Giannis Antetokounmpo was about to be a highly-coveted free agent, he could have teamed up with other household name NBA players and formed a superteam in some sunny local and won rings there.
He didn’t. He wanted to take the road less traveled and win in Milwaukee with a team of underdogs — and that made all the difference. Antetokounmpo embraced the challenge and the Milwaukee Bucks won their first NBA title in five decades.
Antetokounmpo wants to be challenged, and in an honest moment during an interview with Zach Baron at GQ, admitted that the next challenge may not be in Milwaukee.
One challenge was to bring a championship here and we did,” he told me. “It was very hard, but we did. Very, very hard. I just love challenges. What’s the next challenge? The next challenge might not be here.” It’s not that he doesn’t love Milwaukee, he said. But he was always wary of things becoming too easy. “Me and my family chose to stay in this city that we all love and has taken care of us—for now,” Giannis said. “In two years, that might change. I’m being totally honest with you. I’m always honest. I love this city. I love this community. I want to help as much as possible.”
Did this mean he was thinking about…leaving? I asked his agent.
“I don’t think it’s, ‘I’m thinking about leaving the Bucks,’ ” [Alex] Saratsis told me. “But I think he’s genuinely like: ‘Okay, I have reached the pinnacle. The next challenge is, let’s repeat.’ But what happens if you do repeat? What’s the next challenge? What is that next barrier? When you think about it from a basketball perspective, by the age of 26, this kid has accomplished everything,” Saratsis said. “So sometimes you’re going to have to manufacture what those challenges are.”
This isn’t meant to freak out Milwaukee fans. Antetokounmpo may well spend his entire career in a Bucks uniform and says that in the story as well. He and his family love it there — it is the only American home he has ever known — and keeping Milwaukee at the top of the NBA will be a challenge. It already is this season, with the Bucks 6-8 to open their title defense (primarily because of missed time by Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and Donte DiVincenzo). Antetokounmpo is under contract with the Bucks until 2026 (although the 2025-26 season is a player option).
However, we need to admire Antetokounmpo’s honesty. He could have just said the perfunctory “I want to be a Buck the rest of my life” line and not meant it like so many other superstars. We should appreciate his understanding that three years from now is almost another lifetime in the NBA considering the speed of change, and who knows what the landscape of the league will look like. When he can be a free agent in 2025 the NBA will be different, and while the Bucks can offer the Greek Freak more money than any other team, the sums will be so astronomical (his 2025-26 player option is for $51.9 million) that the dollars lost to change teams won’t really impact the decision.
It will be about what Antetokounmpo wants, where he sees the next challenge. That he is honest about not knowing speaks to what is refreshing about him. If you read one thing today, it should be Barron’s GQ story; you’ll come away with insight into what makes Antetokounmpo different than the sport’s other superstars.