Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo not only delivered the franchise its first NBA title in 50 years on Tuesday, he also fulfilled a challenge by a legend.
Two years ago, late Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant challenged Antetokounmpo to win a championship as part of a fun back-and-forth on Twitter between the two stars that had been going on for years.
Bryant, who died tragically at 41 in a helicopter crash last year, initially called for the young star to win the league's most valuable player award after Antetokounmpo asked him for a challenge on Twitter in 2017. The All-Star from Greece answered by winning back-to-back MVPs in 2019 and 2020, giving him one more than Bryant won in his 20 seasons with the Lakers.
Once Antetokounmpo checked that off the list, Bryant gave him another task in 2019.
"My man....M.V.P. Greatness," Bryant tweeted. "Next up: Championship. #MambaMentality"
Antetokounmpo, 26, answered that challenge in emphatic fashion on Tuesday when he erupted for 50 points in Milwaukee's 105-98 win at home over the Phoenix Suns that sealed the Bucks' first NBA title since 1971. His 50 points were the most in a game that clinched the NBA title since Bob Pettit of the St. Louis Hawks poured in 50 in 1958.
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He was reminded of that challenge from Bryant during the press conference after the game.
"It means a lot," he said. "This started as almost like a joke at first. He was like in a Nike ad and he was sending challenges to players, to Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, and all that, and I was like let me just shoot my shot. Kind of like, what's my challenge? And he was like 'MVP,' but at first I was like joking, I didn't think he was going to respond to me, but when he did, he made me believe.
"I'm like, Kobe Bryant thinks I can do this, I can play at a high level and lift my team and win the MVP? I had to do it. I had to work hard. And not to necessarily let him down, I had to work hard because people believe that I can do it."
Antetokounmpo was driven to live up to those expectations from Bryant and deliver a title to a city starving for one for half a century.
"That's the thing, I'm a people pleaser," he said at the press conference. "I don't like letting people down. When I re-signed with the city of Milwaukee, that's the main reason I re-signed because I didn't want to let the people down and think that I don't work extremely hard for them, which I do."
Antetokounmpo has a long way to go to reach the lofty heights of Bryant's career achievements, whether it's winning five NBA titles or finishing No. 4 on the all-time scoring list, but one thing is for sure: He loves a challenge.