MILWAUKEE — In the immediate aftermath of a legendary performance to close out the 2021 NBA Finals and win a championship for the first time in his career, Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo declared that he signed his five-year, supermax contract extension prior to the season because “there was a job that had to be finished,” and that staying in Milwaukee meant doing it the “hard way.”
“I just couldn’t leave,” Antetokounmpo said after putting up 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks to lead Milwaukee to a 105-98 victory over the visiting Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the Finals, delivering the Bucks their second championship — and first in 50 years. “There was a job that had to be finished.
“Coming back, I was like, ‘This is my city. They trust me. They believe in me. They believe in us.’ … Obviously I wanted to get the job done. But that’s my stubborn side. It’s easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else. It’s easy. … I could go to a super team and just do my part and win a championship.
“But this is the hard way to do it,” he continued, pounding the dais for emphasis, “and this is the way to do it, and we did it. We f—ing did it.”
Toronto Raptors two years ago, then in the conference semifinals against the Miami Heat last year.
But both Antetokounmpo and the Bucks came back with a resolve to make sure things went differently this year. The team traded for Jrue Holiday before the season and P.J. Tucker during it. Coach Mike Budenholzer spent the season trying to prepare the team for the playoffs as best as possible, instead of trying to maximize the regular season.
And, once the postseason arrived, the bumps and bruises and past failures the Bucks went through allowed them to overcome deficits in each of the final three series they played in — including being down 2-0 to both the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference semifinals and the Suns in this series — before storming back to win.
He also talked about his own impossible journey going from a player who was an unknown quantity when he left Greece to one who slowly, methodically built himself into the superstar he has become — just as the Bucks have slowly, methodically built themselves, around Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, into an NBA champion.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “I’ve done it all, man. I did anything that I could just to be on the court, just to be in this position. I’ve not played. I’ve come off the bench. When I was 18, I started on the team. I went to the front office and told them to send me to the G League. I’ve played point guard. I’ve only defended. Slashed from the corners and everything. In my fourth year, I was able to lead as a ball handler.
“I’ve done it all. Tonight, that’s what I had to do. I had to do a little bit of everything. I had to defend, I had to rebound, I had to block. Did a little bit of everything.”
And, now that he’s won one title, Antetokounmpo said he’s not satisfied with stopping now.
“This is an addictive feeling,” Antetokounmpo said. “I love playing in the playoffs. I love playing in the Finals.
“This is the moments I want to chase. I want the team to build off this, and hopefully we can do it again.”