File Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Mario Hezonja under Weirdest and Most Unnecessary NBA beefs of the 2018-19 season. A regular dunk by the fringe-pro Knick in an early December game turned into a wildly irrational step-over taunt of an MVP frontrunner, who in turn promised a future punch to the nuts. That’s the backdrop to the Bucks-Knicks Christmas Day matinee (Noon, ESPN).
If that all sounds bizarre, it’s because it is.
First, here’s the play, in which Hezonja did a normal dunk that Giannis tried and failed to block. (Notice how I didn’t say Hezonja dunked on Giannis, because he didn’t dunk on Giannis.)
hold up did i just witness Mario Hezonja STEP OVER GIANNIS ANTETOKOUMPO⁉️ pic.twitter.com/a8koDgWWPd— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) December 1, 2018
Obviously, Giannis wasn’t happy with the ordeal, which he talked about postgame.
What’d Giannis say after the game?
Giannis said everything he possibly could to escalate this beef from a dumb moment to one we’ll all be thinking about Christmas Day when these teams play again at Madison Square Garden.
When asked if the step-over bothered him, Giannis responded: “Oh yeah. I’m going to punch him in his nuts next time.” He was not kidding.
Then when someone asked, “Really?” He said, “Yeah.”
Here is the stone-cold interview:
Giannis Antetokonmpo on Mario Hezonja stepping over him:— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) December 2, 2018
“Oh yeah, I’m gonna punch him in the stand next time.” pic.twitter.com/nEAHjYeJ4y
Giannis later apologized for what he said, but not for the sentiment.
“I’m a role model for a lot of kids...and I felt bad about that. What I said, I meant it...I have to choose better words.”— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 3, 2018
Giannis on his post-game comments in New York: pic.twitter.com/pksb0OU6Lp
What’d Hezonja say after the game?
Hezonja, whose only two points of the entire game came on the faux poster, sounded off postgame.
“Honestly, if you’re afraid, this is not for you,” Hezonja said, according to Newsday’s Steve Popper. “I don’t want to be disrespectful, but if you feel fear this is not the place for you, New York is not a place for you and this team is not a place for you.”
Both of them.
Hezonja stepping over Giannis was beyond out of line for the type of dunk he threw down — and, uh, also the player he is. Then his postgame quote — the “if you feel fear this is not the place for you, New York is not a place for you and this team is not a place for you” one — is certainly a sentence from a pure scorer averaging a shade under eight points per game.
The Giannis frustration was fair in the locker room, but I would definitely not advise telling the media you’re going to punch someone in the genitals!
So yeah, both of these guys are wrong for their actions, no matter how entertaining.
How spicy is this?
Pretty fiery. It gives us a bizarre storyline and a potential punch-to-the-beans, on Christmas no less.
Rarely do athletes pre-meditate to the media that an altercation is to come, so we’re in rare territory. And it’s even rarer to be of belief that either side will follow through.
Remember, Hezonja came to the NBA with the reputation of a trash-talking, cocky teen.
“Respect? No, I never had respect to anybody on a basketball court,” Hezonja once told Sportando. “I heard about, ‘If they smell blood, you get eaten.’ I’m not like that. I don’t care. Whether it’s a veteran or a young player standing in front of me I always have the same goal. I want to run over everybody.”
We’ll find out how real this beef is soon enough.