MILWAUKEE — It’s been a little more than two months since the Milwaukee Bucks won the 2020-21 NBA championship, but star Giannis Antetokounmpo still wants to maintain the chip on his shoulder that helped bring them that title.
“Are we satisfied? I’m not satisfied. I’m not even close to being satisfied,” Antetokounmpo said at his season-opening news conference Monday. “That’s the tone we got to set as a team. As the leader of this team, that’s the tone I’m going to set. We understand that teams are coming for us, but we’re going to be ready.”
Antetokounmpo expressed a similar refrain along with the rest of his Bucks teammates. They will open training camp this week ready to turn the page from last season and focus on defending the franchise’s first title since the 1970-71 season.
So while Antetokounmpo spoke fondly about bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy home the night after the NBA Finals, carrying it through the drive thru at Chick-Fil-A and taking it with him to Greece this summer, he didn’t want to spend much time Monday afternoon focusing on last season.
“Right now what I want is to get better,” he said. “I don’t care about trophies. I don’t care about the MVPs. I don’t care about Defensive Player of the Years. All those things, I don’t care. I care about getting better because if I do that more things are coming.
“That’s what I’ve done my whole career and that’s how I am in this position. So, there’s no weight off my shoulder, I feel the same weight. I enjoy, obviously, that we’re the champions, but the weight is the same. Get better.”
Perhaps that is the most intriguing prospect for the Bucks and Antetokounmpo heading into the season: the obvious ways they can still improve.
Already a two-time MVP and Finals MVP, Antetokounmpo became animated when talking about building off his performance in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, especially when he knocked down 17 of his 19 free throws to help seal the win. “Life would be good if I could do that,” he said with a laugh. He also pointed to his five blocks in the Finals clincher and said he wants to try and maintain that effort level on defense on every possession this year.
“I want to make free throws, I have to make free throws,” Antetokounmpo said. “In order for us to win that game, I had to make free throws, and there’s going to be a lot of big games where I have to make free throws. I have to get better in that area. If I could take one thing from that game, it’s probably that and the blocked shots. I was chasing everything.”
Antetokounmpo pointed to the ways in which some of the great players in NBA history have continued to “flip the script” as he put it, casting themselves as the underdog. Whether it be Shaquille O’Neal using an imagined slight by David Robinson as motivation to dominate the Spurs whenever he got the chance to play against him (O’Neal later apologized for making up the story) or the plethora of things Michael Jordan “took personally,” Antetokounmpo has taken note of the ways the greats have continued to stay motivated.
“We know we were the 2021 NBA champs, but right now we’re just the Milwaukee Bucks again that nobody believes in us,” he said. “And nobody believes that we can do it again.”