Sports

Did Giannis Take LeBron’s Crown?

A Slate investigation.

Giannis Antetokounmpo drives against LeBron James on the court.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo drives against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James in the third quarter of Thursday’s game at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Benny Sieu/USA Today Sports

Whenever something or someone is purported to be invincible in a movie, that usually means there is one glaring, exploitable weakness. The Death Star had its thermal exhaust port, Bane had his mask, and Thanos couldn’t eat gluten. (Sorry, I still haven’t seen any of the Avengers movies—I assume that’s how those end?) This seemed to be the case in real life for Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA’s reigning MVP. Sure, he can traverse the length of the court in three strides and Eurostep around a mountain range—but the Milwaukee Bucks’ star has trouble hitting shots from deep. Or he had trouble. When the Bucks beat the Lakers 111–104 on Thursday, we got to see what it would look like if Giannis ever welded shut the Death Star vent and became a proficient 3-point shooter. Turns out it’d be pretty terrifying!

Both Milwaukee and Los Angeles had league-best records of 24–4 heading into Thursday’s game, so the stakes were about as high as you’ll find in a mid-December affair. The Lakers’ Anthony Davis should, in theory, be the perfect defensive foil for Giannis. He’s built like a redwood and has the agility of a hummingbird, but Antetokounmpo still managed to put up 34 points in Milwaukee’s win. It didn’t matter who was guarding him, and the key to his offensive effectiveness was his performance from beyond the arc. Giannis hit five 3-pointers (his career high) on only eight attempts. Amazingly, each of his makes came from 27 feet out or farther.

Giannis shot 26 percent from deep during last season’s MVP campaign. He’s improved to 39 percent this year, and in December he’s converted 45 percent of his 3-point attempts. The rest of the league may as well pack it in if he continues at this pace, and, judging by his reaction to his fifth 3-pointer on Thursday, Giannis seems to know it.

I’m no expert in pantomimed millinery, but it sure looks as if he’s placing a crown atop his head. Considering this happened against LeBron and the Lakers, Giannis’ celebration must be read as an act of regicide. He’s snatched the bejeweled crown from the King’s head and put it atop his own. Some amateur lip readers on Twitter interpreted Giannis’ blunt, self-delivered coronation thusly: “I wear this shit now!”

To be fair, the camera angles make it unclear whether or not he actually said that phrase, but the boast is worth examining nonetheless. Does Giannis, in fact, wear this shit now?

The Reign of LeBron James

LeBron isn’t playing like a man who plans to leave the throne anytime soon. The Lakers may have lost two games in a row, but this mini-slump is not representative of how he or the team has performed this season. He’s averaging a career-best 10.6 assists per game, and on Thursday—the night of the alleged crown theft—he put up a triple-double.

It’s not clear at all that the longtime King has lost his diadem. He has a tattoo of a crown on his arm, and the symbol also appears as part of his Nike logo. Tattoos can be removed, but corporate branding is forever. It’s something he’d fight to protect, though he did do something peculiar during the postgame press scrum in Milwaukee.

The person running the official SportsCenter Twitter account interpreted that motion as “tipping his cap,” though LeBron didn’t say those words. “You know what that means” is all he offered, and, after an evening of portentous headgear mummery, this hint at abdication should not be taken lightly.

Giannis May Have Forgotten That He Grabbed the Crown

“I wear this shit now!” is a boisterous celebration, but Giannis sang a slightly different tune after the game. “I think the most important thing is to try to stay humble. When you win MVP and you win 60 games, it’s hard,” he said, ignoring the fact that we all saw him ascend the Great Chain of Being and take his place on the rung just beneath God almighty.

“I’m not supposed to go against these two beasts,” Giannis said of LeBron and Davis, men who, one imagines, would bow at the feet of their new king. “I’m just happy that I’m here and happy that I’m going through the process, and I always want to be better, do better for my team, and that’s what gives me joy.” That, and the loyalty of all the potential subjects in his kingdom, surely.

Should Giannis Even Want the Crown?

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV, Part 2. But Henry didn’t even play basketball. If he did, he’d have to wear a chinstrap to keep his crown on. He’d look like a drum major. Embarrassing.

Crowns are a pain in the ass for reasons beyond weight. They’re clunky, difficult to resize, and refuse to absorb sweat. You can’t go through metal detectors wearing one, and while NBA teams travel on chartered planes, that’s still something to think about should Giannis ever fly commercial for a vacation or family function. Oh, and they’re pointy. Slip on a patch of ice and you’ve got a one-way ticket to eyepatch city.

Was It Even a Crown?

From a distance, a whoopee cap can look like a crown. I can’t be the only person who used to think Jughead Jones was wearing a crown when he was in fact sporting this humorous sartorial accoutrement made from a felt fedora’s raggedy, upturned brim.

Perhaps Giannis wasn’t saying “I wear this shit now” but rather “Andy’s on now,” a reference to The Andy Griffith Show and the character of Goober Pyle, a beloved, whoopee cap–wearing dope.

What Does This Mean for Season 4 of Netflix’s The Crown?

Claire Foy had two full seasons to get into the role of Queen Elizabeth II, and it’d be unfair to Oscar winner Olivia Colman* if we gave the crown to Giannis Antetokounmpo right now. I don’t care how well he’s shooting 3-pointers—she deserves more than 10 episodes.

Verdict: The 3-pointers are nice and all, but they’re not everything. For example, no one was rushing to reorganize the palace seating chart after Terry Rozier made seven of them for the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night. Giannis may be a world-conquering basketball miracle, but it’s still only December. He’ll need to make at least one NBA Finals appearance before he can think about claiming the highest honor in the land: a little pretend crown.

Correction, Dec. 22, 2019: This piece originally misspelled Olivia Colman’s last name.