NBA Finals 2021

NBA Finals 2021: NBA champion Giannis Antetokounmpo has entered realm of all-time greatness

The third time's the charm, right?

After his Milwaukee Bucks came up short in 2019 and 2020, Giannis Antetokounmpo is an NBA champion.

In almost every sport, it's viewed as a rite of passage when superstars experience shortcomings on their path to the ultimate prize. This often results in talks of said superstar finally capturing an elusive title once they do reach the mountaintop.

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And while the concept does hold some validity for Antetokounmpo, who saw his top-seeded teams fall in two consecutive years, the 26-year-old is ahead of schedule by almost all accounts. He's so young that the Larry O'Brien Trophy really didn't have that much time to elude him.

That's scary.

Giannis can now add a Finals MVP award to his overflowing trophy case, making him the youngest to take home the honour since a 22-year-old Kawhi Leonard did so in 2014, and even Leonard was years away from being considered among the best in the league at that time.

Antetokounmpo, on the other hand, first staked his claim as the league's best player at 24, turning in an MVP season in 2018-19, only to have that claim thwarted by a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals.

One year later, an even hungrier Antetokounmpo improved and took home both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honours, joining Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon in rarefied air that I wrote on during last postseason, where Milwaukee's run came to an end in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

In a culture where rings (sometimes unfairly) trump anything else, it was the "elusive" title that many felt would legitimize any claim of Antetokounpmo being among the league's best. Bad news for that faction: there isn't much room left to argue anymore. Those claims are beyond legitimate now.

Not only did Antetokunmpo lead this franchise to its first title in 50 years, but he did it with an all-time NBA Finals performance. He was unstoppable, finishing the series having turned in consecutive 40-point games, another 30-piece, and three of the most iconic moments in NBA Finals history - two unforgettable blocks and an alley-oop finish that would effectively ice Game 5 to move the Bucks within one win of the title.

The mean mug after was pretty iconic, too.

With the title on the Iine in Game 6, Antetokounmpo did something that's never been done before, finishing with 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks to become the first player in NBA Finals history with 40-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and five-plus blocks in a game.

It's tied for the most points in a title-clinching win in NBA history, and Giannis' 17-for-19 shooting from the line rendered his perceived "weakness" as his biggest strength in the biggest game of his life.

As Giannis and the Bucks celebrate their title, remind yourself that we are witnessing a one-of-one path to all-time greatness here. Antetokounmpo is 26 (!) and has already built a Hall of Fame résumè with his back-to-back MVPs, his one Defensive Player of the Year and now, his Finals MVP.

Antetokounmpo, Jordan and Olajuwon are the only three players in the history of the game who can say that they've won all three of those awards, and neither Jordan nor Olajuwon were 26 when they reached that level of achievement.

The shortcomings that Giannis and the Bucks encountered in the years leading up to this one are a reminder of how hard it is to win a championship. And while winning a title allows teams to fully understand the blueprint, it doesn't get any easier after winning the first.

In fact, it gets harder. How lucky is Milwaukee that its best player is still growing?

Antetokounmpo's Finals performance dispelled any notions that he was incapable of being the anchor and best player on a championship team, and he still has plenty of room to improve. Considering the fact that he won't be 27 until December, it's important that we remind ourselves that Antetokoumpo can get even better.

As someone who has now famously - and wisely - spoken on how his focus remains on future achievements and improvements, Antetokounmpo is the type to use this first title as motivation to chase the feeling once again, which should again be scary for the league.

Take the time to appreciate what you've just witnessed, then take a step back and appreciate the fact that you could very well be witnessing the landmark moments of an all-time great career.

He's still only 26.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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