Giannis Antetokounmpo brought the Milwaukee Bucks their first championship in 50 years by scoring 50 points in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Not too long ago, Dirk Nowitzki delivered the Dallas Mavericks its lone NBA Championship with a historic finals performance against the favored Miami Heat.
Both players schooled the NBA in a lesson of loyalty. With Antetokounmpo, it was signing his max extension the same season he wins a championship. And with Nowitzki, it was the wait and the years of shortcomings that made 2011 oh so sweet.
Luka Doncic can learn a thing or two from these NBA legends.
In the age of player mobility, free-agent acquisitions and trade demands, Nowitzki and Antetokounmpo took the harder path.
“I could go to a superteam and just do my part and win a championship,” Antetokounmpo said. “But this is the hard way to do it, and this is the way I chose to do it. And we did it, we f’ing did it.”
They could have joined a ‘super team.’ They could have won a championship sooner. But when faced with a decision to leave or to stay, they chose the latter. Both were rewarded for it. And both understood the magnitude of the championships they won.
See, Antetokounmpo and Nowitzki understand something about life that takes people years to figure out. Life’s rewards are only fulfilling when one sees their process through to its finish. It’s not so much the destination but the journey. It’s the saying everyone has heard, but few internalize: finish what you start.
Championships mean more in the weight of a sport when loyalty from both franchise and player is the starting point.
Leaving for greener pastures may get someone what they want sooner, but it will never have the same value as seeing a difficult and audacious process through where one started it.
Doncic has a chance to join the exclusive club that Nowitzki and Antetokounmpo are the poster boys for. He has a chance to win a championship in Dallas, where it all started for him in the NBA. And though along that path the Mavericks will undoubtedly fall short more times than once, when they get over the championship hump, it will make that victory worthwhile. It will validate the journey that the path of loyalty takes a player on.
Nowitzki and Antetokounmpo showed that loyalty is rewarded. They reminded NBA fans that good guys do, in fact, win. Doncic has the power to do the same.
The journey isn’t always a straight line:
After Doncic signs his rookie max extension, the clock will tick on Dallas building a contender around him. But winning a championship won’t happen overnight. There will be moments of playoff disappointment, failure and error on account of every member in the locker room. Yet, it’s the failure in the journey that makes the reward saccharine.
Doncic could be the first player since Nowitzki to deliver a championship to a franchise that hasn’t been to the second round of the NBA Playoffs since 2011. That journey starts with loyalty and ends with it too.
There is something to be learned from Antetokounmpo and Nowitzki – the victory in loyalty is always better than the victory in perceived greener pastures. And the failures along the way only add flavor to the relief of a dream achieved after years of coming up just short.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better,” Theodore Roosevelt said in his speech The Man in the Arean.
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Doncic, it’s your turn in the arena.
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Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports