A Tale of Two Giants
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are almost the same size, both have African bloodlines (though the former was born in Greece) and are separated by a year of age.
Though younger at 26, Giannis entered the NBA a year earlier, in 2013, as the 15th pick of the Draft, while Embiid came in 3rd in his own class — injuries derailed his first two years, making his debut come only in the 2016–17 season.
Instantly, Embiid took over everyone's heart with his flamboyant style, reminiscent of Shaq, and his footwork, reminiscent of Hakeem. He was a gift for the media: outspoken, calling Rihanna on dates, answering Mia Khalifa on Twitter, his game a product of its time, lots of shooting with just enough back to the basket to keep the old-school lovers in sync.
That same year, the skinny kid from Greece won the Most Improved Player Award. Physically talented more than anything, Giannis also likes to talk, he's always coming up with new puns that seem awesome to someone learning a new language, something his accent strongly implies even now. But his European roots made him somewhat of a paradox: decided to stay in Milwaukee, rejecting the "teaming up" trend (something that seems more fitting when we think of Dirk, as an example), but instead of jacking up 3s (Dirk, again), he gets his points next to the basket.
One would look at two games, both finishing with a nearly identical stat-line and would say Embiid is the better player. Why? Cause he makes it pretty.
Fadeaway. Step back. Between the legs. Dream Shake. Side step. Jelly. Sauce.
Well, guess what, they are all worth the same, but at a higher price.
If you have played basketball, you know that shooting, specially off the drible, is a killer for your legs. Step backs destroy your dominating one, fade aways the supporting one. And when you weight 127kg (do the math), and have a particular taste for diving all the time, you won't hold up.
Last night, Joel Embiid lost to the Atlanta Hawks, ending for the fourth straight year a process that ended the day the Celtics got Jayson Tatum and the Sixers got Markelle Fultz — remember, the Cs traded the 1st pick for the 3rd for Philly, a heist.
In the fourth quarter, Embiid started by hitting three straight shots: two threes, a drible-drible two. He attacked Clint Capela, a good shot blocker but average defender, once. Missed.
Giannis did hit a couple of thres against the Nets, a night earlier (one was a good and old banker), but the play of his career came in over-time: backing down Kevin Durant, he tied the game with a bit more than a minute left. Back to the basket, affected jump, little bounce. Made it.
Today, if you circle around the internet and specially the big vehicles, people are talking more about the Nets and Sixers folding, than Giannis dropping 40 points in a decisive game 7 against the best player in the world. Media doesn't love Giannis.
He averaged 32 and 13 for the series, on over 50% shooting. Not enough, I guess.
And then, the tale of two giants continue: one makes it pretty while losing every year. The other has an awkward jump shot and wasn't it for the magic bubble, would be walking into his third straight Eastern Conference Finals and, maybe, first ever Finals at the age of 26. As a back-to-back MVP. And a Defensive Player of the Year.
Instead of blaming his knee, or a teammate, he's talking about preparing his whole life for that moment, in a speech so sober and down to Earth that resumes him — and that award he won the first year Embiid played on the NBA — , so well.
Hardwork is not cute. But I'm taking it over talent any day.