Greek Freak stamps mark with MVP gong

Milwaukee Bucks' 24-year-old forward Giannis Antetokounmpo with the Most Valuable Player award at the NBA Awards show on Monday. PHOTO: REUTERS
Milwaukee Bucks' 24-year-old forward Giannis Antetokounmpo with the Most Valuable Player award at the NBA Awards show on Monday. PHOTO: REUTERS

Antetokounmpo's best season ends with award, first win for Milwaukee since 1974

LOS ANGELES • During the 2013 NBA draft, analyst Fran Fraschilla introduced Giannis Antetokounmpo, a relatively unknown 18-year-old from Greece, as the evening's "most mysterious" prospect.

Six years later, the Milwaukee Bucks forward earned a significantly more prestigious superlative - the National Basketball Association's Most Valuable Player.

The NBA announced on Monday night Antetokounmpo had claimed MVP honours, beating out Houston Rockets guard James Harden and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, his fellow finalists.

The 24-year-old "Greek Freak" averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game - all career highs - while leading the Bucks to a league-best 60 regular-season wins.

His first MVP award marked another step in a steady ascent for the three-time All-Star, who became the first Milwaukee player to be named MVP since league great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974.

Only the fifth player not born in America to clinch the accolade after Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria), Tim Duncan (United States Virgin Islands), Steve Nash (South Africa) and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), he led the Bucks to their first Eastern Conference Finals in 18 years, losing 4-2 to eventual NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors.

Citing the franchise's management "for believing in me when I was 18 years old back in Greece", a tearful Antetokounmpo said: "I want to thank my team, my teammates.

"It takes more than one person to win 60 games. Every time I walked to the locker room, I saw my teammates were ready to fight, they were ready to go to war with me."

He also paid tribute to his late father Charles, who died in 2017 from a heart attack, adding: "Every day I step on the floor, I always think of my dad."

Whereas most of his contemporaries began appearing on the radar of NBA scouts during their high school careers, Antetokounmpo slowly attracted attention while playing in Greek basketball's third division.

But his step-by-step advance from 2013 has been meteoric, becoming a full-time starter in the 2014-15 season, a lead scoring option in 2015-16, the league's Most Improved Player in 2016-17 and the Bucks' marquee player in 2017-18.

NO 'I' IN TEAM

It takes more than one person to win 60 games. Every time I walked to the locker room, I saw my teammates were ready to fight, they were ready to go to war with me.

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, NBA MVP, on his gratitude for his Milwaukee teammates.

This season, his first under coach Mike Budenholzer, Antetokounmpo led the Eastern Conference in All-Star votes, guided his team to their most regular-season victories since 1981 and delivered their first play-off series win since 2001.

Harden, last year's MVP, was second in voting after averaging a career-high 36.1 points per game, the highest since league great Michael Jordan in 1986-87.

The NBA also handed out its other annual awards, naming Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert its Defensive Player of the Year, while Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic took Rookie of the Year honours.

Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams took home the Sixth Man of the Year, Raptors forward Pascal Siakam claimed the Most Improved Player award and Budenholzer landed the Coach of the Year prize.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2019, with the headline 'Greek Freak stamps mark with MVP gong'. Print Edition | Subscribe