doctor ordered. I don’t think today’s players will try to mimic his style, we are locked in the space and pace era of the game, which is okay. One area Giannis may have made an impact though, is player movement.

Some stars may now look at how Giannis won his ring and want to follow suit. Arguments and debates will erupt from this about the value of a ring if it comes from a superteam. Giannis himself said it, he did it the “hard way” and some stars may seek similar validation. As a fan of the game, I hope this is the case.

I would like to see more loyalty in the game, to have more guys like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki. Great players who spent their whole career with a single team. It’s rare, but it would be nice to see something similar to it. Stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard are all on their 3rd different NBA franchise. Odds are they won’t be the last teams they play for either. Giannis could be the guy who lights the spark that slows down the superteam era. He is the face of the league now, and players tend to follow that individual.

It wasn’t until LeBron left for Miami back in 2010 that these things started to happen. Just like he paved the way for teaming up with stars, Giannis may have paved a different path for staying put and doing it the hard way. Either way, Giannis has taken the league by storm. The crown is on his head now. He’s an extremely likeable guy, his story is incredible. He’s old school but new school at the same time. A connection to both the present and past eras of basketball. Giannis is the superstar the NBA needed, and I can’t wait to see what he does next and how his impact is felt across the league.

Photo: (Paul Sancya – AP Photo)

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