European players were the big winners at the third annual NBA Awards which celebrates the highest performing players during the 2018-19 regular season. Milwaukee Bucks and Greece star Giannis Antetokounmpo came out victorious in the night’s biggest prize – taking away MVP honours for the regular season beating close competitor James Harden. The other big European winners were Luka Doncic who won Rookie of the Year and Rudy Gobert who claimed Defensive Player of the Year.
It proved to be an emotional night for Antetokounmpo, who paid tribute to his late father whilst making his acceptance speech. It was a combination of his father, his family and Kobe Bryant who provided Giannis with the most motivation saying:
“Definitely it [Bryant challenging Antetokounmpo to win MVP] was really motivating. Kobe saying that I can be the MVP of this league, that should be my goal, that definitely motivated me and wanted to make me a better player. I think my motivation came after my dad passed away and also the support system that I had with my family. But definitely Kobe as well, he’s the one that started the flame.”
Giannis highlighted his parents own sacrifice in being a driving factor behind his success:
“My parents sacrificed a lot on a daily basis. I do not want to get into a lot of details, but it’s definitely the hard work my parents put in and the way they loved us. There were times when we were poor, we didn’t have money, but we never did not have love.
“There was no shortage in that, and we were always together. Those are the memories that I remember and that’s why I always want to be better. I tried to be a role model for my brothers and always tried to have that flame in me that makes me better. I hope I can keep that flame forever.”
Rookie of the Year winner Luka Doncic was confident of winning the award but faced stiff competition from Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young and Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, saying:
“I always feel confident, but Deandre [Ayton] and Trae [Young] had amazing seasons so I wasn’t that confident ahead of the ceremony. But, I’m very happy to have won it and it’s such a special moment.”
Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert spoke on what it was like to win the award two years in a row:
“It means a lot. I never thought I would be able to win it twice when I started playing basketball, playing in France. I didn’t know anything about basketball. I was just having fun. Then I started becoming more competitive, year after year, and eventually I made it to the NBA, so I’m very grateful.”
Full quotes from Giannis Antetokounmpo
Q. You got emotional there, tears flowing. Did you expect to be that emotional giving that speech?
GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO: No. I was talking with my family yesterday and they asked me if I had anything prepared and I said no, I didn’t have, I’m just going to talk from the heart, and they asked me if I was going to get emotional and I was like, there is no way I’m getting emotional, but when you hear your name up there on the stage and then you realize these years of hard work, what you did in the past, then you start getting emotional.
Definitely I didn’t expect myself to get emotional.
Q. You had asked Kobe Bryant a couple of years ago, you said you were still waiting for your challenge, and he replied back to you your challenge was to win MVP. How was that motivating to you and can you talk about when that happened?
GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO: Definitely it was really motivating. Kobe saying that I can be the MVP of this league, that should be my goal, that definitely motivated me and wanted to make me a better player. I think my motivation came, you know, after my dad passed away and after the support system that I had with my family. But definitely Kobe, he’s the one that started the flame, definitely.
Q. You were very emotional up there, and we talk about stats all the time and numbers, but what does being MVP mean to you?
GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO: MVP is not about stats and numbers, and obviously James Harden had unbelievable numbers and Paul George, also, but obviously it’s about winning. It’s all about making sure you go out there with your teammates and do whatever it takes to win. I think that’s what we did as a team. We created great habits throughout the season, and were able to stick by them, and that’s why we were able to have a chance in every single game we played and were able to win 60 games.
Q. Giannis, I saw you with your brothers at All-Star weekend; you had them by your side tonight. I know family is extremely important to you. What kind of role do you feel like you’re setting for your brothers, and how do you stay hungry, not be complacent? Even though you won the MVP this year you’re talking about looking forward to a championship.
GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO: Obviously everything I do I always want to have my family around me. We started from nothing as a family, and we are going to be in every stage that we can be as a family. Definitely the journey hasn’t ended yet. There are a lot of goals that I have set for myself and for the team also, and I’m a guy that whenever I set goals I try to accomplish them, no matter what. At the end of the day I’m going to stay hungry. I have the guys that support me on a daily basis, and as long as they’re there for me, I’m going to stay hungry and chase my dreams, and I’m always going to chase my goals because that’s what my family wants me to do, and that’s what people that know me want me to do.
Q. In the league today we have so many superstars and great players that train together in the summertime or get together, vacation, things of that nature. From what we know about you, you spend time as a lone wolf. How has that benefited you and where does that come from? What makes you choose to go that way about getting better?
GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO: I think I’ve done it — been six years in the league, going on my seventh year. I’ve done it like that in the past, so I try to stick to what works. Obviously, you know, if I practice with the best players in the league, James Harden, Paul George, KD, LeBron, Kawhi, obviously that’s going to make me better, but I’m really so much competitive that I tried to, you know, do my work and my job by myself, and then I’m able to, when the season starts, almost like surprise the world and showcase my skills. Yeah, it’s something that has worked in the past so far, so I’m going to stick by that.
Q. Giannis, you just talked about how you and your family started from nothing. When you look at that trophy and you think back to when you were a kid and your humble beginnings, what will you remember the most about how difficult it was as a kid to get out of where you were and to get to this point?
GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO: I think one of the things that comes to my mind is, you know, my parents. Everything that they sacrificed on a daily basis. I do not want to get into a lot of details, but it’s definitely the hard work of my parents and the way they loved us, you know. There were times when we were poor, we didn’t have money, but we never did not have love. There was no shortage in that, and we were always together. Those are the memories that I remember and that’s why I always want to be better. I tried to be a role model for my brothers and always tried to have that flame in me that makes me better. I hope I can keep that flame forever.
Q. If you have to pick, what is the most memorable moment during this MVP season for you?
GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO: There were so many moments. I think probably moments that my teammate, Khris [Middleton], got selected to the All- Star game. I was really happy about that. It all happened same day, the coaching staff, they were selected to the All-Star Game, and it’s always nice to go to the All-Star game, but it’s nice to have the coaching staff and your teammate there with you. That and probably after round one and we advanced in the second round in the playoffs.