Some people wondered how entertaining the NBA Finals would be, being that the big-market teams didn’t make it. No, we didn’t get matchup many people anticipated throughout the season between the Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis vs. the. Brooklyn Nets with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Instead, we got an NBA Finals between two homegrown (for the most part), small-market teams in the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks, and it ended up being a fantastic, refreshing reminder that you don’t need a ‘super team’ to win a championship.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, a player who former Mavs GM Donnie Nelson was banging the table for in the 2013 NBA Draft, had an opportunity to delay signing his supermax contract before this season. He could’ve tested the free agency market, given that the last handful of years ended in playoff heartbreak for the Bucks. Giannis channeled his inner Dirk Nowitzki, though, and committed to his city and team long-term to end all that speculation heading into the season.
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The ‘Greek Freak’ was rewarded for his loyalty, and the Bucks defeated the Suns in six games to capture Milwaukee’s first title in 50 years. As a nice coincidence, Giannis scored 50 points in the deciding game to commemorate that feat.
In today’s era of player empowerment in the NBA, it’s become a habit to look ahead at which stars could potentially jump ship in the near future. Those kind of moves have happened more and more since LeBron James essentially broke the ice on that movement with ‘The Decision’ back in the summer of 2010.
We were reminded not too long after LeBron ‘took his talents to South Beach’ that championships can still be won in the purest of ways, though, as Nowitzki powered the Mavs to its first title in franchise history by taking down that Miami superteam.
Giannis Antetokounmpo may not have taken down a superteam in this year’s NBA Finals, but what he did do was show that teams can still win the ‘Dirk Way’. You don’t need multiple superstars to win a championship if you have a good supporting cast with good chemistry.
Khris Middleton is to Giannis as Jason Terry was to Dirk. Middleton isn’t a bonafide superstar, but he’s a great sidekick who can get you clutch buckets when you need them. Jrue Holiday played the Shawn Marion role, as he didn’t always produce big offensive numbers, but he fit in as the gritty, versatile glue guy.
As Giannis Antetokounmpo held up those Larry O’Brien and Finals MVP trophies, I couldn’t help but think what a series like this could mean for a 22-year-old megastar in Luka Doncic who could’ve been watching. Doncic, who has already hinted that he will sign his $201 million rookie extension with the Mavs this summer, now has two examples to look at, one decade apart, that should further motivate him to get the job done in the city that drafted him.
There will be rumors generated by the national media in the coming years about Doncic’s potential departure from Dallas, just as there was about Antetokounmpo’s potential departure from Milwaukee. But if the Mavs’ new front office can provide Doncic with just a little bit more help, I don’t believe that is something any Mavs fans should have to worry about.
It’s easier to join other stars in order to raise your chances of winning a championship, but it just means more when a player is able to do it with the team that drafted him and embraced him for many years throughout his career. Doncic doesn’t seem like the type to want to take the easy way out, and given what we witnessed this year, he should never have to.
“I could go to a superteam and just do my part and win a championship,” said a jubilant Giannis. "But this is the hard way to do it, and this is the way we chose to do it. And we did it, we f'ing did it.”
The NBA is a business above anything else, but you still have instances where loyalty between a star player and a franchise pay off. It was the ‘Dirk Way’ 10 years ago. It was the ‘Giannis Way’ this year. Perhaps it can become the ‘Luka Way’ in the near future as well.