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Milwaukee Bucks

'Next up: Championship' - Kobe's challenge to Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to drive the reigning MVP

MILWAUKEE - It didn't feel like a normal practice on Monday afternoon in Milwaukee, as the tragic news that rocked the world just 24-hours earlier continued to be felt right across the gym for all present.

The media pack was larger than usual on this day, with the connection between Kobe Bryant and Giannis Antetokounmpo no secret.

The reigning MVP idolised Bryant as a child growing up in Greece, where he first found his love for the game of basketball.

"Yesterday was a horrible day for basketball, for everybody. A lot of people were really affected by it. I send my deepest condolences to their family, Vanessa and the kids that they leave behind. All I can do is pray for them," a visibly hurting Antetokounmpo said.

"I remember the first game I watched was a Kobe game against the Celtics. That was the first time I watched the NBA. He was big, man. He was big. And you can feel it. You can definitely feel it in the air."

"From yesterday what happened around the world and how many people reached out to him and his family and you realize how big he was. I grew up with Kobe. Kobe influenced my life. Looking up to him, one of the reasons I started playing basketball. One of the reasons that I am here today."

The legendary career of Kobe barely intertwined with the building Hall of Fame resume of Giannis, but one night in Milwaukee back in February of 2016 will be forever etched in the memory of those in the building.

The Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee was packed to the rafters for Bryant's last game against the Bucks. No longer the enemy, this was a night of celebration, as the raucous home crowd paid their respects to a true giant of the sport.

Milwaukee would win the game 108-101, with Antetokounmpo recording his first NBA triple-double, finishing with 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Kobe and Giannis would come together in a long embrace after the final buzzer, with the legendary No. 24 passing on some words of encouragement.

Antetokounmpo remembers that conversation clearly, although, he would not share the details of what was said on that night.

"He has the potential to [be a great player]," Bryant said to reporters postgame. "He has the physical tools [and] intelligence. Now it's a matter of him believing in himself and going after it. But he has the talent to be a great player."

Believe in himself Antetokounmpo did, but he strives to be the greatest, not just great, leading to his pursuit of Bryant for further tutelage.

First, Kobe would challenge Giannis to win the MVP award over Twitter in August of 2017, and then Antetokounmpo would seek an offseason workout with Bryant in 2018, desperate to learn as much as he possibly could from one of the all-time great competitors in world sport.

The workout went ahead, with a beaming Antetokounmpo standing arm in arm with Bryant during that workout in August of 2018.

How did Kobe inspire Giannis to be great?

"Just work hard, be fearless, don't really care about what people have to say about you, just go out there and do your job, have a smile on your face," Antetokounmpo explained.

"You're going to have to sacrifice a lot, a lot of family time, obviously, to play this game, but your family knows why you were put on this Earth, why you play this game, which is to provide for them because that's what you're born to do."

To the surprise of few, Antetokounmpo would complete the MVP challenge of Bryant by winning the award the season after that workout.

After completing the first challenge, Bryant tweeted at Antetokounmpo, "My man, MVP greatness. Next up: Championship".

"It's a compliment, but I'm not close or near as a basketball player to Kobe's level," Antetokounmpo responded when asked about the comparisons between the two.

"Obviously, hopefully, one day I can get to that level, but I just sit down and think about all these comparisons, people comparing Kobe, LeBron, comparing me, that doesn't really mean nothing."

"At the end of the day, it doesn't really mean shit. Life is short. Live your life to the fullest and the best of your ability. Go out there and do what you love with a smile on your face with people that love you. Make sure you tell your kids, your family, your mother you love them, your friends, that you love them."

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