Most thought he would never be here.
In fact, many across NBA America ridiculed Giannis Antetokounmpo for signing a five-year, $228-million supermax contract to remain with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Fans wanted him to flee the small market, unglamorous town known for beer, brats, bowling alleys and losing.
They wanted him to join the AAU-NBA, where great players team up to form super teams in the hopes of winning an easy title.
Fans wanted Giannis to go to Miami, like LeBron James did. Some wanted to see him join Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, like Kevin Durant did.
Both players won two championships by moving on from their original teams.
But Antetokounmpo, born in Greece and not a spoiled hoop star from this country, wanted no part of the add-water-and-stir NBA.
Giannis wanted to win a championship, but the old fashioned way.
Fans mocked him and said not only wouldn’t he win a title, but he’d never make it to one playing in Milwaukee.
Many fans damned Giannis as a ringless superstar for making such a grave mistake.
But they were ALL wrong and Giannis was right.
In fact, he has already won — even if his team can’t come back against the Phoenix Suns and win the NBA Finals.
Giannis has already proven that it is possible to win big in this league without having to compromise your talent with other stars, that he can lead an imperfect team deep in the playoffs.
Sure, Antetokounmpo wants to win the championship. It’s cool getting to the door of the Playboy Mansion, but you want to get in and have fun.
It hasn’t been much fun for the Bucks. First, they weren’t sure if Giannis was going to play at all after he hyperextended his knee against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals.
Somehow, he played in the first two games — both losses — including a 118-108 loss to the Suns in Game 2 of the NBA Finals in Phoenix on Thursday night.
Antetokounmpo did his part, scoring 42 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Nonetheless, his team goes back to Milwaukee down 0-2 in the best-of-seven series.
Chances are that the Bucks won’t be able to rally to win this as a team. But from Giannis’ standpoint, he proved what he set out to do.
He proved he can lead a team.
Better yet, he has shown other potential players that Milwaukee isn’t that bad after all.
Don’t forget that two of the greatest players ever in the league won up there. Lew Alcindor, now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Oscar Robertson won the championship for the Bucks in 1971.
And here is Giannis, 50 years later, saying it can be done again.
For sure, selling Milwaukee to another star player will be a lot easier now. Giannis has shown what he can do. All he’d have to do is convince another player that he would be the missing piece.
That’s how the Bucks won. They traded for The Big O. He joined Alcindor and the rest is history.
The Bucks are no different from big city, poorly run franchises. The New York Knicks haven’t won a title since 1973. And there are so many other stops in the league more appealing than Milwaukee, but are in the same boat.
Heck, the Suns, despite the warm weather, have been around for 52 years and never won a title. Remember, they even had Charles Barkley back in 1993, the last time they went to the Finals.
The bottom line remains that Giannis didn’t follow the cool kids in school. He stuck to his belief that winning where he was drafted will eventually be the sweetest prize.
The naysayers have been quiet. They hate to admit they could wind up being so wrong. But they are ready to pounce, attack if the Bucks lose the championship.
But before they bury the Bucks, they should reconsider doubting Giannis.
Don’t forget that Giannis was down 0-2 to the Brooklyn Nets in the second round, but won four of the next five games to shock the Nets and get to the conference finals.
Now, he’s in the Finals — another place folks gave him no shot at.
Again, Giannis has won. Just admit it.