It’s what you see when you squint on draft night. They walk up to that podium — in normal times at least — too skinny in that suit. They’re always too skinny. But every fan starts doing it, imagining nights like Tuesday’s, and the path to get there. What the offense will look like, how much he’ll have the ball in his hands. When he fills out, maybe he’ll get a post game, and the matchup headaches that he’ll create both inside and out. You do all this before the first round is even over.
You see glimpses of it in the early season. Nights where they pour in 45 and look unplayable and fans are sure he’ll go down as the best in franchise history. The view gets muddied by the other nights when people in the fourth row are ducking errant passes and there’s enough clanks to get any car mechanic in the crowd to turn their head. You see the small additions to the game, a new move here, a better understanding on defense there, maybe improved at the line. It comes together slowly. It’s never as instant as the media crush wants.
It only takes a year or two before people locally are wondering if HE’S THE GUY?
But to become THE GUY™ takes much longer.
Then the national press weighs in, as inroads into the playoffs are made for the first time. Your guy is now part of the league-wide lexicon. But once that starts, you have to listen to assholes like me tell you all the reasons HE’S NOT THE GUY. Because it’s easy. It’s always there for anyone… until it’s not. Every team but one doesn’t win the title, so you can almost always be right saying HE’S NOT THE GUY.
We all do it. As long as his team and he keep coming up short, anyone can list the reasons they did and claim they’re right, because the proof is right there in the no parade and lack of confetti. It must be true, then.
“He’s too easy to defend in crunch time,” or “he’ll shrink in the last five minutes.” And because the Bucks got turned away the last two years, we can feel smug, because there isn’t a thorough argument on the other side to overcome the lack of a ring. It’s really garbage, because championships aren’t all, but they have become so.
Bucks fans watched for six, seven years as Giannis grew into something truly unique, and me and my buddies are all sitting on the curb just waiting to tell them why they’re wrong, simply because it was the easy thing to do. I have some excuse, it’s a natural reflex when it comes to Wisconsin. Doesn’t make it right, but it’s what we do down here.
These days, it’s not just hearing HE’S NOT THE GUY but also THAT’S NOT THE PLACE. Pretty much everywhere that’s not in a corner of the US has to hear that. And it sucks to hear if you’re a fan, because you’re also likely proud of where you’re from or where you live. You know it’s not as glamorous as other spots, but that doesn’t mean it’s some barren hellhole that the Lord Humongous presides over (and take it from me, Milwaukee is a pretty neat place. Just don’t tell them I said that).
Most everyone who goes through all this doesn’t get a Tuesday night. Or these NBA Finals, where Giannis became a celestial being. The Bucks won because Giannis was there. For the first three quarters or so, the rest of the Bucks were a kindergarten recess (the Suns weren’t much better). They were 15-for-43 in the first half. Without Giannis they would have been 9-for-33 for a cool 27 percent. The Bucks might not have gotten blown out in the first half thanks to the Suns treating the occasion like a root canal as well, but they would have had a much tougher hill to climb.
In the end, this is what Giannis did:
They won because they had Giannis. How many players in the NBA can we factually say that about? LeBron is one. We don’t know that it’s Durant yet, because his moments of triumph came after he joined a 73-win team and all. Is that it? We thought it was Kawhi. Are we sure now? There will be others soon, but that might be the list now.
Far too many will try and hang an asterisk on this one, given the injuries most everyone else suffered and the abbreviated offseason and whatever else. But everyone played under the same rules. Weird shit happens most seasons. Maybe not this weird, but weird nonetheless.
There are plenty of other factors, of course. Jrue Holliday’s defense in Games 3 and 4. Milwaukee’s big lineup, their dominance on the glass. But in the end, they won because they had Giannis. There’s no easy out on him now.
He did it, he’s that guy, Milwaukee is that place, and there’s nothing left to say.
Not THE GUY™
On the flip side, Chris Paul might have some questions to answer. Paul didn’t attempt a field goal in the last eight minutes of the game until there were 30 seconds left and the jig was up. He didn’t have an assist in the fourth. With Holliday draped all over Devin Booker again, for the most part, the Suns needed CP3. He looked like he didn’t want much part of it. There’s facilitating the offense, and then there’s just deferring. It’s a blurrier line than most recognize, but it sure felt like Paul crossed it for Game 6. He was hurt, maybe more hurt than we know. He’s old, and the Bucks defense focused on him. But sometimes, if you’re THAT GUY, you stand up and be counted.
That wasn’t it.