A camera taken Stephen Curry advises Giannis Antetokounmpo shortly before the 2018 All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Antetokounmpo spent most of their interaction nodding, absorbing the words of the MVP twice.
"You should see that each year you get better and move on to the next step," Curry said. "That's what it's all about – it's right there." Antetokounmpo replied that he liked watching the Warriors play and that they seemed to be having fun on the pitch.
"We say that winning is fun, but that everyone is involved," Curry said. "Obviously, you lead the charge, but you appreciate what everyone brings to the table.As a chef, that's what it's all about."
A little more than a year later, Antetokounmpo seems to be taking this step. Two games since their first appearance in the final in nearly half a century, the Bucks and their burgeoning superstar, are about to take over the vacant Eastern Conference title left by LeBron James. If Curry's Warriors does what most expect and qualifies for the fifth final, there will probably be no new words of encouragement or types of highlights. help both worked in Charlotte, North Carolina, during this year's All-Star Game.
This season and the playoffs have seen Antetokounmpo move from the athletic marvel to the fully formed MVP candidate. It would be easy to attribute this to a set of physical skills that forces opponents to debate the number of defenders to be allocated between a transcendental player who can move from a half-court to the rim in a single dribble and the rest of his sharpshooter teammates. also be incomplete.
As far as Antetokounmpo has changed players in his six NBA seasons, he has matured as much as the leader of those Bucks.
"There are a lot of great competitors in this league," Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters before the opening of the Eastern Conference finals. "And then there are others [where] this competitiveness is just at the next level. It stands out for you when you talk to [Giannis]when you watch him work and practice. He wants to win. And the advantage of him is that I think he is happy when his teammates succeed. He is happy when others play well. "
Bucks general manager Jon Horst is reminded that he was struck by the reaction of Antetokounmpo and his teammate Khris Middleton in last season's exit games following the loss to Milwaukee at of the first round in the playoffs.
The teammates immediately made a commitment to return to work and avoid a similar fate. In summer, they organize team workouts and shared excursions away from the courtyard.
"He did things vocally where, when he needs to talk, guys listen to him," Horst said. "It has been great to get the group together at team events or to organize different dinners or different events where the guys will meet.It's just a practice that brings everyone together." Be jovial and light at the right time. Being focused and very competitive at the right time, just adjusting and growing, as his ground game grew and his impact on the ground grew, I would say his leadership was also developed. "
Charles Krupa / Associated Press
Middleton succinctly explains Antetokounmpo's style: "He puts his work in it, before training, after practice, he's in the gym all the time, guys see it, you have one of the best players of the league, time, you will follow. "
Steve Novak has spent part of his last two NBA seasons in Milwaukee before retiring in 2017. He is now watching Antetokounmpo, 24, since his position as TV Analyst for Bucks on Fox Sports Wisconsin.
"Growth and its presence as a leader are being made and night," Novak said. "I have the impression that he was playing for the Bucks when I was with him, and now he is the dollars. There is this completely different presence that he has over the last two years than it is his team. He sets the tone. He's talking about his guys.
"When I was with him, I think he was an incredibly hard worker and possessed him, but I think, in his mind, he still considered himself a young boy."
For Novak, watching Antetokounmpo stirs memories of playing alongside Dwyane Wade in Marquette. Then, said Novak, the team never felt out of the game, regardless of the deficit. They were confident that Wade would arrive with the clutch basket, the stolen key, the extra pass – always the right game at the right time. "These two guys, in my experience, were able to completely dominate the entire match at any time," said Novak.
Novak has rethought the rare opportunities lost by Milwaukee during the regular season. In a loss to Indiana, Antetokounmpo had only 12 points. He returned two nights later to score 44 points on 14 out of 19 shots against Cleveland. Then there was a defeat against Miami, while he scored three out of 12 points with nine points. He followed with a 30-point effort in an easy win against the Knicks.
"This team has lost two consecutive games once, and that's because of Giannis' reaction when he or the team played badly," Novak said. "I think these performances have been his greatest signs of leadership, that he will lead this team and lead this team whenever there needs to be a change or a fit."
Like his Eurostep, Antetokounmpo needed time and guidance to refine this directional trait.
Jason Terry has spent the last two seasons of his 19-year career in Milwaukee with Antetokounmpo. Every day, Antetokounmpo wagged Terry with questions about how the Mavericks managed to win a championship when Terry played with Dallas.
What kind of workout did you do? What did you eat? How much did you sleep? How did you recover?
"That's what led me to believe that this kid is different," said Terry, now an analyst at Turner. "He's different – he really wants to know the answers to the test, so when he passes the test, he'll be well prepared, and that's very rare when we talk about a young superstar from this league." many young people The superstars with whom I have played or watched or watched over my years look at the statistics sheet, the gains and losses do not matter much to them, they want to know how their peers perceive them and got their figures, and that's just the reality of the situation. "
When Terry arrived in Milwaukee, he saw Antetokounmpo give the example. Terry believes that this style lasts only a very long time, until a voice must follow the actions. The responsibility of the teams spreads in this way.
Stacy Revere / Getty Images
Terry would tell Antetokounmpo that there would be times during a long season where teammates would tire of his voice. Leaders tell their teammates what to hear, not just the praise they want to receive. Leaders make their voices heard and honesty is finally appreciated.
"Are you sure?" Antetokounmpo replied, according to Terry. "Can I say that?"
"His eyes were wide-eyed and his tail was bushy," said Terry. "It was like he was grateful that a veteran spoke to him and gave him the power that way.
It took a little while to find his voice, but the experience and the pain that it can cause in the playoffs have led Antetokounmpo to become more of a spokesman for the team.
Take last season. Waiting to challenge Cleveland and LeBron, Milwaukee had some difficulties, undergoing a coaching change and finishing as seventh seed of the Eastern Conference. A Boston team without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward pushed Milwaukee aside in the first round, winning the 112th match, 112-96, leaving the franchise and its franchisee to understand what was wrong.
"Many guys in the locker room have never participated in the seventh game," said Antetokounmpo. "It's a new experience, now we know what it takes to win a seventh game, you have to go out, hit the first."
Terry now sees the leadership qualities at Antetokounmpo that he has noticed in other teammates throughout his career in the NBA: Dirk Nowitzki's work ethic, Kevin Garnett's competitiveness and owned by a franchise of James Harden.
"[Giannis] would take charge, and he would be responsible and responsible again for the fact that we had not played well and that it was his, "said Terry. These are some of the first big signs of a leader. When you do it in the media, guys listen. They watch, they see what is written or what is projected on television, but it must also be consistent in the locker room. And it was something that, in the beginning, just wanted to do things for example and not really say a lot. He would have tight lips. But … during my second season, he really started taking responsibility for the leadership role and he realized that it was his franchise. "
Although Nowitzki apparently had this title with the Mavericks at the time of Terry, Jason Kidd also ensured the presence of a veteran who, according to Terry, was crucial to the 2011 championship team .
And that is Kidd, recently named Lakers assistant, who shaped Antetokounmpo 's debut as a 2014-18 Bucks coach. Early on, he often encouraged Antetokounmpo to explain to his teammates how he saw the terrain.
"Sometimes as a foreigner – and English is your second language – it can sometimes be stressful to talk or say something because a teammate does not understand you, so put yourself in the same position." Gap was something we tried to do right away But we could see that he was perhaps nervous about saying something and that he might have the impression that it was not up to tell him anything, "said Kidd." He had to win that. So that's what made the situation special too: he wanted to play, but we also wanted him to speak. Because he talks and understands what he sees and what he shares with his teammates, game much easier for everyone. "
Kidd cited Antetokounmpo's ability to play each position as paramount for his understanding of the needs of all his teammates.
"When we gave him the ball the first time, he was not ready," Kidd said. "We talked about it, but what makes it special is that when we came back the second time, it was ready and it showed in its growth and in the appearance of the game where it was beginning to to connect the points, his study, his work ethic was at a very high level, and it paid off. [you need] when you talk about someone who wants to be good or tall. He wants to be big so he wanted to understand all aspects of the game. "
Brock Williams-Smith / Getty Images
He also comes to understand and accept the requirements of the position.
"It 's not easy, it' s difficult," Antetokounmpo told reporters after the first match of the Eastern Conference finals. "You have to be able to lead every day, even if you play badly, you play well … the team must know that you will be out the next day and continue to lead them." But in my career, people have helped me in this task – veterans, coaches.In the end, it's my job, and I will continue to do it, win or lose, play poorly or play well. " what am I doing? "
Today, few players are as synonymous with the organization as Antetokounmpo is with the Bucks. Milwaukee recruited him in 2013 after growing up in the Athens district of Sepolia. He and his brother Thanasis would rotate through the same pair of basketball shoes. They sometimes skipped practices, according to one New York Times Ken Maguire's story, selling watches, bags and sunglasses to buy food. Often, they missed both.
Antetokounmpo arrived in Milwaukee at 6'9 "and under 200 pounds.
"He was light as a feather and, as he had very long legs, he could not get ready, so he knew that he had to get stronger," said Jim Cleamons, assistant coach of the rookie season. # 39; Antetokounmpo.
John Hammond, the managing director who wrote Antetokounmpo, described him as obsessed with the idea of hitting the weight room.
"Then, of course, the court [progress] followed that, "said Hammond, now general manager of Orlando. Basically, he never left this training center. Almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a combination of strength training and skills training, it was immediate. It was then that you looked at it and thought: Uh-oh. Sensational. If it is this, what could it be?"
"If you think about it, your best player will rarely be your hardest worker," added Hammond. "These generally go together." The other real parallel is that when your best player is also your best person, then you have something special – I think Giannis is a guy who obviously falls into that category. also, player, but really a big young man. "
Cleamons coached Michael Jordan in Chicago and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and he marveled at how far Antetokounmpo has come and what areas he needs to improve.
He laughed at the small moments when he attended the presentation of a foreign teenager who would eventually face the NBA.
"He had the small, shrill voice," said Cleamons. "He had not started to mature, and he would get upset and he would sound a bit like a squirrel, but again, he knew English, so he's a versatile kid.
"[When] he learned to drive, it was really fun. They got him an American driver's license. In Greece, I think they drive on the other side and that the seat was to be brought almost on the passenger's knees, because he had those legs with long butts. "
The coaching staff repeatedly told Antetokounmpo not to become Americanized.
"It means thinking that success comes before hard work," said Cleamons. "He had to understand, and he had enough in the first year to work in. If he wanted the things he wanted, he would not just show up and voila, waving the magic wand, and he was going to get what he wanted, he accepted it.
"He heard about all the staff members and he started seeing the residue of his work – arriving early, staying late, seeing his game grow … He is dedicated, he has a good idea of who he is and how he wants to be good and he will be even better. "
Aaron Gash / Associate Press
Almost as important to the Bucks, he passed on this meaning to his teammates. That Milwaukee was the only team to win 60 games this season was no coincidence that the dominant game of Antetokounmpo was, and to hear his teammates, the insatiable motivation he instilled in the locker room.
"He has this engine and this desire to win," said George Hill. "He wants to win in everything he does – whether we play shooting, whether we play kickball, whether we play flag football or whatever we play. … And I think that's reflected in each time, another member of this team, be it K-Midd or Bled [Eric Bledsoe]like Sterling [Brown]like Brook [Lopez]. We are all very competitive in everything we do, whether it is to do something in the plane, to do something at the gym or to play free throws. "
Looks like Curry's advice was taken to heart.
Jonathan Abrams is a senior writer for B / R Mag. A former copywriter at Grantland and sports journalist at the New York Times and Los Angeles TimesAbrams is also the bestselling author of All pieces count: the inner story of the thread– available here, now. Follow him on Twitter: @jpdabrams.
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