Giannis Antetokounmpo Lives up to Kobe Bryant's Challenge As Bucks Win NBA Title

The Milwaukee Bucks ended a 50-year wait for an NBA title by defeating the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night—and the late Kobe Bryant may deserve a slice of credit.

Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered a performance for the ages as the Bucks beat the Suns 105-98 in Game 6 in front of a raucous crowd at Fiserv Forum.

It was Milwaukee's first championship since 1971. Phoenix's wait for a maiden NBA title will continue for another 12 months at least after the Suns squandered a two-game lead in the NBA Finals.

Antetokounmpo finished with 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks—and scooped the NBA Finals MVP award.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, his 50 points were the joint most in history in a closeout game of the NBA Finals, tying the record set by Bob Pettit of the St. Louis Hawks in Game 6 of the 1958 finals against the Bolton Celtics.

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks holds the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award and the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after defeating the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on July 20 at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Antetokounmpo is only the seventh player to score at least 50 points in a finals game and the first since LeBron James in Game 1 of the 2018 finals.

The "Greek Freak" looked like a man on a mission during the finals, as the Bucks rallied after two defeats to rattle off four straight wins. In fact, he has looked like a man on a mission since the Bucks drafted him with the 15th overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft—and he drew some of his inspiration from Bryant.

After his retirement in 2016, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar—who died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and eight other people in January 2020—posted a list of individual challenges for the next crop of NBA stars on Twitter.

Bryant omitted Antetokounmpo from his list, however, prompting the Bucks star to tweet him to set up a challenge.

"Still waiting for my challenge @kobebryant," he tweeted on August 24, 2017.

Bryant's reply came three days later, succinct and leaving no room for interpretation.

"MVP," he tweeted.

MVP https://t.co/cjmWH5Mqyz

— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) August 27, 2017

Antetokounmpo lived up to the challenge, winning the MVP award in the 2018-19 season and retaining the trophy the following year—becoming only the 12th player in NBA history to do so. Following the Greek's first MVP crown, Bryant upped the ante in June 2019 and urged the Bucks star to win an NBA title.

My man....M.V.P. Greatness. 🙌🏾💪🏾 Next up: Championship. #MambaMentality https://t.co/dhZTFI1Aam

— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) June 25, 2019

This challenge, however, proved far harder for Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference in 2019 after winning 60 games. They dropped only one game in the first two rounds of the playoffs as they swept the Detroit Pistons and beat the Celtics in five games, only to lose 4-2 against the Toronto Raptors in the Conference Finals.

A year later, Milwaukee again entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed after winning 56 games in the regular season. They lost to the Miami Heat in five games in the conference semifinals, however, after eliminating the Orlando Magic 4-1 in the first round.

The Bucks got their revenge this year, sweeping the Heat in the first round before erasing a two-game deficit to defeat the Brooklyn Nets in seven games and then progressing past the Atlanta Hawks in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Antetokounmpo has cemented his legacy as one of the modern greats in these finals. The 6 ft 11 Greek is only the fifth international player to be named NBA Finals MVP and the first player since Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon to win MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year since the last award was introduced in 1983.

He is only the ninth player to win multiple MVP titles and at least one Finals MVP award in his career—and only the third to achieve the feat before his 27th birthday, alongside Tim Duncan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrates NBA title