The Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks will face off to see who will be crowned as the 2021 NBA Champions. Both teams became NBA teams in 1969 and have had moments of glory. The Bucks have been NBA Champions before, winning the trophy in 1971 with Kareem-Abdul Jabbar at the helm. Phoenix haven’t won a title but made the NBA Finals in 1993 with Charles Barkley, just to lose to Michael Jordan. This is the first Finals appearance for the Suns since 1993, and the Bucks are returning to the Finals for the first time since 1974. But the cast of players that have gotten these teams here are a unique mix.
The Suns are led by 16-year veteran point guard Chris Paul. Paul is an 11-time All-Star, a consummate team leader, and a gifted playmaker. He ranks fifth in NBA history in both assists and steals and serves as the President of the National Basketball Players Association.
Paul has reached the NBA Finals for the first time, at age 36. Winning an NBA championship would be a career capstone for one of the best point guards in league history. An All-Star selection in each of the last two seasons, the undersized Paul remains a marvel at an age when few players are even active, let alone playing at an elite level.
Paul is flanked by 24-year old shooting guard Devin Booker. Booker is a two-time All-Star and scored 70 points in a game as a 21-year old. Chris Paul calls him “the oldest 24-year-old I’ve ever met."
Booker has become one of the veterans on this young Suns team. The true young star of the team is the #1 overall pick from the 2018 Draft, DeAndre Ayton. The 22-year old is the second player from the Bahamas to make the NBA Finals and could celebrate his 23rd birthday as an NBA Champion, as he turns 23 a day after a potential Finals Game 7.
The Bucks have been close to the Finals before. They were up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019 but lost to the Toronto Raptors who won four straight games on their way to that year’s title. But the Bucks have finally made it to the NBA Finals led by an eclectic crew of players.
They are led by two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis is one of 12 players to win back-to-back NBA MVP awards and in 2019-20, became the third player to be named MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season (Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon).
Giannis’s extraordinary rise from playing in the second division in Greece as an NBA Draft prospect to developing into a two-time NBA MVP is the stuff of legend. If he is able to play in the NBA Finals and lead the Bucks to their first championship in 50 years - on the heels of heartbreaking playoff losses the previous two seasons as the top overall seed - it would put the exclamation point on his journey to greatness.
The only other player still on this Bucks team since the 2013 draft when they signed Giannis is Khris Middleton. Middleton is a two-time all star and the first player to play in the NBA G League and go on to be named an NBA All-Star. He has been the primary scoring option for the Bucks in close-game situations and has stepped up through Giannis’s recent injuries to lead the Bucks to the Finals.
Like Giannis, Middleton has taken an unlikely path to NBA stardom. Second-round draft pick. NBA G League experience. Traded after his rookie season. And yet, he has developed into an NBA All-Star, a U.S. Olympian and a clutch performer who made play after play in the biggest moments of the Bucks’ run to the NBA Finals.
The Bucks have another former all-star to round out their big three in Jrue Holiday. Holiday made the 2020-21 NBA All-Defensive First Team. Along with that, he won the 2020-21 NBA Sportsmanship Award and the 2019-20 Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award.
Both these teams have experienced role-players to add depth. The only player on either team to have made an NBA Finals is Phoenix’s Jae Crowder, who played in the 2020 Finals for the Miami Heat. The Bucks have experienced center Brook Lopez, who is a former all-star as well.
Phoenix also have fan-favorite talents like Cameron Payne, a player who was playing in China a year ago after fledgling in the NBA from team to team. Milwaukee has relied on their own fan-favorite Bobby Portis, who played for the New York Knicks last season and was third in three-point efficiency this season.