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Greg Couch: Giannis Antetokounmpo slaps LeBron James' legacy down a notch by winning a title the Michael Jordan way

Op-ed
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo holds the NBA Finals trophy and the series MVP trophy. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

No South Beach. No Hollywood. No Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh. No Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love or Anthony Davis.

No Space Jam. No corporate social justice. No super team. No, not even Bugs Bunny.

We had come to accept that there was just one way to win an NBA championship. Hijacking it. There was just one model and it had nothing to do with having your feet on the ground. The message was that the mountaintop was a playground for the rich and privileged, and not, well, for you and me.

Now we have Giannis Antetokounmpo, new NBA champion. It doesn't take a cartoon superhero after all.

It doesn't take LeBron James.

Giannis did what LeBron could never do. As a result, Giannis built his own legacy while knocking down LeBron's.

How perfect, too, that he did it with the little Milwaukee Bucks, a town known only for German beer, white picket fences or, if you're old enough, "Laverne & Shirley" ("Schlemiel schlimazel?'' Don't ask).

Giannis and the Bucks won the NBA championship Tuesday night, beating the Phoenix Suns 105-98 to take the series 4-2 and pull the football away from Chris "Charlie Brown" Paul one more heartbreaking time.

It is 16 years and running now that Paul has not won the NBA championship. Everyone had already anointed him a little over a week ago when the Suns had taken a 2-0 series lead. The injuries and bad luck had piled up on the point guard for so long, and he had waited patiently and with class, that many of us rooted for him. He was finally going to get his championship.

The whole series was becoming a referendum on him. It turned into something else Tuesday night.

It turned into a referendum on bootstrapping and patience, on staying in place to get the job done.

It also became a referendum on James, who had to cut and run to win a championship. Giannis is the anti-James. He was picked 15th in the draft eight years ago after having grown up in a family without expectation, wondering where his next meal might come from ("My mom was selling stuff in the street,'' he said). He didn't have enough muscle and was a project.

And he developed, and won two MVP awards, with LeBron openly unhappy about the second one, not understanding why the MVP debate left his control.

Giannis easily could have Lebroned to a big and glitzy city, premade to win a championship. Instead he signed the supermax deal to stay for the fight in a small market while he continued to improve himself and the Bucks built slowly around him.

"I couldn't leave,'' he told reporters after the game Tuesday. "There was a job that had to be finished. Coming back, I said, 'This was my city; they trust me; they believe in me; they believe in us.' Even when we lose, the city was still on our side and obviously I wanted to get the job done.

"It is easy to go somewhere and win a championship with somebody else. It's easy. I could go to a super team, do my part and win a championship. But I did it the hard way.''

Named the series MVP, Giannis scored 50 points in the clinching game, and even fixed his one negative: free throw shooting, making 17 of 19. And really it was his defense and blocked shots, including five last night, that made for the greatest WOWs throughout the series.

Today, you'll hear the praise for Giannis for staying in Milwaukee and the nobility of sticking by a team and a process. It will be couched as a praise for Giannis, when it's actually putting down the opposite.

It puts down LeBron. If LeBron didn't create the super team, he certainly made it popular. If LeBron had stuck with Cleveland in the first place, stuck by the fans and ownership and process to win a championship, then he would have a moment like Giannis is having now.

He perfected the cut-and-run approach, an approach that says, "There is a hard job to do here, so I think I'll go over there, gather a bunch of superstars and buy a championship.''

It's not really that villainous. LeBron is still amazing. He still put in the work to make himself one of the greatest players of all time.

We tend to measure legacies in championships, though, and Giannis made us realize that all championships aren't created equal. Instead of just counting championships, we should look, too, at how they are won.

This was supposed to be Brooklyn's year, or maybe LeBron's again. And look how Brooklyn did it: James Harden sabotaged his team in Houston, not bothering to get in shape and even trying to make his team lose. He made himself so intolerable and insufferable that he forced a trade to the Nets where he could be on a super team with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

That doesn't quite have the Giannis ring to it. The Bucks built around Giannis slowly, bringing in Khris Middleton, a former second-round pick, as a complement, and then making the trade for Jrue Holiday. They built a foundation first and then built on top of it.

Meanwhile, we saw LeBron at Game 5 sitting in the stands, clearly recruiting Paul for next year's version of the super team Lakers.

Let's never hear the comparison between LeBron and Michael Jordan ever again. As a self-built superhero made it clear Tuesday night when he was crowned, you can reach the mountaintop without the glitz and without stacking the deck.

Giannis did it the hard way.

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