Sports

Greek Philosopher Giannis Antetokounmpo Delivers a Master Class in Living in the Moment

Giannis dunks on the side of the hoop with mouth agape and legs flying as Jrue Holiday, Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges, and Suns fans look on.
The sage living out his way of life. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Bucks are just one game away from winning it all. Saturday’s 123–119 victory against the Phoenix Suns—the Bucks’ third win in a row—was indicative of their general approach to the Finals so far: fall behind early, crawl back into contention, and then trust that Giannis Antetokounmpo will soar into the heavens and punch Zeus in the nose. In Game 4, Giannis delivered with The Block. For Game 5, there was this thrilling bit of madness that sealed a vital 3–2 series lead.

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It was an all-time Finals moment, one that began as a potential game-winning possession for the Phoenix Suns. The sequence wasn’t just surprising (I screamed); it was downright inadvisable on multiple levels. In order to rip the ball from Devin Booker’s hands, Jrue Holiday had to leave Chris Paul wide open behind the 3-point line. The gamble paid off, and the Bucks weren’t content to quit while they were ahead. Everyone in the arena expected Holiday to dribble into space and wait to be fouled, but the point guard (who had been incredible all evening) led the fast break as if it were the middle of the first quarter. Throwing an alley-oop was perhaps the riskiest option available in that situation, but there’s a reason actuaries don’t make it into many highlight reels.

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And then there’s the issue of Giannis’ involvement. He should have been the last person to seek out the ball given his persistent troubles at the foul line. Instead, he sprinted to the hoop with reckless abandon and demanded the pass. I mean, look at the play from this angle.

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That is not a man who was second-guessing himself. Such desire can only be described as “Gollum-esque.” Why’d he call for that alley-oop? “I don’t know,” he said after the game. “I was so in the moment.”

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Giannis’ approach to this Finals-defining play would defy rational explanation but for the fact that Giannis himself rationally explained it at a press conference on Friday, a full day before Game 5. When asked how he “figured the ego part out” of his game at such a young age, he delivered a thoughtful monologue that also serves as the best slice of pop-philosophy since “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen).

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Here’s the full text of his answer in case you want to lay it over a Eurodance beat:

When I think about like, “Yeah I did this.” You know, “I’m so great. I had 30, I had 25-10-10,” or whatever the case might be. Because you’re going to think about that … Usually the next day you’re going to suck. Simple as that. Like, the next few days you’re going to be terrible. And I figured out a mindset to have that, when you focus on the past, that’s your ego: “I did this in the past. I won that in the past.”

And when I focus on the future, it’s my pride. “Yeah, the next game, Game 5, I’ll do this and this and this. I’m going to dominate.” That’s your pride talking. Like, it doesn’t happen. You’re right here. I try and focus in the moment. In the present. And that’s humility. That’s being humble. That’s not setting no expectations. That’s going out there and enjoying the game. Competing at a high level. I’ve had people throughout my life who have helped me with that. But that’s a skill that I’ve tried to, like, how do you say? Perfect it. Yeah, master it. It’s been working so far, so I’m not going to stop.

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As far as Greek philosophers go, Giannis is the only one who can provide an example of his teachings in the form of a monster dunk. (Plato relied on the 3-ball too much.) Calling for an alley-oop with 14 seconds left and a 1-point lead in a Finals game is the embodiment of “living in the moment.” No one who respects the linear nature of time would take such a risk during the biggest moment of their career. The manifestations of ego and pride were subjected to the sidelines. I think ESPN even caught them on camera earlier in the evening.

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For the past two rounds of the playoffs, opposing fans have taken to counting during Giannis’ free throw attempts. They want a 10-second violation, sure, but what they really want is to rush the struggling foul shooter. Make or miss (and it’s often miss), he always takes his time. He stayed in the moment during the and-1 attempt after that alley-oop, and when the ball ricocheted off the heel of the rim he was able to tip the rebound out to Khris Middleton, who sealed the win from the line.

Subscribers to the Tao of Giannis may find the next few days frustrating. They can’t relive and celebrate that amazing alley-oop because it is an egoistic relic of the past. Anticipating a Game 6 win in Milwaukee is another no-no, for that is the future and the future is where pride lives. Living in the moment is easier said than done. It’s almost as hard as catching a pass two feet above the hoop and dunking it while being pushed out of bounds. The Bucks are pretty fortunate that Giannis can do both.

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