Giannis Antetokounmpo has been crowned the NBA’s most valuable player.
Antetokounmpo, a forward for the Milwaukee Bucks, gave a heartfelt speech thanking his coaches, teammates and his father, Charles, who died in September 2017 of a heart attack, according to the NBA’s website.
“I want to thank my dad. Obviously, you know, he’s not here with me. Two years ago, I had the goal in my head that I’m going to be the best player in the league and I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my team win and I’m going to win the MVP,” he said.
“Everyday that I step on the floor, I always think about my dad and that motivates me, that pushes me to play harder and move forward.”
Antetokounmpo led his team to the Eastern Conference Finals, but lost to the Toronto Raptors who went on to win the NBA Finals.
Antetokounmpo is the first Greek NBA all-star and was also nominated for Defensive Player of the Year. Because of his size — 6-feet, 11-inches, 242 pounds — and athleticism, Antetokounmpo is known as the “Greek Freak.” He joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won three times, as the only Bucks players to earn MVP honors, according to a news release from the team. Antetokounmpo’s coach, Mike Budenholzer, also won NBA Coach of the Year.
Shaquille O’ Neal hosted the 2019 NBA Awards Monday where the league’s top performers were honored.
Here are the other big winners of the night:
Rookie of the Year
Luka Dončić is the 2019 NBA Rookie of the Year.
The Dallas Mavericks guard is a Slovenia native and joins Spain’s Pau Gasol (2002) as the only Rookie of the Year winners who didn’t play high school or college basketball in the United States.
Dončić also joins Jason Kidd (1995) as the only Mavericks player to win Rookie of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year
For the second year in a row, Rudy Gobert is the league’s best defender.
The Utah Jazz center is the second player in the team’s history to win the award twice. The first was Mark Eaton in 1985 and 1989.
The Lifetime Achievement Award
Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird shared the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award.
The duo were on opposite sides of one of the league’s most heated rivalries and duked it out for NBA supremacy over several seasons in the 1980s.
Their rivalry brought more fans to the game in the process and made the NBA must-see TV.
Both Johnson and Bird spoke on each other and the state of basketball today.
“It’s just amazing how these guys are playing the game today. I couldn’t be more proud of them. The game’s in a good place,” Bird said, adding some advice to young players: “Keep the game the way they found it and it’ll go on for generations.”
Johnson said he and Bird pushed one another to greatness.
“Everyday, I watched your box score,” Johnson said, adding that he’d want to match or exceed Bird. “Thank you for pushing me and I hope I did the same for you.”