First there was Luka, then there was Rudy, then the big one at the end. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek Freak, the NBA MVP for 2019. Emmet Ryan on how a continent celebrated an extraordinary night from the shores of Dunkirk, through the lakes of Slovenia, to the islands of Greece
Look, Luka was the one absolute banker. We were all pretty confident in each of the award categories going into the night. Arguably, despite what the bookies might have said, the most wariness was around Rudy but everything but Luka had that air of ummm.
Even with Doncic, the one question was would the second half reaction to Trae Young somehow elevate him despite everything we’d seen from the kid. Luka Doncic took whatever questions hung around him before the start of the NBA season and made them laughable. Then he hit the trip-dub, then came the trade for Kristaps because the Mavs really saw what they had in him, and then came Thursday night. 98 votes out of 100, NBA Rookie of the Year, zero doubt in the end. The trophy cabinet (it already has a Euroleague, EuroBasket a couple of Spanish titles, a couple of Spanish cups, and that’s before we get to the many individual awards he racked up fast) is beyond breaking point and he’s not even 20.
For our analysis series The Ballin After, post-game interviews, and more, subscribe to BallinEurope’s YouTube channel
Rudy Gobert is such a different story. He wasn’t terrible his first season but he did not look like a breakout star by any stretch. The chance of being another Euro big who busted was there. At the World Cup in 2014, I was violently hungover for the third place game the night after Gobert’s France had lost to Serbia. Still, even in that state, I could hear the mix of caution and optimism from the journalists there. Rudy still looked a bit stiff but he’d come on a bit in the Spanish excursion. A year later, in front of his home fans in Lille, Rudy looked majestic and fluid even though he’d foul out in the Pau Gasol game. He was there. The Utah Jazz turned out to be the perfect fit for him to evolve at his pace, to run when he felt like he was ready. The third European to lift NBA Defensive Player of the Year award and the second Frenchman a year ago, he now is the first Euro to win a major NBA award more than once let alone the first to do it in consecutive years.
BallinEurope now has merch, like actual merch, t-shirts, phone covers, and even pillows. Check it all out on our RedBubble page.
Oh Giannis. Dude. I mean we’ve written a lot about the freak here before, particularly about how US observers were essentially on the same journey with us here in Europe. His late appearance on the radar of the non specialist youth coverage types meant I was basically tuning in to some second tier Greek League game on a dire feed the same time as many of the US readers of this site. In his rookie season, we saw the ferocity. The fun was there but it took another year or two to hit its top speed. A kid who was expected to be point guard size (for context, I’m 8 inches shorter than Giannis but was roughly the same length at birth) until his mid teens and had developed ball handling beyond what we normally expect of bigs over here.
So, out of the 4,000 odd men that ever played in the NBA there was still only one prior Euro to win the big one. Dirk Nowitzki was named MVP and then got hit by the We Believe Warriors. Giannis, he ran into the Raptors but he’d had time to digest it. As Adam Silver stood atop the podium to announce, having already seen the Bucks take coach and exec awards, he was ready to smile. The Freak, from a country that knows excitement in this sport, was crowned. Giannis Antetokounmpo, NBA Most Valuable Player. It’s crazy to even say it. Those tears, just beautiful. The emotion, it just got us all right in the feels.
Much love all the same to Lou Williams and Pascal Siakam. Y’all are tremendously cool.
To keep up to date with everything on BiE, like BallinEurope on Facebook