Tomase: C's fans will have a hard time trying to dislike Giannis


Boston just vanquished its biggest basketball villain, and now Celtics fans must redirect their vitriol and rage from Kyrie Irving . . . onto the guy who can't believe how good Oreos taste dunked in milk?

Good luck hating Giannis Antetokounmpo. It's impossible.

The Greek Freak isn't just a mean-mugging force of nature on the court. He's a worthy successor to Steph Curry as the most liked player off it.

Celtics Talk: Celtics in 7? Brian Scalabrine breaks down keys to series vs. Bucks | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Whereas Irving is all about me, myself, and Ky, Antetokounmpo comes from such humble origins, he couldn't lose that part of himself even if he filled a giant mansion with smaller mansions, and those smaller mansions with Maseratis, and those Maseratis with Cristal.

The Eastern Conference semifinals matchup between the Celtics and defending-champion Bucks that opens on Sunday in Boston should make for tremendous theater, just like the seven-game series the two teams played in 2018. But it will be fueled by respect instead of hate, because Giannis's presence demands it.

Where to even start with this guy? The wonder with which he described the first time a friend convinced him to pair Oreos and milk is an all-timer ("I took the Oreo and I threw it in the milk and he was like, 'No! Just dunk it, like put it in!' I was like, 'Don't worry about it, give me a spoon. . .'"), as are his introductions to smoothies, corn dogs, Kool-Aid, which he tags with, "MAN GOD BLESS AMERICA" on social media.

Giannis gives interesting answer to facing the Celtics in upcoming series

There's his gleeful recitation of dad jokes before press conferences ("What do you call a cow on the floor? Anyone know it? GROUND BEEF!"), the fact that his favorite movie is unironically "Coming to America," or how the two-time MVP eschewed the NBA's tired L.A.-Miami super-team formula to sign a long-term extension with the Bucks just months before leading them to their first title since a young Lew Alcindor prowled the paint in 1971.

You could start with any of the above and understand why there isn't an athlete quite like him, this package of outrageous athleticism, fierce competitiveness, winking innocence, and hard-won worldliness.

But let's pivot back to last year's Finals, when Antetokounmpo explained the difference between ego, pride, and humility in a way that resonated well beyond sports before his Bucks defeated the Suns.

"When you focus on the past, that's your ego," he said. "'I did this. We were able to beat this team 4-0. I did this in the past. I won that in the past.' And when I focus on the future, it's my pride. 'Yeah, next game, Game 5, I do this and this and this. I'm going to dominate.' That's your pride talking. I try to focus in the moment, in the present. And that's humility. That's being humble. That's not setting expectations. That's going out there and enjoying the game."

When juxtaposed against Irving, whose contrarian mantra is best summarized by his declaration that "there's nobody telling me what I'm going to do with my life," Antetokounmpo's selflessness becomes all the more refreshing and noteworthy.

But lest we get carried away painting the picture of some stoically humble caricature, there's also the matter of what Antetokounmpo does on the court, which is breathtaking. For all the hype of skilled big men like fellow MVP Nikola Jokic, Antetokounmpo has posted 29-12-6 numbers over the last three years. He can cover the distance between halfcourt and the rim with just one dribble and two massive Euro steps.

When the Bucks needed a game-saving play in Game 4 of last year's Finals, he soared to the rescue with an insane recovery block on a lob to the 6-foot-11 Deandre Ayton. He's also responsible for one half of the greatest alley-oop in All-Star Game history.

He's the superstar who can have his Oreos and eat them, too, preferably dripping with dairy. "I was like, 'Bro, this is amazing!" he recounted, and that's just one example of his likability. (For 34 more, check out this list compiled by OnMilwaukee.)

We could rave about him all day, but there's a series to play and an enemy to vilify. If Celtics fans want to hate the Bucks, they're going to have to look somewhere other than Antetokounmpo, because this guy, quite simply, is a joy.  

Thank god for Grayson Allen.

Contact Us