Giannis Antetokounmpo the Milwaukee Bucks have—miraculously—won the NBA championship. By no means in my wildest goals did I believe that might occur again in December 2019, once I pitched my upcoming guide Giannis: The Unbelievable Rise of an NBA MVP. It’s set to come back out on August 10 from Hachette Books.
Beneath is an excerpt from my guide specializing in a time in Giannis’s life when a championship appeared firmly out of attaining. The Bucks had been coming off a terrible 15-win season, the worst in franchise historical past. Every part had gone fallacious, from accidents to participant suspensions to a polar vortex that made Milwaukeeans danger frostbite by simply strolling exterior. Amid all the distress, the losses, Giannis shined in glimmers his rookie 12 months. An exquisite chase-down block right here. A strong drive to the ring there. However, he was not the celebrity he morphed into years later.
Because the Bucks fired coach Larry Drew and introduced Jason Kidd as his substitute, Giannis was trying to tackle a way more distinguished function on the group his sophomore season. He was uninterested in being regarded as “cute” or “lovable,” as he had become a baby-faced web sensation, inflicting followers everywhere in the nation to fall in love with him. Giannis, nonetheless skinny and scrawny, needed to look a bit extra intimidating, a bit extra menacing. Extra … imply. That’s the title of the chapter this excerpt is pulled from. On this part, you’ll be able to see the common-or-garden beginnings of his imply mug, and the depth he now performs, and dominates, with, as simply proven by his first NBA Finals triumph.
Giannis would stand at the entrance of the mirror and apply his scowl. He’d squint his eyes, suck in his tooth. His nostril would wrinkle; his brow would tighten. His lips would curl, after which he’d set free a grunt.
He was attempting to look extra aggressive, much less cute; extra intimidating, much less harmless. He wanted a brand new id heading into his second NBA season—one vastly totally different from the goofy, endearing rookie discovering smoothies for the primary time.
He wanted to get imply.
“He needed to apply it as a result of he’s not that man,” says Skip Robinson, then Bucks VP of neighborhood relations and participant improvement. “He’s a lovable man. A pleasant gentleman.”
Giannis didn’t wish to be seen as a good gentleman on the court docket; he needed to be seen as somebody who would tear your coronary heart out. He tried to sample his scowl after Russell Westbrook’s scowl. Giannis cherished Westbrook: his demeanor, his velocity, however particularly his scowl. Giannis got here into applying as soon as, scowling and grunting. “That is my new factor,” Giannis informed his teammates.
They ignored him. Laughed a bit. However Giannis insisted on impressing them: He flexed his muscle tissues after bench-pressing and flashed his scowl once more, hoping his teammates would respect the depth of his grunt. “Bro,” Brandon Knight informed him, “you continue to don’t have any muscle tissues. Relaaaaax.”
Giannis’s teammates discovered it hilarious when he’d try the scowl after a dunk, one thing he began doing towards the top of his rookie season. The primary time he did it, in opposition to the Pistons, he ran again to the opposite finish of the court docket with a lot of aggression even Caron Butler was shocked. “I didn’t know the place the hell that got here from,” Butler says, laughing.
Afterward, his teammates requested him, “What is that? The place you get that from?” They assumed he’d discovered the scowl from YouTube—the place he discovered every part in these days.
Giannis laughed. “Oh,” Giannis started casually in a “this previous factor?” sort of tone, “I took it from Westbrook.”
Giannis’s scowl appeared misplaced. Manufactured. “We’d be like, ‘Oh, he will need to have practiced that at dwelling at present,’” Knight says. The scowl was coming alongside, however, it nonetheless wasn’t loud sufficient, imply sufficiently. Convincing sufficient. “You gotta work in your roar,” Knight would sarcastically advise Giannis. “You gotta work in your yell. We gotta get you proper, man.”
On the primary day of coaching camp to open the 2014-15 season, Giannis wouldn’t crack a smile. Not for a second. He couldn’t, since Jabari Parker was the brand new star; Giannis was nonetheless the curiosity. The 2 would finally come to love one another, even turn into mates, however not at first. Giannis felt just like the Bucks had been imagined to be his group. He had earned that after the way in which he performed his first season. And he was going to show that he was the chief.
Some fantasized that the pair may turn into the Batman and Robin of a possible new period in Milwaukee, however, Giannis didn’t wish to be Robin. He wanted to be Batman. “He wasn’t on the throne,” Bucks assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer says, “however the chair was empty. And he wasn’t going to assist anyone get there when he thought he had the identical quantity of skill to get there.”
Giannis and Parker went at one another in each drill. Bucks coach Jason Kidd was glad about that; he demanded that competitiveness from everybody. He wasn’t going to simply accept one other humiliating 15-win season.
Solely a few 12 months far away from his personal taking part in the profession, Kidd was very a lot a participant hiding in a coach’s go well with. “Even on the sidelines you’ll be able to simply see the competitiveness bleeding out of his pores and skin,” says Kerry Kittles, Kidd’s former Nets teammate. “You possibly can see him attempting to suppress it.”
Kidd huddled his new group at half-court about halfway via the primary application. “Who thinks we’re a playoff group?”
Gamers checked out one another, paused a second, recognizing there was just one proper reply.
Drills started, emphasizing physicality, driving to the ring, making contact. Kidd saved telling Giannis to drive to the basket: “Don’t accept soar pictures.” In one play, Giannis drove coast-to-coast and took the ball sturdy to the ring however acquired pummeled inside. The ball hit the backboard and bounced out of bounds.
“You understand, a feather can blow him over,” Kidd stated, turning to his assistants. They laughed. Kidd didn’t. He was lifeless critical. “A pair occasions up and down the court docket, you breathe on him, he’s falling over. We gotta get him stronger.”
Then gamers scrimmaged. In a single play, Giannis grabbed a rebound, dribbled out, and in to beat his defender, after which dribbled the ball behind his again to faux out one other defender, sprinting downcourt all the way in which to the cup for a dunk. It took him simply 4 dribbles to get from one finish to the opposite. Bucks ahead Chris Wright and Oppenheimer checked out one another. “Yo,” they stated at the identical time. “Yo.”
In one other play, Giannis obtained the ball on the high of the important thing. He stumbled, barely recovering his stability. He managed to dribble left, arduous to the ring, taking off for a windmill. 4 gamers stood in his means, however, Giannis rose over them and slammed the ball down.
Everybody within the health club stopped for a second. The dunk was shocking. Vicious. For the primary time, Giannis appeared actually, actually imply.
Kidd needed Giannis to function like a murderer on the court docket. A real killer. That means he wanted to not solely carry himself with a sure swagger, a sure meanness, however, he wanted his recreation to again up that sort of demeanor. Kidd noticed star potential in Giannis and needed him to maximize his presents: his size, his athleticism within the open court docket.
Kidd and assistant coach Sean Sweeney would work out with Giannis on a number of occasions a day. They’d educate him on strikes, problem him out of his consolation zone. Kidd would make Giannis do a drill again and again till it was good, as he would with all his gamers.
Kidd was recognized for enjoying thoughts video games. He wouldn’t yell; he wouldn’t act overly aggressive. Removed from that. He was extra delicate, soft-spoken, getting below somebody’s pores and skin, realizing the factor that made every participant explode. He by no means gave gamers solutions, wanting them to determine it out on their very own.
His teaching model with the Nets, after which with the Bucks, was described as “psychological warfare” by one former participant. When requested about Kidd, gamers and coaches typically say, “On the document or off?” Kidd was cherished, hated. His teaching model was described as follows:
“Jedi thoughts methods,” Oppenheimer says.
“Thoughts fucks,” says one former teammate, a bit extra bluntly.
“Machiavellian,” says a former Bucks staffer. “He sort of relished that combativeness in folks.”
But additionally: “He’s a winner. Naturally a winner. He’s an aggressive motherfucker,” says Chris Copeland, Bucks ahead from 2015 to 2016. He performed with Kidd on the Knicks in 2012-13.
“He’d simply brutalize folks,” says one other ex-player. “There’s loads of teammates that I had that didn’t like him, not at the same time as a coach, like as an individual. He’d pit folks in opposition to one another.”
“I believe he could have had rocky relationships with a number of gamers,” says Johnny O’Bryant III, Bucks ahead from 2014 to 2016. “However one factor he did was he laid the custom of a profitable group. Generally, the way in which he went about it, being simple, he was simply an asshole, however, I believe it paid off in the long term.”
“I’d by no means name Jason Kidd an asshole,” says Nicholas Turner, Kidd’s govt assistant from 2014 to 2018, “however he was a participant too, so he additionally has an ego. … There’s positively some issues that individuals misunderstand about J-Kidd. Finally, he desires to win. He has good intentions.”
There was additionally a cerebral facet to Kidd. “He was like a professor,” says Jason Terry, Bucks guard from 2016 to 2018, who additionally performed for Kidd in Brooklyn in 2013-14. “As a substitute of telling you what to do, he engages you, empowers you, by asking, ‘What do you see?’”
“Jason had an excellent thought,” says Nixon Dorvilien, Bucks assistant coach from 2014 to 2016, “however he sort of made you uncomfortable around him.”
“When gamers undergo it and it’s uncomfortable, they wish to say, ‘He’s taking part in thoughts video games with me,’ however it’s not that,” says Greg Foster, Bucks assistant coach from 2014 to 2018, now with the Pacers. “He’s attempting to get you to do one thing you wouldn’t usually do. That’s teaching.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, NBA News, Rumors & Updates
Knight searches for the appropriate phrases. “I don’t wish to sound unfavorable,” he says. Knight explains a few of Kidd’s strategies, comparable to how Kidd would embarrass the offender of an error by making everybody however that individual run sprints for his mistake. “He simply had his means of getting his level throughout,” Knight says.
Little issues had been made to be a giant deal: At one level middle Thon Maker didn’t have an iPhone, messing up the group’s blue-bubble iPhone group chat. Kidd was upset about it and made the group run as a result of Kidd felt that Maker not getting an iPhone was an instance of the group not being united.
However, there was one other facet to Kidd, one which held gamers accountable, gave them confidence, raised the extent of play. If gamers had been doing the drill fallacious, Kidd would seize the ball and hop within the drill and present gamers with easy methods to do it completely. Kidd would typically dominate and say, “Guys, this isn’t that fucking arduous!”
Kidd hated when gamers had been behind schedule. Or when he needed to go over one thing once more. He was a perfectionist—and thought gamers ought to get it proper the primary time. He had this look, this loss of life stare, that was piercing.
His thoughts were a number of steps forward. The issues he noticed, few may. “It was like being round Einstein,” Oppenheimer says. “Giannis realized that and needed info, and Jason discovered an option to feed him info.”
Kidd poured hours into serving to Giannis however was much less sympathetic with different gamers. “I don’t suppose he may establish with the common participant,” says one other ex-player. “There’s a cause Corridor of Famers is Corridor of Famers, particularly level guards. You see issues that nobody else does. I believe he would simply take it out on gamers and simply verbally go at them. Simply make them really feel like shit, that they couldn’t be nearly as good as Jason Kidd, who may simply step on the ground and do that fancy factor.”
Kidd would ask Giannis to elucidate what he did fallacious throughout the movie periods. There was no proper reply, however, a nod wasn’t acceptable. He needed to say his mistake out loud. That was tough for Giannis, who wasn’t a vocal participant. Although gregarious off the court docket, he was nonetheless quiet on the court docket, nonetheless attempting to slot in. He hated talking upon the ground. He’d slightly present management via motion, via work ethic.
Kidd pulled Giannis out of his consolation zone by declaring flaws verbally, seeing how Giannis would reply. It was a part of Kidd’s plan to rework his new mission right into a level guard. For level guards, speaking is like respiration—instinctive, obligatory. As a result of in Kidd’s eyes, Giannis may be that time guard. He may turn into a celebrity.
Kidd was certain that there was one thing particular about Giannis. It was the way in which Giannis noticed performs forward of performs. The best way he may push the ball up the ground like a pure ball handler. And provided that he had miraculously sprouted two inches, to 6-foot-11, since arriving within the NBA, Giannis, Kidd felt, may morph into probably the most versatile gamers within the league.
Nonetheless, that was a method away. “We knew on the time that Giannis had the flexibility to deal with the ball,” says Joe Prunty, Bucks assistant coach from 2014 to 2018, “however having the ability to deal with the ball and having the ability to run the group are various things.”
Kidd flirted with having Giannis at level guard starting within the 2014 summer season league, although Giannis’s official place was listed as a middle in two of 4 of the video games. Kidd knew Giannis may play all positions; he may turn into a hybrid level ahead like Scottie Pippen was. Privately, Kidd informed his coaches that Giannis may by no means morph into a degree guard, however, he may flip into the next-generation large man, as a result of, actually, what five-man may guard him?
Kidd informed the press that he envisioned Giannis, at 19 years previous, being like Magic Johnson, Grant Hill, and Pippen after Giannis performed 32 minutes as the first ball-handler in opposition to the Jazz in summer season league. “I bear in mind writing the story,” says Charles F. Gardner, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Bucks beat author on the time, “and considering to myself, That is loopy.”
It was loopy. Giannis nonetheless, greater than something, resembled a toothpick. His physique wasn’t developed sufficiently, his abilities weren’t honed sufficiently, to benefit comparability to any of these legends, not to mention all three. However, he had a novel talent set, an intriguing construct—one that individuals didn’t but know easy methods to outline. He was, as Grantland put it, “a human wormhole—all infinite limbs and not possible strides, twisting our conception of house inside out.”
Giannis performed properly on the level in that Jazz recreation, dropping 15 factors, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and three steals regardless of committing 4 turnovers. He appeared snug. “He considered himself as a degree guard,” Oppenheimer says. “He was a type of guys that had been like, ‘It’s nice if I rating, but when I get any help, I’m glad.’”
Nonetheless, Giannis didn’t fairly know easy methods to manage the tempo of a recreation. He’d typically dribble into double-teams, turning the ball over. Generally, he was simply going too quick. That grew to become clear throughout a preseason recreation at Cleveland. Kidd began Giannis at level guard. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel referred to as the transfer “the Giannis Antetokounmpo experiment.”
Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, recognized for full-court, suffocating protection, smothered Giannis. Giannis appeared hesitant, timid. He went 0-for-5 for 4 factors and nil assists in 23 minutes. He continued to battle within the preseason finale in opposition to Minnesota, going 0-for- 7, turning the ball over a damning eight occasions.
The coaches realized Giannis would be introduced a bit extra slowly. He wanted extra expertise. He wanted to be taught to play below management. The coaches had given him an excessive amount of, too quickly. The experiment needed to be reevaluated.
“It was a reminder,” says Sweeney, the assistant coach, “of, ‘Hey, we’ve acquired a few of these abilities, however, we’re not fairly prepared for that duty.’”
As the season started, Giannis was principally taking part in small ahead and would excite with a play or two, a giant rebound, a loose-ball dive, however his coaches needed extra. “His effort and hustle perform had been at all times there,” says Josh Broghamer, Bucks assistant coach from 2017 to 2018 and video coordinator from 2014 to 2017, “however typically he would overlook a project or be within the fallacious spot on offense or make the fallacious learn.”
Giannis began to determine easy methods to use his quickness to get round guys who had been a lot larger than him. Kidd experimented along with his place typically, throwing him onto the court docket at energy ahead and even middle at occasions.