Giant Greek Antetokounmpo became only the the third player in NBA history to win the most prestigious individual honor and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season, picking up his second successive MVP after averaging 29.5 points and 13.6 rebounds for the year.
An exhaustive debate was inevitable despite the 6ft 9in center’s remarkable record after the Bucks were beaten by Miami in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, allowing Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James to outshine his rival during the extension to the season.
“The word ‘valuable’ makes us go cross-eyed and out-think ourselves,” argued former professional-turned-basketball analyst Nick Bahe, adding to the frequently muddled annual discussion around defining which players are indispensable.
“All I know is LeBron James is still the best player on the planet.
“If you think Giannis is the best, I don’t know what planet you’re on. But on this planet, Lebron James is still the best player.”
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer had laid out the case for his star player retaining his title while his team was preparing to return in the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World earlier this summer.
“What he does for us on both ends of the floor, what he does every night, the way he sets the bar for us, culturewise, work ethic-wise… he’s an incredible teammate, plays unselfishly, does everything,” he gushed.
“And I think that’s kind of what the MVP is, so we certainly feel like he’s very deserving.”
Sports host Chris Broussard emphasized that the award did not take the playoffs into account. “Giannis’s playoff woes cause many to say he shouldn’t be MVP,” he observed, pointing out that James and Jordan had been among the greats of the game to suffer the same fate in the deciders.
“Hogwash. MVP is a regular-season award. Many former MVPs have experienced disappointing post-seasons the same year…like Giannis, that made them no less deserving.”
Despite Antetokounmpo matching Jordan’s double achievement of 1988 and Olajuwon’s in 1994, many were unconvinced that he deserved to see off rival finalists James and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden.
“Did he deserve it?” asked former Super Bowl winner TJ Ward. “Probably. Is he the best player? Absolutely not.
“How did he do in the playoffs? l know it’s a regular season award [but he] got bounced quick. Should someone else have won? Yes.”
Matt Morgan, of Raptors 905 in the NBA G League, said it had been between Giannis and James. “If we’re being honest, Giannis was the MVP before the bubble,” said the point guard.
“Stats don’t lie but I would’ve given it to LeBron if the voting was during the playoffs or after the playoffs. So I wouldn’t have been mad at either.”
Morgan’s choices were the only players picked in the first team by every panelist in the All-NBA selections, which proved even more contentious when they were announced earlier this week.
Sources suggested that Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry had moved quickly to persuade Antetokounmpo to stay with his team, holding a three-hour lunch meeting with the 25-year-old shortly before the official announcement was made.