December 19, 2019, feels like a lifetime ago.
The 24-4 Los Angeles Lakers entered Fiserv Forum to take on the 24-4 Milwaukee Bucks. The league's two best teams coming together for an early-season meeting that also pitted the current MVP entering his prime in Giannis Antetokounmpo against one of the greatest to ever lace them up in LeBron James.
Billed as a potential NBA Finals preview, the possibility of a playoff collision became all the more enticing with one late gesture from Antetokounmpo.
Drilling a career-high fifth triple with 9:08 left in the fourth to give the Bucks a 98-84 lead, the Milwaukee superstar appeared to place an imaginary crown on his head while running to the bench as the Lakers called time.
Neither James nor Antetokounmpo commented on the moment postgame, but if there's one thing we have learned over the course of LeBron's glittering career it's that he has a long memory.
The next opportunity for the Lakers and Bucks to lock horns came just weeks after Team LeBron triumphed over Team Giannis in an emotionally charged 2020 All-Star game at the United Center in Chicago.
Wearing the No. 2 and 24 on their back in honour of the late Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, the two superstars defended each other on several possessions with Antetokounmpo accepting the challenge to deliver two highlight-reel blocks on James in the fourth quarter, whetting the appetite for a March 6 matchup at Staples Center.
In front of a rabid Los Angeles crowd on a Friday night, James and the Lakers sent a message, defeating the Bucks 113-103 on the back of a dominant 35-24 third quarter.
James would pour in 37 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while Antetokounmpo would finish with 32 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
In what felt like a heavyweight bout, the marquee duo went back and forth, trading blows in front of a gleeful crowd, with the veteran coming out on top.
"Whenever you bring the ball down, whenever you go against [James], you can feel greatness," Antetokounmmpo said postgame. "I've said it in the past: That's what I want to be."
Little did we know they would not meet on a basketball court for over ten months, with the season shutting down just days later and the much anticipated postseason matchup failing to come to fruition.
As for the response to the Antetokounmpo 'crowning'?
Two days after the Los Angeles' win over Milwaukee, Lakers wing Kyle Kuzma was seen placing an imaginary crown on James' head during a win over the Clippers. Make of that what you will.
Holding a 15-5 edge in head-to-head battles since Antetokounmpo entered the league in 2013-14, LeBron's perennially contending teams have always been a tough hill to climb for Giannis and the Bucks.
Though, since the beginning of 2017-18, Antetokounmpo has closed the gap, winning three of the last seven.
LeBron and Giannis in head-to-head matchups since the beginning of 2017-18
In his eighth season in the league, Antetokounmpo would be well aware the path to an elusive NBA Championship in Milwaukee likely runs through James, who himself is in hot pursuit of ring No. 5.
Similar to Giannis, LeBron had two MVP's and zero titles at the same stage of his career, with the first taste of ultimate team success coming in 2012, his ninth season in the league.
There's no question Antetokounmpo's self-crowning moment was premature, but it was a statement of intent, as both superstars eye off a place in the NBA Finals.
The path to that stage is likely to hold many twists and turns with the first chapter to unfold on Thursday night.
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