They will talk about this game forever. They will remember this game forever: in Milwaukee, in Phoenix, wherever the NBA matters, wherever basketball boils the bloodstream. This is not recency bias. This is not the afterglow of a moment. This is fact. This is truth. This is forever.
This was Giannis Antetokounmpo turning in a performance for the ages, one of the great title-clinching games in the history of the NBA Finals. It belongs on that shelf. It belongs in that pantheon. Let the record proclaim the Milwaukee Bucks the champions of the 2020-21 season thanks to this 105-98 closeout of the Phoenix Suns.
And let all the fans who saw this bear witness to why it was possible. Let them proclaim what Antetokounmpo did, with 17,000 fans inside Fiserv Forum and as many as 65,000 swarming the streets and avenues beyond, Milwaukee pleading for a conqueror to deliver the city its first pro championship in 50 years, in 18,346 days.
And Antetokounmpo furnishing it.
“I wanted to do this in this city,” said Antetokounmpo, who scored 50 points, who grabbed 14 rebounds, who blocked five shots and even — this is not a typo — shot 17-for-19 from the foul line. “I wanted to do it with these guys.”
He did it with them. He did it for them. And he did it with a title-clincher that immediately stands alongside a small sampling of equally eternal deeds. Put it alongside the man whose name graces the MVP trophy Antetokounmpo lifted into the air Tuesday night, Bill Russell, who in 1962, Game 7, dropped 30 points and 40 rebounds against the Lakers.
Put it next to Clyde Frazier’s 36 points and 19 assists against the Lakers in Game 7, 1970, a game those old enough to remember will swear took place only a few days ago, and put it next to Michael Jordan’s grand finale as a Bull, 45 points and the game-winning step-back in Game 6, 1998, in Salt Lake City.
And yes: let this sit up on that shelf close by the game that has long served as the gold standard for such moments: Magic Johnson’s 42-point, 15-rebound, seven-assist masterpiece, Game 6 in 1980 at the old Philly Spectrum. A year ago, on the 40th anniversary of that game, Magic’s voice had filled a telephone line with wonder all those years later.
“I still can’t believe that happened to me,” he said. “I had a lot of great games, sure. But when my team needed me most, when my teammates needed me most, I was able to be there for them. I smile whenever I think of that.”
Giannis’ smile is every bit as incandescent as Magic’s, and his night Tuesday was every bit as remarkable as Magic’s was on May 16, 1980. Start to finish. The Suns tried everything. They ran everyone at him. You half expected to see Tom Chambers and Alvan Adams and Oliver Miller hanging off his arms. Didn’t matter.
Not this game. Not this night. Not with Giannis Antetokounmpo answering history’s call, carrying the Bucks, crushing the Suns. It wasn’t so long ago that Antetokounmpo was being humbled by Kevin Durant. Wasn’t that long ago when it looked like his season was over, his knee collapsing in a horrid blur.
And now this.
Milwaukee’s Greek chorus of supporting players — Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, Brook Lopez — had fine games, too. But it was the Greek Freak who brought them home, who brought the Bucks their first title since the Kareem/Oscar partnership in 1971. That title was clinched on the road, in Baltimore. So was the Braves’ 1957 World Series, at Yankee Stadium. And Marquette’s 1977 NCAA champs in Al McGuire’s swan song cut the nets in Atlanta’s old Omni.
This one was about Milwaukee, and for Milwaukee and, at last, in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo had officially adopted the town in December when he re-upped and took himself off the market, declaring his loyalty for the team that drafted him, his fealty to the city that’s thrilled to him. He did that. And he did this.
He put his name alongside Russell and Clyde, Magic and Michael, and it will stay there forever. It belongs there forever.
“He’s off the charts,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said, admitting that “it’s hard to find more words to describe what Giannis does.”
“I felt like I had to do a little bit of everything,” Antetokounmpo said.
He did an awful lot of everything. From a project at 19 to an MVP at 24 to a champion at 26, with one of the greatest games ever played as part of his permanent record.
“Believe in your dreams,” he said, cradling the Russell Trophy in one arm and the O’Brien Trophy in the other, and in that moment, who didn’t believe in the power of dreams?