Kobe Bryant didn't mince words when describing Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo as "unbelievable" on Sunday in Chicago. The day after, he had a front row seat — a good chunk of it from the bench — to Giannis' implausible talent as one of the rising stars in the NBA.
As the buzzer sounded and Bryant rose from the bench to make his way to the locker room Monday night, he smiled and pointed knowingly as Antetokounmpo approached. The five-time champion and Los Angeles Lakers legend had suited up in purple and gold for the last time in Milwaukee as his farewell tour continues, which made it a special moment for a packed house and especially Antetokounmpo, 21, who grew up overseas admiring Bryant for years.
But it wasn't just Bryant who made Monday night special. The third-year forward from Greece had just finished dominating Bryant's Lakers, posting the first triple-double of his career with 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, in addition to four rejections and three steals.
"He's one of my role models," Antetokounmpo said, "I always watched him when I was younger. It feels great that he acknowledged what I did today.
"It was a great night, it felt like a party. It was a pleasure and really exciting to have him here."
In his postgame press conference, a sage Bryant didn't hold back words of kindness and motivation for The Greek Freak to take his game to the next level.
"I said listen man, it's just a choice you're going to have to make. If you want to be that great player, then you're going to have to make certain sacrifices and go after it." Bryant said. "He has the potential to do it. He has the physical tools, the intelligence. Now it's just a matter of believing in himself and going after it. He has the talent to be a great player.
"Times going to go by fast. You know you have the potential to be a great player and the last thing you want to do is at the end of your career look back and say 'Oh I wish I worked harder'. Because time goes by too fast, man."
Bryant didn't sugarcoat his advice for Antetokounmpo, noting that he'll need to work tirelessly on making his jumper more consistent this summer. It's the one obvious area that players, scouts and coaches agree is holding him back from reaching greater heights.
"I told him if you want to get to that level, this is what you have to do. You have to work on your jumpshot." Bryant explained. "First time I played him, I backed off of him. Today I backed off of him again and I didn't seen any improvement. I like testing young guys to see that. Summertime is when you have to make that leap. I was making 1,000 shots a day, that's what it takes."
Antetokounmpo said in the locker room that the advice Bryant gave him was some of the best he's ever gotten. And that 1,000 shots a day thing in the summer? He's upping the offer.
"He said he used to shoot 1,000 shots a day, so I'll try to shoot 1,500 this summer." Antetokounmpo said. "He wasn't messing around. He said it feels great that he's retiring right now because when he played he wasn't messing around. He told me you don't have to mess around and to be serious until the last day."
He has motivation from an idol, elite physical abilities and a burgeoning supporting cast in Milwaukee, providing Bucks fans with the hope that he'll soon make the leap into the NBA's elite. Whether or not that happens is all on his plate now.