Champion’s veiled dig at NBA megastars

Standing on top of the mountain, NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t help poking other NBA stars after delivering a championship to Milwaukee for the first time in 50 years.

While some commentators have thrown shade over the Bucks’ breakthrough win because of the huge injury toll this season, Antetokounmpo’s feats are undeniable, becoming the third player behind Hall-of-Famers Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon to win a regular season MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP. So the Bucks star can be forgiven for crowing about his maiden title win, especially since he was drafted by Milwaukee in 2013 and rejected offers to go to a bigger market and join a super team to secure a ring.

“I couldn’t leave. There was a job that had to be finished,” Antetokounmpo said.

“I feel like the bubble did not pay us justice. Give credit to the Miami Heat. They played great, but it did not pay us justice. Everybody was feeling homesick. We are a family-oriented team, wanted to see our families. But coming back, I was like, ‘This is my city. They trust me. They believe in me. They believe in us.’ Even when we lost … 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 — I don’t want to put anybody on the spot — but 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, and this is the way to do it and we did it.”

The idea of a super team has featured prominently throughout NBA history but was recently popularised with the formation of the Big 3 in 2010 with LeBron taking his talents to Miami, Kevin Durant signing with the 73-9 Warriors and James Harden joining the Brooklyn Nets this year via trade. Both James and Durant had to join other accomplished stars to claim their first championship.

James and Durant led the Cavaliers and Thunder respectively to the NBA Finals but couldn’t get over the hump until they shifted teams. James joined the Miami Heat in 2010 after being drafted by home city Cleveland in 2003, teaming up with fellow stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to win two championships in four years. Durant joined Golden State the year after Oklahoma CIty was knocked out by Stephen Curry and co. in the Conference Finals, going on to win two titles in three years.

Last year’s loss to the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs ignited trade rumours around Antetokounmpo, with TV pundits predicting the star would move on and find success elsewhere. At the time, Giannis only had one year on his contract, and rivals were looking to pitch their offers after the season. However, he stayed put and signed a five-year, $312 million supermax extension.

Even though Antetokounmpo’s rise to NBA champion is huge, television ratings for the NBA Finals and playoffs posted sizable increases over last year, but that was the only good news for the NBA as far as viewer numbers.

According to Nielsen, the NBA and ABC, the six-game series between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns averaged 9.91 million viewers, a 32% increase over last year’s series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, which also went six games. However, the average makes it the fourth-lowest since 1997.

The Lakers-Heat series — which was played in October in the Orlando bubble after the coronavirus pandemic pushed the season back five months — averaged only 7.45 million. San Antonio’s 2007 four-game sweep of Cleveland (9.29 million) and the Spurs’ six-game victory over New Jersey in 2003 (9.83 million) are the other series to average fewer than 10 million since 1997.

The numbers were also down 34.5 percent compared to two years ago, when the Toronto-Golden State series averaged 15.14 million.

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