There is a certain right of passage that every NBA legend must go through.
They begin as a young star. Winning over the hearts of the local fan base. Participate in the Rising Stars Challenge, maybe win Rookie of the Year, make their first All-Star team, get their first non-rookie contract, and possibly win a few playoff series.
Then they become a superstar. Start in an All-Star game, make a deep run into the playoffs, have their first MVP-caliber season, achieve failure on a grand level.
Then after years of failure, they finally reach the pinnacle and win themselves a championship. But at just 24 years old, Giannis Antetokounmpo has skipped a few steps. Or so it seems.
This season for Giannis bares a striking resemblance to the season of a current NBA legend when he was just 24 years old.
In the 2008-2009 season, Lebron James won his first regular season MVP. He had his highest scoring average in any season that he's played in his 16 year career. He led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 66-16 record, which was the best in the NBA.
This season, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the front runner for his first ever regular season MVP. He has had his highest scoring season in his 6 year career. He led the Milwaukee Bucks to a 60-22 record, which was the best in the NBA.
Is this starting to sound familiar?
The one major difference between the two, is failure. Up until the 2008 season, Lebron James had been a part of 8 playoff series, including one NBA Finals appearance. The narrative around James up until this point in his career was that he wasn't a clutch performer and that he couldn't get over the hump to win the championship.
Giannis has yet to face this kind of criticism that most legends have to go through.
Giannis led the Bucks to their first playoff series victory since the Ray Allen, Rafer Alston, and Sam Cassel days back in the 2001 season. And up until this point in his career, he has faced little to no criticism at all.
He has had the benefit of being a player that most teams passed on because of the uncertainty around his game. He has benefitted from the fact that he plays in such a small market. The biggest moment he's had was being on 60 Minutes and talking about how other players view him as the game's next big star.
With so much love and support from everyone around him, and the media and critics constantly showing him respect, he has yet to have a moment of grand failure. These next few weeks of the postseason may very well determine whether or not he has what it takes to be legendary, and bypass the right of passage.
It's about time that Giannis feels the pressure of scrutiny that every legend must adhere too.
In the first year without Lebron, Giannis was by far the best player in the Eastern Conference. So it should be his time to dominate and take over.
But it won't be easy. Their current matchup with the Boston Celtics is tied 1-1 and it is no guarantee that they will advance past them. And after them awaits the Philadelphia 76ers or Toronto Raptors, who are juggernauts themselves.
So what was it about Lebron's failures that led to his legendary status? The weight of the world was on his shoulders and the pressure was so incredibly strong that it eventually pushed him over the top and created one of the greatest players the game has ever seen.
Giannis is going to have to have that moment where everyone can look back and say, "Everything changed after his series loss to that team." Most legendary stories aren't created after a first round exit, such as last year's Buck's loss.
Pressure creates diamonds, and in basketball it creates legends. It will be interesting to see how Giannis fares over the next few weeks. But if he fails to make the NBA Finals this year, just know that the failure will only lead to a greater future for him.
And possibly the Bucks, if he doesn't decide to leave in two years when his contract is up. After all, that is what Lebron did. *Insert Brown Shrug Emoji Guy*
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