Milwaukee Bucks Championship Is Best Thing to Happen to NBA

07/23/2021

Without hyperbole, I confidently say that the Milwaukee Bucks championship is the best thing to have happened to the NBA in a long time. With this championship, three vital things happened:

  1. One of the most likable superstars in NBA history won a championship
  2. The future of the NBA post-LeBron looks more palatable
  3. Small market teams now have a hero to model their aspirations after

A month ago, I wrote about what the NBA will look like after LeBron retires and why the situation might be more hopeful than it seems. And more than ever, this week makes it look like that future is in good hands.

With his 50 points close-out performance, Giannis gave NBA Fans one of the greatest NBA Single Game performances of all time while simultaneously providing the NBA with its most vital moment in years.

The first reason this is important is that Giannis might be the most beloved superstar since Dirk Nowitzki. 

Curry occupied that role for a little bit. But just when he was building momentum with a historic 73 win team and a chance at his first finals MVP, the Warriors signed Kevin Durant, turning them from the most loved franchise in the NBA to the most hated virtually overnight.

LeBron James was famous at 17, dubbed the Chosen One, then somehow exceeded that lofty expectation. But while he might have the most fans, he simultaneously has the most haters, specifically, dating back to The Decision in 2010.

But beyond that, no story has been this likable since Dirk Nowitzki. The Dallas Mavericks fulfilled the dream of every NBA fan outside of Miami by taking down the Heatles in the finals. But that happened before social media really took the NBA to a new stratosphere of popularity.

Giannis, on the other hand, has a story everyone relates to regardless of circumstance.

For better or worse, the world loves a story where the hero fights through adversity and eventually pushes through to defeat his villains. And with Giannis, it almost feels like we watched him grow from the skinny rookie that averaged just under seven points a game to the Most Improved Player, to a two-time MVP, DPOY, and the all-time great who just scored 50 points to win his first championship.

It feels like Giannis did it the right way, didn't cut any corners, just put his head down, and improved season after season.

As with every blockbuster movie, there comes a climax where the star either falls and becomes the villain or perseveres and reaches new heroic heights. Virtually every superstar athlete gets that opportunity.

That opportunity came last summer when Giannis became a free agent after yet another disappointing playoff loss. It felt like his star was too big for a market like Milwaukee. A two-time MVP, regarded as a generational talent, was faced with the decision of either staying still in a situation that made a championship look more improbable than ever or leave and sign for a super team and make a near-guaranteed trip to the NBA Finals.

Most of the world expected Giannis to leave Milwaukee for more stars and a bigger market like LeBron did ten years earlier when he left a mismanaged Cleveland organization for Miami. The parallels were eerily similar.

Just like with LeBron in 2010, Giannis, a twenty-five-year-old superstar, two-time MVP, was coming off the back of two straight disappointing playoff losses despite finishing with the best record in the regular season. Much like Cleveland, Milwaukee is a small market, and there were plenty of suitors for Giannis with a glamorous location and more talented teammates.

2010 LeBron decided to leave Cleveland, spawning a new era of player autonomy and super-super teams. This decision was what the NBA needed at the time. The idea of megastars playing on the same roster wasn't new to the NBA, but 2010 was the first time a superstar decided to do that with free agency. The attention the LeBron, Bosh, Wade move generated catapulted the NBA to global popularity. Regularly season Miami Heat games quickly became the most-watched games in NBA history, and before you knew it, the NBA had a story that was more intriguing than any of the other major sports.

Fast forward to 2020, and that LeBron era had reached the end of its usefulness. Player autonomy has practically become a negative for the league as every player now believes they deserve a LeBron-level of power to choose where they want to play. Small markets were counting down the years before their homegrown superstar leaves. And the same super teams that once made the NBA an international phenomenon threatened to ruin the same popularity it created as fans tuned out championships that seem bought rather than fought for in the age of super-super teams. 

It started with Boston creating a big three to stop LeBron, LeBron making his own big three to counter that, and one giant slippery slope led to the Warriors stacking the deck with four future Hall-of-Famers playing on the same team. Fans grew tired of seeing two teams compete; something had to change.

For the NBA, the Giannis free agency was more important than they let on.

 Something needed to change, not necessarily through a 2010 do-over, but an opportunity to make a new decision in the same scenario. That opportunity looked like Giannis Antetokounmpo and his free agency a decade after the LeBron decision.

Giannis stayed, and while that made him beloved, NBA fans snickered and said it was the wrong decision; there was no way he could win a championship.

Yet, here we are, and not only is he a champion, but Giannis is also already arguably a top 10 player in NBA history, all while seemingly remaining humble through it all. A quiet confidence that is often missing in a generation where most stars across all sports are desperate to market themselves to new heights on social media.

The NBA desperately needed a small market win to signal a new era where fans can follow superstars all over their league, and not just in a few markets, that was getting old, and declining ratings were showing that. Now players no longer have an excuse to leave early. Giannis just proved that it is possible to stay and win with the franchise that drafted you into a small market; the world will love you more for it.

With this win, Giannis sent shockwaves around the NBA that will last at least a decade. We will see a future where super teams will cease to exist, and 8-10 teams will have legitimate title aspirations every season. We have Giannis to thank for that.


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