The 2021 NBA Finals are done and in the books, and the name to remember is Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks’ lead scorer lived up to the hype, scoring an eye-opening 50 points in the team’s first NBA Championship title since 1971.
The victory wasn’t in doubt: the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns 105-98, closing things out 4-2 in the best-of-seven final. Antetokounmpo addressed reporters after the game, saying that his decision to stay with the Bucks was because he had unfinished business in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee celebrated the victory, with Antetokounmpo telling reporters, “I just couldn’t leave.” He explained that staying in Milwaukee meant he was doing things “the hard way,” but that he was proud of his team for pulling off the win, even against all the odds.
“But that’s my stubborn side,” Antetokounmpo told reporters. “It’s easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else.”
Antetokounmpo was in full “victory lap” regalia during the press conference, wearing goggles and carrying a cigar while drinking from an open bottle of champagne. The Bucks’ star player told reporters later in the evening, holding back tears, that the win was for his mother, for fighting so hard to get him where he is today, and for his late father, who Antetokounmpo said he thinks of every day.
It’s been 50 years since Milwaukee last hoisted the NBA Finals trophy, but the team has looked dominant in the past two regular seasons. In 2019, they narrowly missed the victory against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals, and then in 2020, they were knocked out of the semifinals by the Miami Heat.
At some points during the postseason, the team appeared to be struggling. In their series against the Brooklyn Nets during the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Bucks started the series behind 0-2. They surged back to beat the Nets, however, and made their way to the finals. They initially fell behind the Suns 0-2, in a bizarre mirror of their earlier series.
The team, of course, overcame the Suns, pushing through four straight wins and claiming the championship. Along the way, Antetokounmpo put up historic postseason numbers, including an average of 35 points per game and shooting accuracy of over 60%.
“But I never thought I’m going to be 26 years old, with my team playing in the NBA Finals,” Antetokounmpo told reporters. “Just playing — like, I was just happy just being, like not even winning, just being a part of this, of this journey.”
However, the superstar is hardly content with just the one victory in the Finals. He admitted that winning in the playoffs is an “addicting” feeling and that he loves the rush of the top level of competition that the NBA has to offer.
For two of the Bucks’ players, the marathon of basketball is hardly over. Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are part of the Tokyo Olympics USA Men’s Basketball team, alongside their Suns opponent Devin Booker and a slew of familiar faces to NBA fans.
The team is an ostensible “dream team” for any American basketball fan, and many at home in the US are hoping superstars like Holiday, Booker, Middleton, Kevin Durant, and Damian Lillard can bring home the gold in basketball’s most prestigious international competition.