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Giannis makes NBA history, but as a player, he still has a lot to prove.

It's always fun to read about legends. It's even more incredible to witness their greatness. The greatness of Giannis Antetokounmpo was on full display in the 2021 NBA finals.

Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA championship on Tuesday night, defeating the Phoenix Suns 105-98 to take a 4-2 series lead. The NBA finals has not been this exciting since 2016 when Lebron won his championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He still had arguably the best elimination game performance in NBA finals history. He was completely efficient and also dominated defensively. With the exception of Bill Russell, he is the second best 26-year-old defensive player in the history of the league.

However, what distinguishes great players in any sport is the level of competition they have overcome to win a championship, as well as the supporting cast they have. Taking all of this into account, Giannis still has a lot to prove as a player. He must still demonstrate his ability to win a championship by defeating great competition.

Fans forget that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Bucks to the eastern conference finals at the age of 22 and to an NBA championship at the age of 23. Kareem and the Bucks in the NBA finals swept the Baltimore Bullets that featured Earl Monroe, Wes Unseld, and Gus Johnson. Baltimore beat the defending NBA champion New York Knick in the eastern conference finals in a grueling 7 game series.

Whether or not Giannis was apart of a "superteam" is irrelevant. The NBA has been dominated by “great” teams for the most part of its history. Teams that any fan could see were outstanding from top to bottom. Teams that were not just driven by one player’s greatness.The 1980s Los Angeles Lakers are a primary example.

The Lakers in the 1979 playoffs the year before drafting Magic Johnson had won 47 games and 2 years prior had made it to the conference finals. The very next season after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989, the Lakers made it to the NBA finals.

The excitement in the NBA prior to Michael Jordan's 1990 championships was largely driven by “great’ teams and rivalries. Jordan had a terrific supporting cast, but unlike his predecessors, he did not play with multiple Hall of Famers for his first championship.

Yes, even Jordan needed the help of many great players to win championships. Something that many analysts forget. The 1990s Chicago Bulls contained some of the greatest role players in NBA history.

Granted, some superstars had better supporting casts than others. They did, however, all require assistance. They were all confronted with challenges. There are not many superstars in NBA history that even made it to the NBA finals without playing alongside at least two other Hall of Famers.

Bob Petite is still regarded as having the best elimination game performance. Petite, at the age of 25, eliminated the Boston Celtics, led by Russell, from the NBA finals in Game 6. His performance included a legendary 50 points and 19 rebounds. Fans often forget that Petite was once the all-time leading scorer in NBA history. And he was the one who handed Russell his only loss in the NBA finals.

Russell had only two playoff series losses in his career. He had a record of 27-2 as a player. And these losses were to be very formidable opponents. He once lost in the eastern conference finals to the 1967 76ers. The 76ers featured Wilt Chamberlain playing alongside three other hall of famers. The team would go on to win the NBA title. The 76ers had won 68-13 during the regular season, the most in NBA history at the time.

To put things in perspective, Russell entered the NBA at the age of 22. He led the Celtics to an NBA championship in his first season in the NBA. In fact, the Celtics would at least reach the eastern conference finals every season after he was drafted.

Giannis’ predecessors beat elite competition to cement their legacies. All fans remember Jordan’s struggles with the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons. Simply put, the Suns are not elite competition. They are not the Oklahoma City Thunder team led by Kevin Durant that Lebron James had to beat to win a championship.

The Suns' late-game possessions in games 3 through 6 revealed the team's inexperience. The team simply lacked the playoff experience needed to win an NBA championship. It was the first playoff appearance for many of their players.

The Bucks were the first team the Suns faced in the playoffs that featured their top scorer on the floor. While Jamal Murray is not the Nuggets' best player, he is their leading scorer. The same can be said for Anthony Davis. In games 4 and 5, the Suns demonstrated that they could not win with their defense.

Despite Giannis' heroic efforts, the Bucks won as a team. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are erratic players. Both players, on the other hand, are hall of fame caliber. The Bucks are nearly impossible to beat when they get going.

Giannis's improvement and accomplishments as a player are commendable. However, will have to beat tougher competition in the playoffs if he wants to further cement his legacy.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Michael Mannen

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