Giannis Antetokounmpo is in the midst of a dominant run in the NBA. “The Greek Freak” is a two-time NBA MVP, five-time All-Star, and he just powered the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA Championship since 1971, winning Finals MVP honors in the process.
Giannis has accomplished all of this at the age of 26.
There is no secret to why Giannis has been so successful in the NBA. At 6’11” and 242 pounds, he has the measurements of a center, but when combined with his ball-handling skills, passing ability, and freakish athleticism, Giannis becomes unstoppable.
Many have called his combination of size, strength, athleticism, and skills “unprecedented” in the NBA.
Hall of Famer and former two-time NBA Champion Isiah Thomas has a slight disagreement with that assessment.
“The one player that really reminds me a lot of Giannis is Ralph Sampson,” Thomas said in the premiere episode of NBA TV’s ‘Run It Back.’ “Most people don’t realize Ralph Sampson was 7’4”, bringing the ball up the court, making passes, shooting jump shots, dunking on you, right hand and left hand. I just had never seen anybody that tall, but the skill that he had was just off the charts.”
See the full NBA TV video of Thomas talking about Sampson and Antetokounmpo here:
After a brilliant collegiate career at Virginia in which he was named National Player of the Year three times, Sampson took the NBA by storm, making the All-Star Game in each of his first four seasons.
The young, but dominant duo of Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon took the Rockets to the NBA Finals in 1986, but lost to the Celtics in six games.
In one of the greatest “what ifs” in NBA history, Sampson never quite reached his potential in the league due to a very unfortunate streak of knee and back injuries that eventually cut his career short after playing just a little more than half of the scheduled games in his 10-year career.
“If Ralph Sampson had not got hurt, basketball history would be so drastically different,” Thomas said, adding that NBA great Bill Russell had similar things to say about Sampson’s potential before the onset of his injuries. “Bill Russell made the comment that Ralph Sampson, if he reaches his potential, he will be talked about and considered one of the greatest players to ever play.”
There can be no overstating the greatness we are witnessing today with Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Isiah Thomas says we ought to see shades of Ralph Sampson as we watch Giannis dominate in the NBA today.
“I want everyone out there to really understand: we’re watching greatness happen here today, but the greatness that was going on back then with the size and the uniqueness of players was just as good as it is today. And in some cases, it may even be better. And Ralph Sampson was one of those.”