It took two years for Giannis Antetokounmpo to answer Kobe Bryant's challenge, but it was more than worth the wait.
Behind Antetokounmpo's tour de force performance, the Milwaukee Bucks captured their first NBA championship in 50 years on Tuesday. The series clincher saw the signature performance of Antetokounmpo's career, a 50-point effort that sealed Finals MVP honors for the 26-year-old.
Once the final buzzer sounded, it didn't take long for a certain tweet to start making the rounds. Many remembered the late Los Angeles Lakers legend's challenge to Antetokounmpo:
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) June 25, 2019
Antetokounmpo had already fulfilled his first challenge, issued in 2017, by capturing MVP honors in 2019, but Bryant's follow-up challenge represented an even bigger step for a player who has long seemed to hold limitless potential.
Those challenges were a driving force for Antetokounmpo as he tried to win Milwaukee a championship, as the Bucks star told reporters after the series:
"This started almost like a joke at first. He was in a Nike ad and he was sending challenges to players to Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan and all that. I was like, 'Yeah, let me just shoot my shot. What's my challenge?' And he was like 'MVP.' At first, I was joking, I didn't think he was going to respond to me, but when he did, he made me believe. I'm like 'Kobe Bryant thinks I can do this? I can play at a high level, lift my team and win MVP?' I had to do it.
"I had to work hard because people believe that I can do it. That's the thing. I'm a people pleaser. I don't like letting people down. When I re-signed with the city of Milwaukee, that's the main reason I re-signed, because I didn't want to let the people down and think that I don't work extremely hard for them, which I do. To be able to accomplish those things in the spirit of time, it's crazy. It's freaking unreal, I can't believe it."
Antetokounmpo has spoken in the past about idolizing Bryant growing up, calling the Hall of Famer one of the reasons he even started playing basketball.
Seeing Antetokounmpo fulfill that challenge also meant something for one of Bryant's most beloved teammates, who saw Antetokounmpo's breakthrough as another part of the Mamba legacy:
— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) July 21, 2021
Now, we see just how much further Antetokounmpo is ready to go.
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