Giannis Antetokounmpo saved the NBA.
On Tuesday, the Milwaukee Bucks superstar bucked the current trend of moving around, joining other stars in a quest to win championship rings easier.
Instead, Antetokounmpo decided to stay put in small-market Milwaukee and sign a supermax contract extension. His five-year, $228.2-million deal is the richest pact in NBA history.
And it wasn’t just a windfall for Giannis. It was a huge win for Milwaukee and all small-market teams that have had trouble holding onto its star players.
Better yet, it was a win-win for the NBA as a whole.
Giannis is the anti-LeBron James.
Antetokounmpo rejected what James has turned the NBA into — his personal playground, stealing players, wrecking franchises and the league’s competitive balance so that he can win titles.
What LeBron has missed is that there’s nothing wrong with working for it, going through the trials and tribulations. The journey makes finally getting to the end result even sweeter.
Everything doesn’t have to be as easy as adding a superstar, some water, and stir.
“This is my home, this is my city,” Antetokounmpo wrote on Twitter about his decision to stay. “I’m blessed to be able to be a part of the Milwaukee Bucks for the next five years.
“Let’s make these years count. The show goes on, let’s get it.”
For Antetokounmpo, this had to be a hard decision. He could have been an unrestricted free agent next summer.
And easily, he could have played this season with the Bucks and then bounced. There would have been plenty of options.
He could have joined Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat, the team that beat the Bucks in the playoffs last season. He could have gone to Golden State and try to win titles with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
What’s worse, fake NBA insiders were floating the idea that Giannis would join LeBron and Anthony Davis in L.A. If that move happened, the Lakers would be the Harlem Globetrotters and the rest of the league would be the Washington Generals.
That wouldn’t be a league, it would be a circus sideshow.
Fans all over NBA America should all be rejoicing — competition is not dead. There is a star player who has not bought into this AAU mentality that has poisoned the league, made it so predictable, and at times, unwatchable, because we know the ending before the season even starts.
There were plenty of fans who were mad at Giannis on social media. They wanted him to come to their team and form a super team. They cursed him and proclaimed that he would never win a title in Milwaukee.
So sad. But honestly, nobody knows that.
Those same people probably never believed that Dirk Nowitzki would win a championship basically as a one-star warrior before his Dallas Mavericks beat LeBron James’ Miami Heat in 2011.
The Heat were stacked with James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.
There were the 2004 Pistons that won the title over the Lakers. The Pistons had no star players. The Lakers’ starting lineup had four future Hall of Famers, including Shaq and Kobe.
This is all proof that there isn’t just one way to win, and that Giannis — just 26 and coming off back-to-back MVPs — can win in Milwaukee if the right teammates are put around him and he improves his game, too.
And if Giannis does, indeed, deliver a championship, it will heighten his status.
We’ve seen players become legendary by transforming also-ran franchises into champs. Isiah Thomas took the 17-win Pistons and turned them into back-to-back champions.
The Chicago Bulls franchise was terrible and had never won a thing before Michael Jordan showed up and it became title town. MJ won six rings in six tries.
And we get the whole ring narrative in the NBA. If you don’t win one, people are quick to dismiss your career as empty or worthless. It just isn’t true.
Some don’t get respect for cutting corners. Some — including former greats — don’t give Kevin Durant full credit for his two titles in Golden State because he joined a 73-win team that had already won a title without him.
The bottom line is that there’s nothing wrong with free agency. However, James has turned into something sinister, a way to beat the system.
Giannis didn’t buy-in. And because of it, the NBA is a better league today.
No doubt about it.