Eight rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a pair of blocks. A new career-high of 44 points. A game changing-dunk and a game-sealing rejection on a seven-footer. But most importantly, a win.
Just another day at the office for “The Greek Freak,” Giannis Antetokounmpo, also kindly referred to as Milwaukee’s favorite son, which unfortunately takes on a new meaning this season. Except on this night, there was a lot more to Antetokounmpo’s career performance than one could simply see on the highlight reel, both on and off the court.
Milwaukee came into Saturday night’s game against the Blazers at 1-1, with Giannis already considering the third game of the season a must-win, later stating, “We couldn’t afford to lose this game.”
Well, the Bucks were very close to losing it and blowing a late seven-point lead, but the 22-year-old forward wouldn’t let that happen. After missing two free throws with under a minute left, Antetokounmpo poked the ball away from Blazers’ CJ McCollum, and threw down a dunk to give Milwaukee a late one-point lead.
With Portland trying to regain the lead and close out with a victory, Giannis came up big on the defensive end again, this time cleanly rejecting seven-footer Jusuf Nurkiç as he went up for a lay-up, just about sealing the win for the home team.
After the game, Antetokounmpo talked about how he had to make up for missing those two free throws, which could have really cost the team in the end.
“That’s what I did. I missed two big free throws, and I can’t end the game like that. I have to do whatever it takes for me to keep playing hard, and I still have to fight. I have to show the right example, and that’s what I did.”
Thanks to his incredibly dominant and complete performance, his Bucks teammates rewarded Giannis with the game ball, which he had displayed in his locker after the game.
And on this night, he dedicated the ball and his performance Saturday to his late father, Charles, who tragically passed away before the season started.
“It’s special. Moving forward, just playing hard for my family, and for my dad, because he loved to see us play,” Antetokounmpo explained after the contest, when talking about the dedication to his father.
After a pause, Giannis continued. “And I’m not done yet, this is just the beginning. We’ve still got 79 games, plus playoffs…hopefully,” Antetokounmpo exclaimed with his trademark, contagious, light-up-the-room smile.
Media members are obviously supposed to be pretty serious and focused in interview huddles, and even the best of them couldn’t help from smiling and chuckling a bit after the franchise player finished his statement. Antetokounmpo is literally a once in a generation talent, yet his humility, innocence and sense of humor are so becoming, it would be tough to imagine even the most cynical of people not liking this kid.
But Giannis didn’t stop there.
The locker room interviews concluded, and everyone got dressed, grabbed their belongings, and headed out to their respective vehicles.
A friend in the media and I left the Bradley Center, but not without running into the Greek Freak yet again, this time outside. In a black hoodie with his family close behind him, Antetokounmpo started to get into his car, but then thanked us for the support and told us to have a good night.
The parking lot area is pretty well-known, and because of this, many children and Bucks fans wait there to try to see their favorite players and get some autographs, as none would of course be bigger than one from Antetokounmpo. Giannis was noticeably (and understandably) exhausted, while accompanied by his family, and ready to leave the arena.
But he’s not just an unbelievable basketball player on the court; Antetokounmpo is a special person off the court as well. Kids were literally jumping up and down, trying to get Giannis’ attention at that moment. So, naturally, Antetokounmpo got his family into the car, walked over to the fans, and signed autographs for at least 25-30 kids.
It’s 11:00 on a Saturday night, it’s chilly, and the superstar was ready for a little family time and getting some rest, but still made time for his loyal fans, as he never fails to do.
Truly unlike any other superstar, Giannis makes time for everyone, whether that be his teammates, his family, his fans, or even the media. The Milwaukee Bucks family and his biological family mean everything to Antetokounmpo, who didn’t shy away from that truth in his postgame press conference.
When asked again about his father, Giannis said, “Hopefully, he’s seeing us from above, and he’s proud of us.”
It would be pretty hard to imagine someone not proud of this 22-year-old phenom, from his accomplishments on the hardwood, to his relationships and successes off of it.
But until Giannis and his father meet again, Milwaukee is sure to look after the city’s favorite son, and treat him just like he’s family.