Everybody loves Giannis Antetokounmpo. At a time when hating is at an all-time high (in sports and in general), you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't want the Milwaukee Bucks' 23-year-old two-time All-Star to thrive. In part, it's a rags-to-riches story: Giannis and his siblings grew up impoverished as the children of first-generation Nigerian immigrants in Greece; they peddled sunglasses and other items on the streets to help support the family. As feel-good stories go, Giannis' is tough to top.
On another level, the man nicknamed the "Greek Freak" is just plain fun to watch, because he plays with utter joy. His movements can, at times, seem so incredible that they border on disrespectful. Take for example what happened in December, in a game against the Utah Jazz. As Giannis dribbled outside the three-point arc, he was guarded by Thabo Sefolosha. After a flurry of crossovers—one, two, and then three—Giannis darted past his defender and another, Alec Burks, who hedged from off the ball. Once in the lane, Giannis attacked the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, rocketing up and extending toward the basket for a slam. The Milwaukee crowd combusted, and Giannis flexed and pumped his fist, looking around exuberantly as if to share the moment. He was genuinely excited, moved, even surprised by what transpired.
Giannis often gives us moment like this—moments when he's not just feeling himself but he's also feeling something else, an elusive "it" that's hard to fully wrap your head around. While this may sound like hyperbole, in Giannis' case, hyperbole feels justifiable. From a purely technical standpoint, he can be a revelation. At a time when more and more teams are experimenting with and expanding positional roles, Giannis—who seems immune to the limitations such definitions impose—is the vanguard.
And for all his success, Giannis is still a work in progress who has yet to realize his full potential. He's become a dominant performer without any semblance of a jumper—which, unfair as it may sound, suggests there's still ample room for growth. As he learns, he could uncover something about basketball. The thrills he brings adjust perception.
This is why, at his best, Giannis feels like something bigger than himself. We don't just want to see where he's headed, what he'll do next; we want to see where he will take the sport in the future. To borrow from the NBA's most recent marketing campaign, he's exactly why we watch. Giannis consistently hits those elevated notes that make you love the game more than you thought possible. And all the while, you know he's right there with you.
Nathaniel Friedman is a columnist at GQ.com. He was a founding member of the FreeDarko group and a co-author of its two NBA-related books.
Check out more game-changers on the B/R POWER 50 Level Up list: