When LeBron James had his first pick in the 2021 NBA All-Star Game Draft, the Lakers star left no doubt who he thought the best player available was, selecting Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning back-to-back MVP. And while the Milwaukee Bucks star rewarded James’ faith by winning MVP of the exhibition while helping James get to 4-0 as All-Star captain in his illustrious career — MJ could never — the irony of James picking Giannis as the best player was hard to miss.
You see, while James didn’t have the option to pick himself, making this comparison somewhat flawed, it was interesting to see him recognizing Antetokounmpo’s talent after how “pissed off” he admitted he was that so many voters in the media said Antetokounmpo was the best player in the world for the second straight year last summer. That pseudo cold war was part of why Sabreena Merchant and I didn’t think James would take Antetokounmpo when we tried to guess his picks for SB Nation.
But it’s clear that the respect between James and Antetokounmpo is mutual, because not only did James pick the man who beat him out for MVP last season with his first pick despite Giannis not being a free agent anytime soon after signing an extension this season, Antetokounmpo has also shown plenty of deference to James over the past several months.
After praising LeBron’s talent and saying he’d be happy to play second or third option to him in a Greek interview during the offseason prior to his extension, Giannis said this weekend prior to the All-Star game that he believes James is still the best player in the world. He explained why during his media session (emphasis mine):
“For sure, I think he’s one of the best players in the league. For sure. There’s no doubt. He’s a champion. And as long as you’re the champion, you’re the best player in the league. I don’t care who’s the MVP, I don’t care who’s the leading scorer in the NBA. If you’re the champion on the best team, I think you’re the best player in the league, the best player in the world.
“There’s going to be other opinions out there. Some people are going to say he’s not the best player in the world, and some people are going to say somebody else. It’s the same thing with the debate ‘who is the best, Jordan or LeBron?’ There’s going to be 50% of people that are going to say Jordan, 50% of people are going to say LeBron. It doesn’t really matter because at the end of the day, just being in that conversation, you’re the one, you know?”
Again, this is fascinating, because for as much as many voters clearly value stats, advanced numbers, a team’s record and more in evaluating who the MVP is, it’s clear what the stars in the game think the criteria is, and that James has certainly met it. Or at the very least, Giannis — an admitted Kobe Bryant disciple who very obviously is concerned with winning more than just about anything else — sees things that way.
And with Giannis saying this about James, even with his extension theoretically keeping him in Milwaukee until 2024 or 2025, it’s time to restart the agenda. After all, with James saying he wants to stick around long enough to play with his son while Jeanie Buss says the Lakers want to keep James as long as possible, he may be with the Lakers long enough for our Giannis jersey swaps to become relevant again:
I mean, look at how happy Giannis was while playing on a team with LeBron!
The countdown starts now.