Giannis Antetokounmpo ended his press conference Sunday by lifting the Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP trophy over his head and saying with a mock-shouting tone: “Milwaukee, this is for you!!!” He broke into laughter, removed his headphones and told someone off camera, “I was supposed to do that.” Still smiling big, he again lifted the trophy and exclaimed: “Milwaukee, this is for you!”
This is the Bucks’ dream.
And his passion – as shown by scoring 35 points on 16-of-16 shooting in leading Team LeBron to victory – remains strong.
At this point in his career, Antetokounmpo is coming under the microscope. Signing his extension quieted some noise, but not nearly all of it. Antetokounmpo has won the last two regular-season MVPs, leading the Bucks to 60 wins two years ago and an even better record last season. But the Bucks have faltered the last two postseasons. They dropped four straight to the Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals then got smoked by the Heat in last year’s second round.
Fairly or not, Antetokounmpo now can silence his critics only by succeeding in the playoffs.
Against that backdrop, who’d care about an All-Star game – especially amid the coronavirus pandemic? Since NBA playoff games stopped being aired on tape-delay, only one other player had won regular-season MVP then All-Star MVP without first winning a championship – Allen Iverson.
Antetokounmpo’s 16 shots are the second-most ever in a game – regular-season, playoff or All-Star – by someone who didn’t miss:
All the other perfect-shooting games on the leaderboard came in the regular season. Antetokounmpo doubled the prior All-Star record. 76ers guard Hal Greer shot 8-for-8 in 1968.
Sure, luck was involved. In addition to his ferocious dunks, Antetokounmpo made all three of his 3-pointers – including banking in a couple.
But even a miss wouldn’t have changed the tenor of Antetokounmpo’s performance. He was playing great and having a blast.
Antetokounmpo has proven his work ethic and determination. He is clearly focused more on team success than individual accolades. We should appreciate his dazzling showing Sunday. It detracts from nothing.
Even as he cradled the All-Star MVP trophy – named for Bryant, whom Antetokounmpo idolized – the Bucks forward kept perspective.
“My goal is to be a champion one day,” Antetokounmpo said. “Hopefully, we can hold the big trophy.”