Giannis Antetokounmpo had a lot to say after his masterful 50-point performance earned the Milwaukee Bucks their first championship in 50 years.
He spoke about his journey from a skinny 12-year-old boy living in Greece just trying to help his family to an NBA champion and Finals MVP. He reflected on the challenge Kobe Bryant issued to him after winning his first MVP back in 2019, which was to go out and earn an NBA title.
But perhaps the most notable soundbite of the press conference came after Giannis was asked to put into words the events that have followed the extension he signed last offseason.
“I couldn’t leave. There was a job that had to be finished,” he said. “Coming back, I was like, ‘this is my city.’ They trust me. They believe in me. Obviously, I wanted to get the job done. It’s easy to go somewhere and go win a championship with somebody else. It’s easy. I can go to a superteam and just do my part and win a championship. But this is the hard way to do it, and this is the way I chose to do it.”
Antetokounmpo may have been a bit naive in simplifying a championship-winning formula that’s difficult to crack no matter the team. Still, his underlying message is laced with a truth the Boston Celtics can only hope was digested by their two leading men.
Every Larry O’Brien trophy is the same size, but the journey to the top certainly affects how satisfying the view is.
The difference between staying put or bolting for a superteam isn’t about how easy or hard winning a title is. Winning a championship is extremely difficult in every situation. But certain circumstances can absolutely dictate how gratifying that moment could be.
It’s not controversial to suggest that one who stays with their team, fights through the low points, and emerges victoriously would feel a greater sense of accomplishment than the one who signed elsewhere and got it done there sooner.
Adversity accumulated through history is what makes the reward taste sweeter. Without it, the gratification can only reach so high.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been spoiled during their time in Boston. Neither has missed the playoffs in their nine combined seasons. They have five conference finals appearances between them.
They’ve grown accustomed to competing at the highest level. If that hasn’t already changed, it’s about to.
Boston finished this past season seventh in the East with a .500 record. Some of that disappointment can be attributed to injuries and COVID. An argument can also be made that the Celtics are simply no longer the cream of the conference crop after free agent after free agent left Brown and Tatum to take the mantle. Their status as perennial playoff participants shouldn’t be in doubt, but their roster still has questions, and other contemporaries have leapfrogged them in the hierarchy.
Who knows if even a return to the conference finals is in the cards for the Celtics anytime soon, much less a Finals berth. Tough times lie ahead for a franchise that holds itself to the highest standard of competition.
Theorizing the future moves of Tatum and Brown does feel a bit silly at this point. The former has a five-year extension that begins next season. The latter is one year into a four-year extension of his own.
Boston still has time to build a legitimate contender, but at a time when players are constantly finding new ways to exert control over their own destiny, it’s never as much as you think. Especially considering the player option Tatum has for the 2025-26 season.
The words of the newly-crowned Finals MVP don’t necessarily have to be etched in stone for Tatum and Brown. The Celtics have to meet them halfway by assembling a team that does their talents justice. Should the organization fail to do so, loyalty can only be worth so much when planning the next chapter of their respective careers.
Right now, though, Boston still has a better situation than most teams in the league. They just need some smoothing around the edges or perhaps a blockbuster trade to shoot them back up the standings.
Maybe that move gets made sometime this offseason. Or maybe the Celtics will need a few swings at the plate to get things right over the next few years. There may come an inflection point when Tatum and Brown have to question the state of the franchise with their respective futures on the line.
If that time never comes, all the better for Boston and its franchise pillars. If it does, Antetokounmpo may have just shown what that challenge can offer if overcame, something no amount of championships elsewhere ever could.