On Tuesday night (July 20), Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 50 points in the Game six matchup against the Phoenix Suns, leading his team to victory in the NBA Finals. The win was a big triumph for the Bucks organization — who hadn’t been named NBA champs in half a century — but for the NBA player, the victory affected him on a more personal level. Aside from leveling the score between him and his brother Kostas Antetokounmpo — who won the championship alongside the Los Angeles Lakers last year — Antetokounmpo’s victory marks the completion of a challenge Kobe Bryant gave him years before his untimely death.
In 2017, as Bryant issued challenges to other players in the league, Antetokounmpo jokingly reached out to the Lakers legend, seeking a dare of his own. “Still waiting for my challenge, @kobebryant,” he wrote on Twitter, to which Bryant succinctly responded, “MVP.” By the end of the 2018-2019 season, the Bucks star accomplished that goal.
“At first, I was like joking, I didn’t think he was going to respond to me,” Antetokounmpo said on Tuesday when reflecting on Bryant’s challenge. “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 and lead my team and win MVP.’ I had to do it.”
After earning the title of MVP, Bryant congratulated Antentokounmpo before upping the ante with another challenge. “My man….M.V.P. Greatness,” he tweeted in 2019. “Next up: Championship. #MambaMentality.” Nearly two years later, the Bucks star is an NBA champ.
“I had to work hard. And not necessarily not to let him down,” Antentokounmpo said of Bryant. “I had to work hard because people believed that I could do it, and that’s the thing. I’m a people pleaser. I don’t like letting people down. When I re-signed with Milwaukee, that’s the main reason I re-signed…I didn’t want to let the people down and think that I don’t work extremely hard for them, which I do. But to be able to accomplish those things in this period of time is crazy. It’s unreal. I can’t believe it.”
See the exchange between Antentokounmpo and Bryant as well as the clip from the Buck star’s post-game interview below.