At the 2019 NBA Awards Show, Giannis Antetokounmpo completed his rise to stardom when he was named the 2018-19 NBA regular season Most Valuable Player.
Some would argue that this rise started around two seasons ago thanks to Kobe Bryant.
In the summer of 2017, Bryant was giving out ‘Mamba Challenges’ to numerous athletes and celebrities in all walks of life. Antetokounmpo wasn’t part of the original group but asked Bryant multiple times for his own ‘Mamba Challenge’ which was ultimately granted, imploring him to win the award.
However, as is usually the case with Bryant, accomplishing one goal just means it’s time to set another one. The five-time champion took to Twitter to congratulate Antetokounmpo on the award and issued a new challenge for the 2019-20 season:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) June 25, 2019
Antetokounmpo nearly accomplished that goal as well as he led the Milwaukee Bucks to the best record in basketball and a 2-0 lead over the eventual champion Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. Depending on what happens in free agency, they will almost surely enter next season as a favorite to come out of the East.
Winning that championship could come down to Antetokounmpo continuing to add and grow his game. He worked with Bryant last offseason to improve in addition to the original challenge he set out for him. Antetokounmpo even credited Bryant as the person who lit the flame within him, according to Kyle Goon of the Southern California News Group:
Giannis on Kobe Bryant: "He's the one who started the flame."
— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) June 25, 2019
There is no doubt that Antetokounmpo was deserving of this award. Only two other players have ever averaged at least 27 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 57% from the field: Shaquille O’Neal (three times) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (two times). And neither of those two added in Antetokounmpo’s 5.9 assists as well, so he is truly a one-of-a-kind player.
Bryant recognizes that which is why he sets the goals he does for the 24-year-old. Still only six seasons into his career, there is plenty of room for growth for Antetokounmpo and he understands that because of his work with Bryant and how the Lakers legend pushes him.
Most believe it’s only a matter of time before he accomplishes that NBA championship goal that Bryant has set out for him and if Antetokounmpoo does, he will only continue to push for more greatness because that’s what he would do.