The NBA has always been a league of superstars, but this season it feels like the talent is spread across the entire league. While players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are still leading teams to championships, there’s also Stephen Curry (who?) and DeMar Derozan out on their own island dominating games with breathtaking shots. The ironic thing about all these guys coming up big for their squads is that they weren’t even supposed to be playing in this game due to injury or suspension.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has won the NBA title. He was a major force in leading the Milwaukee Bucks to their first championship in almost a decade. In the clinching Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals, he scored 50 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and blocked five shots. He overcame his free-throw issues in that game, going 17-of-19 from the line.

Giannis had previously won two MVP awards and the Defensive Player of the Year award. But, before winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy, he was in the last year of a four-year, $100 million contract with Milwaukee. In the end, one of the league’s most sought-after free agents elected to re-sign with the Bucks, and everything worked out for everyone involved.

However, whispers and rumblings in the NBA world were flying thick and fast as the 2020-21 season approached. Is Giannis going to remain or go? As it turns out, there was a time when the Finals MVP departed the Cream City for greater pastures and a different superteam.

Before last season, Giannis Antetokounpo had to make an astronomically important choice.

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks walks down the floor after a basket.

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks walks down the floor after a basket. During the first half of a game against the New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo reacts after a score as he heads back to the bench. | Getty Images/John Fisher

Teams were freeing cap space to make a run at a then 25-year-old who had just won back-to-back MVP awards. The traditional suspects were present: the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks. The Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, and Dallas Mavericks all had enough cap space to sign Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks sought to persuade Giannis that he could remain in Milwaukee and win the ring he so much craved. To begin, general manager Jon Horst sent a slew of selections to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Jrue Holiday.

Bogdan Bogdanovic was also acquired in a sign-and-trade transaction by the Bucks. They didn’t, though. Due to tampering, the NBA intervened and halted the transfer (which remains an issue around the league). That seemed to be a costly error for the franchise at the time.

But, in the end, Giannis chose Milwaukee over the rest of the league and signed a supermax agreement to remain, bringing the club its first title since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was there (and was still Lew Alcindor).

But Antetokounmpo’s success wasn’t always certain.

It was tempting for Giannis to leave Milwaukee, he conceded.

NBA fans are used to superstars conversing with superstars in the hopes of forming a partnership to govern the league, win a championship, and establish a dynasty.

The Heatles had been planned out for years by LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. The BFFs would play together and win championships elsewhere. And it was successful.

Kevin Durant has joined Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, who are already stacked. That was successful.

Those discussions naturally took place between Giannis and other superstars. It’s hardly impossible that some of the 26-year-family old’s members were pressuring him to leave a small-market team in very cold — “cold as s***,” as the guy put it — winter conditions.

Those messages were coming, as Antetokounmpo told GQ’s Zach Baron in an interview after gracing the magazine’s infamous cover:

“Everyone started contacting me, telling me to leave the squad.’ It’s only natural. I’ll admit that I like to play with the top players; I wish KD was on my side rather than against me. I wish LeBron James was on my side rather than against me. “Steph, you’re a member of my squad.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo discusses his free agency choice in 2021.

The Alphabet, on the other hand, chose to remain for one particular purpose.

“Even with all the pressure, I choose to remain here since it’s simpler to go.” That’s the simple solution. It’s simple to get out.”

On his choice to remain in Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo says

As a result, he remained. He didn’t go for the easy option. And he demonstrated that he was equal to the task.

The next stage is to win back-to-back titles.

Giannis didn’t get to this stage without conquering a slew of challenges, both personally and professionally. Later in the GQ interview, he revealed that he feels compelled to push himself. He claims that the challenges he faced helped him become the successful person he is today.

So far in 2021-22, the Bucks have suffered their share of setbacks as a team. The majority of Milwaukee’s starting lineup has missed several games. Khris Middleton, Giannis’s Robin, hasn’t played in a while after testing positive for coronavirus (COVID-19). Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday have both been out for a long period.

It’s still early, and Milwaukee has plenty of time to get healthy. The Bucks’ cornerstone, of course, has been a steadying presence. It is not yet time to penalize the panic button.

However, winning consecutive NBA championships is a difficult task. If Antetokounmpo wants it, he can have it.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo slammed the New York Knicks in public in 2015, then backed it up the next night: ‘They’ve already lost 15 (straight) games, and tomorrow will be 16.’

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