The record-breaking payout certainly made a difference in keeping Giannis Antetokounmpo with the Milwaukee Bucks, but the two-time MVP also didn’t want to see jilted fans burning replicas of his jersey had he decided to spurn the deal from the hometown team.
“The first time I saw a kid wearing my jersey was in Milwaukee. I was 18 years old,” Antetokounmpo said in his first meeting with reporters after signing a supermax contract extension with the Bucks that will pay him $228.2 million over five years, the largest deal in NBA history.
“That feeling gets stuck with you, he added. “Obviously, I’ve seen people decide to leave and they burn the jerseys. I’ve seen that and I didn’t want that to happen to me. I didn’t want to see kids burning my jersey.”
The Greek Freak said that in the end he wanted to stay with the franchise that made him the 15th overall pick in the first-round of the 2013 NBA draft.
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“I know that a lot of great players start with one team and then leave for another team. In some cases that works. It some cases it doesn’t work,” Antetokounmpo said. “I just want to be happy. I want my family to be happy. I want to give back to the community that helped me and to the city that drafted me and believed in me. Hopefully, I can give back to all those kids by them watching me play for five years more.”
In the half-hour session with the media, the 26-year-old superstar spoke often of the loyalty he feels for the organization and the city in which he has lived and played since he was a teenager.
“The way that this city has supported me and my family has been amazing since day one,” he said. “Since the day I walked into the Cousins Center gym and the Bradley Center. All I know is Milwaukee. When I came here, I fell in love with the city. It’s a city that loves basketball. It’s a place I want to be. It’s a place where I want to raise my kids.”
Antetokounmpo said he wants to give back to the organization put its faith in him.
“I am a man of my words. This is big, being on a team that trusts me and believes in me,” he said. “They took care of me. They took care of my family. They took care of me financially. I always want to give back.”
The ultimate goal, of course, is to bring the Bucks their first NBA title since the 1970-71 season, but Antetokounmpo knows he and his teammates have their work cut out for them with some formidable opposition and challenges, including unseating the talented Los Angeles Lakers, the defending champions.
“It’s tough. Nowhere you go are you guaranteed to win a championship,” Antetokounmpo said. “It might take me 10 years. I might never win a championship. I might win five. Whatever the case may be. But I know who I am and what I believe. So, I stuck with who believed in me.”
In fitting with Antetokounmpo’s personality, he had a low-key celebration with his family following the highly anticipated announcement.
“I didn’t do much. I had dinner with my family. I went to buybuy Baby and bought a lot of toys for Liam (his infant son) and then I went home and slept real well and woke up and came to practice.”
Antetokounmpo said fielding constant questions about whether he would sign the supermax extension and remain with the Bucks became frustrating.
“It gave me a headache all summer. People asking me. People talking about me. I knew what I wanted, and I just wanted to be left alone,” he said.
Antetokounmpo said his strong relationship with Bucks’ general manager Jon Horst also played a role in his decision to remain with the team. He recalled how he and his brothers have often played basketball with Horst.
“I love this guy,” Antetokounmpo said. “He’s a big part about why I want to be here.”
No doubt, singing a contract that will secure the financial future of his extended family for generations is significant reward for Antetokounmpo’s loyalty.
“I would never have imaged I would be in a position like this, being able to take care of my kids, my grandkids, my brothers’ kids and my brothers’ grandkids,” he said. “I’m extremely blessed. I cannot take this for granted.”
He then joked about how he hopes that his grandchildren will one day build a statute of him.
Antetokounmpo repeatedly mentioned the importance of his family and the part they have played in his development as a person and player.
During the signing of his contract, he wore a necklace with a photo of his late father, Charles, who died of a heart attack in September 2017.
“He would be extremely proud. He’s dancing right now,” he said.
Antetokounmpo confessed that he didn’t use any of the pens provided by his teammates to sign his record-breaking contract.
“Usually when you sign a contract, the organization provides you with a pen,” he explained. “I’ve signed three contracts so far, so I’ve got three pens.”
He joked that he didn’t know the whereabout of those writing instruments.
“I don’t know where they are. My mom takes them, and I think she sells them on eBay,” Antetokounmpo said.