Oh Giannis! When you play, I am undone. My son! Look at my son. Pride is not the word I’m looking for. There is so much more inside me now. Oh Giannis! You outshine the morning sun!
The Greek Freak. The NBA’s Mr. Fantastic. A Monstar with a heart of gold. Apollo with a faux-hawk. The beautiful Greek Dhalsim that ripped the heart out of the New York Knicks and left Carmelo Anthony wondering if it’s even worth it to try anymore.
The 6’11 long-limbed point guard hit his first walk-off game-winner over Lance Thomas on Wednesday night. Then, he went outside and signed autographs for Greek fans who chanted his name.
Giannis! Giannis! Giannis! And all he could say was, “God, wow!”
This moment is wonderful because it shows how Giannis the person is just as fun as Giannis the player. Every interview, video, or profile of him reveals more of his radiance. He takes joy in the simplest things.
He loves to watch Ellen. His favorite movie is Coming to America because he used to watch it with his mother when he was younger. The first time he tasted a smoothie, he tweeted “GOD BLESS AMERICA.” He once tried to run to a Bucks game because he sent so much money to his family that he didn’t have enough cash for a cab fare.
Other players express joy, but none possess Giannis’ brand of attractive innocence. His life of poverty in Greece explains his disposition. Everything impresses him because he never had it. He knows how lucky he is to be able to provide for his family now after having to sell items on the streets back home to survive. Because he knows he’s come so far, he’s yet to grow cynical of life around him.
He may never become that defiled. His innocence seems permanent, a staple of his identity. It’s what makes Giannis who he is.
But while he’s still the wide-grinning beacon of light away from the games, he’s also learning to wield his incredible power during them. He scowls now and is more aggressive in his style of play. As he himself admitted, one needs to have an edge to be a superstar in the NBA. With the Bucks’ help, he’s adapting quickly.
And we’re the lucky ones to see this transformation happen. As Giannis learns to play ruthlessly, we experience the same sense of awe and wonderment he possesses off the court.
Take the buzzer-beater Giannis hit against the Knicks. His legs are so damn long that his step-back before the shot creates so much space. He knows it. Thomas played good defense, but what can you do against someone whose one step equals three for an ordinary human being?
But once the moment passed, Innocent Giannis returned. He was unaware of the magnitude of what he did:
"I didn't feel nothing for the next, like, five seconds, until one of my teammates grabbed me, and I was like, 'Oh, wow. Won the game? Good. Let's go home. Let's get out of here. Feels good because everybody wanted this win so bad.”
The shot was the cherry on top of the sundae on this night. Antetokounmpo dropped 27 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks in the win. He currently leads the Bucks in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. He does everything.
But the numbers are remedial. You have to see him to believe, and sometimes you need to slow down and watch him again. Giannis the player has learned to be so effortlessly beguiling that he can turn a breakaway dunk into a phenomenon.
He could take one more step, but he chooses to take off one foot in front the free-throw line and then float to the rim, as if he always meant to fly and running on the ground is therefore oppressive.
It looks like an ordinary dunk at first glance. There’s not much creativity to it, nor did he attempt to twist and turn for style points. Only by watching the replay do we realize where he took off from and how silly it is that a human being can realistically leap from just inside the free-throw line and score with that much ease.
All of his highlights are like this. They are normal acts performed with an audacious twist that may require a second look. Other players dunk on breakaways, but not from that far away just because he can.
Giannis is slowly learning that he can and should do anything he wants on the court. Jason Kidd supposedly banned him from shooting threes in his second season, and he argued against it. He knew that he could shoot them, but wasn’t ready to let it fly no matter what. But now, after working so hard on that skill, he’s confident enough to shoot them without hesitation, even in transition.
He’s realized that, at the snap of a finger, he can pull off the absurd sequence where he grabbed a rebound, dribbled past Mindaugas Kuzminskas with a behind-the-back move, and took him under the rim before double-clutching the shot.
He knows he can embarrass Derrick Rose with a cartoonish chasedown block while jumping over his own teammate.
And as of the middle of last season, when the Bucks finally put the ball in his hands, he knows he’s a 6’11 point guard that can pull out Kobe Bryant’s signature spin and fadeaway against power forwards and centers who are too slow for him and bully past guards, who are laughably too small for him.
Everything he does is damn near a highlight because they defy the standards we have for people his size. Yet, he’s also barely scratched the surface. With time, he’ll only grow more confident, more skilled, and more omnipresent. He now realizes his sky-high potential and is emboldened to fulfill it.
He’s sure to be an All-Star in his first full season as a point guard. He’s his team’s best player and his averages so far match the type of efforts only achieved by the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. And he’s still only 22 years old.
But unlike most other stars, he’s able to step back when it’s all said and done and express the same sort of awe we do when watching him. The scowls go away, and he stays behind to sign autographs for his fans. He knows how good he can be and he’s becoming more arrogant and unstoppable as the years go by, but that doesn’t damper his inner light. He hears fans singing his name, and just like us, he’s overwhelmed by his new reality.