Dellavedova's witnessed greatness in LeBron James, it's now Giannis Antetokounmpo
Australian players in the NBA have a habit of being in close proximity to greatness. Luc Longley was a part of an historic second three-peat with the Chicago Bulls, led by the iconic Michael Jordan. Patty Mills contributed to a championship team lead by the evergreen San Antonio Spurs trio of legends: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Andrew Bogut shared the basketball court with the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry in 2015, when Curry made his unprecedented explosion onto the world stage.
Another name that's gone unnoticed on the list of great Australian sidekicks however, might be Matthew Dellavedova.
The King and I
In 2014, during his second year in the NBA, Dellavedova was granted a rare opportunity. LeBron James announced his return to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. After fighting tooth and nail to get a spot on a NBA roster during the 2013 Summer League, Dellavedova would end up playing alongside one of the greatest players of all time. The scrappy kid from Maryborough, Victoria would proceed to cement his defensive reputation in the league under the heat of the harshest spotlight of all - as a teammate of LeBron James.
During the 2015 Finals, against the Golden State Warriors, Dellavedova was anointed with the title of “The Curry Stopper”, due to his persistent harassment of the Warrior’s sharpshooting sniper.
Dellavedova quickly won the hearts of fans around the world for his defensive determination and never-say-die attitude.
The following year, Dellavedova was a part of Cleveland’s first ever championship, securing a historical victory over the Golden State Warriors, after being down in the series 3-1. It was one of the most impressive championships ever witnessed.
With James as his mentor, Dellavedova emerged as one of the league’s toughest defenders, with a knack for hitting perimeter shots and making the right play. Sharing a locker room with LeBron meant pressure to perform, yet it also strengthened Dellavedova, giving him a world-class education on playing in the NBA.
Of all the lessons learnt under LeBron's tutelage, attention to one's health and the physical condition of one's body was the biggest takeaway for Dellavedova. LeBron's durability is legendary, and it's an aspect of his career that has set him apart from his fellow players, past and present. With the tool of his trade being his body, LeBron takes maintenance of his health to an obsessive level. ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported in March that LeBron spends seven figure on his body annually. For Dellavedova, it was this level of commitment to ensuring longevity in the NBA that was most illuminating. "They're always working on something,"said Dellavedova on LeBron and his trainers in 2016. "So, taking care of his body and the things he does there is probably the biggest thing I've learnt from him."
The Victorian country boy was also able to witness James' commitment to mental preparation. In 2017, after his first year with the Bucks, Dellavedova looked back on his time with LeBron during an event in the Philippines. “I was lucky enough to play with LeBron for two years, and there’s a reason he is the best player in the world. He just works so hard everyday, watching tape, and I really learnt a lot from him.”
With the Greek Freak
With that learning experience under his belt, Dellavedova began a new stage of his career, signing a lucrative contract with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2016.
Dellavedova’s latest chapter has seen him paired with another potential generational player. This time, it's with someone who's yet to reach his prime - Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo. Much like LeBron, Giannis is a player blessed with a myriad of physical gifts. Standing at 2.11 metres, with a 2.21 metre wingspan, the moniker of “Greek Freak” is not misplaced. His rapid improvement, year after year, also lends to the nickname. In his rookie season, he averaged 6.8 points shooting 41.1%, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists. Fast-forward four years later, after his fifth season, and the statistics reflect a completely different player. Playing a combination of guard and forward, the Milwaukee All-Star averaged 26.9 points shooting at a hugely efficient 52.9%, on top of 10 rebounds and 4.8 assists.
For Dellavedova, who is about to commence his third year as a Buck, it has meant another opportunity to watch and learn from one of the game’s top athletes. In Milwaukee, Dellavedova has watched one of the game's up-and-coming stars grow into one of the NBA’s biggest attractions.
“Giannis is an incredible player and an incredible person. To get to see him up close everyday is pretty awesome… We came in the same year in the NBA, and every year he gets so much better,” said Dellavedova at a Spalding event last week. According to Dellavedova, Antetokounmpo's growth can be attributed to his unnatural determination to improve. “He puts in so much work every day on the court, in the weight room, he is so competitive. You definitely want that on your team.”
Whilst Milwaukee is still working to find the winning formula, there has never been a better time for them to make the transition to the next level of success. With Dellavedova’s former mentor, LeBron James, making the move to the Los Angeles Lakers, now is the time for a new king of the Eastern Conference to emerge, a sentiment Dellavedova echoed last week. “Someone will be coming out of the East, a non-LeBron James team. We are hoping to make it Milwaukee.”
If Giannis maintains his meteoric rise, Dellavedova may well get his wish. He has the chance to help usher in an emerging face of the league in Antetokounmpo, and perhaps, add some new hardware to his own trophy cabinet. We can only wait, and see.