When the Milwaukee Bucks drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo and he came into the NBA, the league was a different place. Kobe Bryant was still playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Golden State Warriors hadn’t reached the peak of their powers to lord over the league, and the Bucks were a laughing stock.
Antetokounmpo showed promise in his rookie season, but has made figurative strides even longer than the literal ones he effortlessly lopes down the court with since then. He’s transformed himself from a freakish curiosity with a name too hard to pronounce for people to bother learning into an MVP candidate who forced the correct pronunciation of his surname into the league’s lexicon.
Bryant took notice of the way Antetokounmpo has grown during his time in the league, and he took time to praise it in his latest “Musceage” video for ESPN, lauding the way “The Greek Freak” went from a smiling meme to a demigod that ranks among the NBA’s most promising young players.
Antetokounmpo has molded his game in much the same way Bryant crafted his, albeit with far different results. Both players would constantly head into each offseason to tirelessly work on improving one area of their game.
Antetokounmpo’s efforts in that department have launched the Bucks into playoff contention and turned him into a top-five NBA player, all while making the team’s head coaching job arguably the most intriguing opening this summer.
It’s no surprise Bryant also praised Antetokounmpo for the way he’s learned to mix up his formerly ever-present smile with an occasional baring of his teeth, and in the clips you can almost see Kobe’s exaggerated underbite in the way Giannis snarls at his opponents in testy situations.
Watching Bryant break down the more spiritual and intangible aspects of the way a player is changing and evolving, while also getting into the basketball elements, is always a must-watch, and it’s no different with Antetokounmpo.
It will be interesting to see if the two ever start working together formally during the summer like Antetokounmpo hopes, but if not, it’s clear he has already gained Bryant’s respect from afar.