In case there might have been any Toronto Raptors fans still holding out hope that Giannis Antetokounmpo might one day play for their team, the man himself has some bad news for you.
“One day Giannis will play for the Toronto Raptors,” Ibaka asked the two-time MVP. “True or false?”
“False,” Antetokounmpo answered.
It's an unsurprising answer, especially since he’s under contract with the Bucks through at least the 2024-25 season with a player option for the 2025-26 campaign worth nearly $52 million for that season alone.
The Raptors were reportedly interested in trying to lure Antetokounmpo to Toronto when he was set to be a free agent back in 2021. Beyond the obvious basketball reasons for wanting to bring in a player of Antetokounmpo’s calibre, there’s a personal connection between the Greek-Nigerian superstar and Raptors vice-chairman and team president Masai Ujiri, who is British born to Nigerian parents and was raised in Nigeria.
“Masai helped me and my family during the years that I've been in the league,” Antetokounmpo told reporters before the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals that saw his Bucks square off against the Raptors.
Additionally, when Giannis was first drafted in 2013 and was a complete unknown to the greater basketball world, Ujiri and the Raptors were actively trying to find a way to acquire him on draft night.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 10, 2020
For all the apparent pining Ujiri’s done for Antetokounmpo, the 27-year-old ultimately returned to Milwaukee in 2021 and has since won an NBA championship. He is on the hunt for another with a strong Bucks team that’s once again at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
Maybe if Ibaka had asked Antetokounmpo about playing for a team other than the Raptors he would have received a different answer.
Ibaka was a key member of the 2019 championship-winning Raptors team – the very same that defeated Antetokounmpo in the East Final. The trauma of that defeat is still fresh in Antetokounmpo’s mind, so it makes sense why he likely isn’t ever going to play for the Raptors.
“That’s probably one of the most hurt moments of my career,” Antetokounmpo told Ibaka of the six-game defeat that saw his Bucks go up 2-0 only to lose four straight afterwards. “I’m not gonna lie. … The first game we beat you guys by five or seven, the second game we beat you guys by 20 and then we go to Toronto and Game 3 goes to [double] overtime. We were up 12 with four minutes to go and I think when you guys won that game the momentum switched. And when that momentum switched we couldn’t get that momentum back.”
Some wounds just cut deep.
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