Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer and Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson knows a thing or two about what it takes to win it all in the NBA. As a five-time NBA champion and three-time MVP and Finals MVP, Johnson has climbed to the greatest heights in the NBA as a player -- and is attempting to get his Lakers back there as their team president.
In watching Milwaukee Bucks do-it-all forward Giannis Antetokoumpo, though, Johnson says he sees the kind of player who can do what he did: lead a franchise to a title. The Bucks have not won a championship since 1971, when Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson guided them to those heights. Milwaukee also made The Finals in 1974, losing to the Boston Celtics in seven games.
Johnson had plenty of praise for the All-Star Antetokounmpo, though, in an interview with ESPN.com's Nick Friedell:
"Oh yeah," Johnson told ESPN recently. "With his ball-handling skills and his passing ability. He plays above the rim I never could do that. But in his understanding of the game, his basketball IQ, his creativity of shots for his teammates. That's where we [have the] same thing. Can bring it down, make a pass, make a play. I'm just happy he's starting in the All-Star game because he deserves that. And he's going to be like an MVP, a champion, this dude he's going to put Milwaukee on the map. And I think he's going to bring them a championship one day."
When told after Sunday's win over the Chicago Bulls about Johnson's comments, Antetokounmpo spoke with a sense of pride while describing what it meant to him to hear those kind of compliments coming from one of the game's all time greats.
"The craziest thing is that I believe that," Antetokounmpo told ESPN of winning a championship in Milwaukee. "But it's even more believable when other guys see that, like Magic. Especially Magic seeing that, that's big. Because it's almost like, "OK, he sees that." So I'm on the right path, I've got to to do what I'm doing."
"He's special," Johnson said. "A man that can handle the basketball like he can and be a great -- he's probably the greatest athlete we have in the league today. And then his understanding, his basketball IQ is off the chart. He not only can score for himself, but also he can pass that basketball like a point guard. So when you think about all the skills that he has, block shots, rebound, can put the ball on the floor, can score, can assist, can make the pass. We've never had anybody in the league like him. And also too, he's like the number one -- he's right up with LeBron, with KD and Steph [Curry] as the entertainer. He's an entertainer so people will go see him."
"It's big, man," Antetokounmpo said. "A compliment like that coming from Magic, that's huge. We grew up watching Magic, I personally grew up watching Magic making those passes, all that stuff. Just trying to be Magic. There was a stage when I was younger that I was trying to be Magic, I was trying to smile when I was playing, make all those plays. But a compliment like that from Magic, it's big. But for me, I just got to stay focused, keep working on my game and try to get better."
This isn't the first time a current or former player has lauded the Bucks' young superstar.
Last summer, Golden State Warriors star and reigning Finals MVP Kevin Durant said he could see an MVP in Antetokounmpo's future someday. Additionally, former Kia MVP and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant challenged Antetokounmpo last summer to make a run at the MVP this season.
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